Throughout the 1980s, Veronica Monet worked as a secretary, office manager, marketing rep, and department manager, jobs in which she received awards and raises, but that ultimately left her unsatisfied. There was no communication between the high-ranking executives and their subordinates, and those in charge expected to be served. “I was successful and I hated it,” she says.
Then, she met a woman who offered the “Girlfriend Experience,” a type of escorting wherein the client pays for companionship and intimacy as well as sex. The woman was married with three children and lived in a beautiful home. Intrigued, Monet decided to explore the field.
The types of men Monet met through high end escorting who had previously expected her to bring them coffee without ever learning her name “were suddenly courting my companionship very aggressively — and paying top dollar for it.” They began treating Monet “like an intelligent, capable colleague.” While Monet’s positive experience doesn’t necessarily apply to the experience of all escorts, it does speak to some of the benefits this type of sex work can provide.
The Girlfriend Experience eliminates the “will she/won’t she” inherent in traditional dating. For busy men who don’t have time to swipe their way to a partner but who still want romance and companionship, hiring escorts of this kind makes sex and romance efficient, without sacrificing the intimacy of a conventional relationship. And while there can be negative aspects, for some “providers,” it allows for a flexible schedule and a reliable source of income.
Marike van der Velden runs Society Service, which provides the Girlfriend Experience to clients around the world. She explains it can mean anything from companionship to a massage to “something a bit more naughty.”
One former escort, Celine Bisette*, says that the phrase is used simply to define the types of sexual services that are offered. According to Bisette, it is commonly used to “subtly and discreetly communicate that the escort offers French kissing and blowjobs without condoms,” or “DFK” and “BBJ” respectively.
Often, Girlfriend Experience dates look much like traditional ones, and therefore can include anything from dinner out to trips abroad. On Society Service, the average booking includes a romantic dinner date before the escort and her client retreat to the bedroom.
Former escort and author Rebecca Dakin had just such an experience; she went on everything from weekend getaways to days at the horse races. She traveled often, visiting cities including Hong Kong and Dubai. Laura Lee*, who was employed off and on as an escort for 22 years, said that her clients paid her for things like kissing, cuddling, hugging, and PDA. Bisette spent a lot of time simply talking, and even attended plays and concerts with her clients.
In fact, most of Bisette’s clients desired something more intimate. “They wanted to see me many times and build up a foundation and a trust that could develop into something resembling a real romantic relationship,” she says. Her clients wanted to get to know her on a personal level, in an effort to “break down the barrier that money can create.”
In fostering such a familiar atmosphere, offering more intimate escorting services can encourage repeat customers. Bisette had clients she saw several times over a span of years, with one customer seeing her regularly for nearly a decade. Dakin did the job for 10 years before she quit to have a family and work as a sex expert, during which time she “had a lot of regulars.”
For Dakin, the Girlfriend Experience proved more accessible than other types of sex work because of its intimacy. “If it had been just having sex I really don’t think I would have done it,” she says. Its similarity to dating made her feel more comfortable.
Women offering the Girlfriend Experience need a wide variety of talents. Bisette says a successful escort needs top-notch social skills and the ability to intuitively understand body language; to act warm, friendly, and highly sexual; and be knowledgeable about everything from politics to pop culture. “You aren’t selling sex, you’re selling your intelligence,” says Monet.
Bisette’s clients also wanted the experience to be authentic. They “seemed really hopeful that I would genuinely enjoy our time together,” she says. Dakin thinks that’s one reason why her clients preferred the Girlfriend Experience over other forms of paid sex. They weren’t looking for quick release: “They wanted to feel like it was as real as it can be.”
But the work is exhausting. Embodying the perfect mate — the girlfriend who laughs at your jokes and is up for anything in bed, but never gets angry — requires some degree of acting. Though Dakin preferred the girlfriend experience to shorter assignations, it also was draining. “It took quite awhile for me to adjust to the job, because I was giving everything emotionally to it,” she says.
While many escorts agree that, for them, sex is just business, that isn’t the case for their clients. Bisette says that many men wanted to know her real name, and “begged me to tell them what I really liked in bed.” Many sent her emotional emails. One client gave her a rare, signed hardcover copy of her favorite book. And yet, she felt zero connection with them; these gifts and compliments were nothing more than positive feedback on her performance.
Dakin had a similar experience. Men — especially single men — tried to help her with things like building a website, in an attempt to get involved in her “real” life. “I had to learn to put boundaries in place,” she says.
While some escorts find escorting empowering — Dakin and Monet drew on their backgrounds to become relationship experts and coaches — that’s not always the case. Oftentimes, it is simply better than the alternative. Bisette says that if she “could have worked one shift a week as a waitress and made the same amount of money that I did working one day a week as an escort, then I definitely would have been a waitress.”
The experiences of these women speak to the varied nature of the field. There are an estimated 1 million sex workers in America. The Girlfriend Experience, and these women’s stories, are just a small foray into an extremely diverse industry. As Melissa Gira Grant explains, it’s important to note that every sex worker’s story is different, as are their reasons for entering the world of sex work. Money may attract some, while power appeals to others.
In the coming weeks, this three-part article series will explore paid sex in all its forms — and participants. Do you have any questions or thoughts about the Girlfriend Experience? What aspects of it appeal to you? Sound off in the comments. For an inside look at this world, catch the series premiere of The Girlfriend Experience April 10th on Starz. You can watch the trailer below.
Nandita Raghuram is a Senior Writer at Studio@Gawker. She tweets here.
*Some names have been changed.