While nobody in the business uses their real names, we have changed even those to protect the naughty. It’s been branded the oldest industry in the world, probably along with soldiering and playing emperor, and it takes on many shapes these days. When imagined as a pyramid, prostitutes who ply their trade on the streets are at one level, escorting, massages with happy endings the next level up and pay for play by the hour follows. At the top of the value chain is the Girlfriend Experience (GFE), the priciest of them all and gaining popularity fast.
According to a citation published by firm Researchgate, a GFE is an extended session where the sex worker is not just responsible for dispensing pleasure, but also, for providing a veneer of emotional intimacy and companionship. Albeit by the hour. The research paper notes that these encounters mimic romantic encounters, yet it is transactional. “I think that my clients visit me for an escape,” says Rosemary, who offers an exclusive GFE service for a handful of clients. “My gents are regulars, and in the time we spend together I mostly end up listening to them, learn about them and sometimes it concludes in something sexual, but less than half of the time.
Sexual impulse drives men to pay for sex, although research suggests that there is no definition of a john, the generic name assigned to clients of prostitutes. But a GFE experience is different. Sex is on the table less than half of the time. Just like with Rosemary’s clients, Michelle, 22, says that her clients want the semblance of a relationship. “And when it comes to sex, pleasure giving becomes mutual, as if we were a normal couple.” She adds that this is not just about selling sex, but providing an emotional service, escapism with some naughtiness. “It makes it easier for me to stomach, as well. I am doing this for the huge cash benefit, setting myself up for a future post-graduation.”
And johns pay dearly for the privilege. Rosemary charges around R 1500 per hour or, for longer bookings, a negotiated fee that is never less than a cumulative total of R 10 000 a day. “It is a business, my business, and the financial rewards are lucrative,” adds Michelle who has commanded up to R 20 000 for a single date at a well-known hotel. “We are wined and dined, as if on a normal date, we talk, engage, encourage and listen. I care about my clients” Not all are married either. “Many are divorced and single, too. Just looking for a little bit of love and companionship that does not come with the baggage.”
Both Michelle and Rosemary advertise extensively, but their marketing has also become a profit centre. During lockdown a site called Only Fans rocketed in popularity. It is similar to other social media channels, but consumers subscribe to a particular woman’s timeline, paying for titillation found in pictures and posts. Only Fans pages are in turn marketed through normal social media channels with a ‘want to see more, visit my Only Fans page’ message. “We are able to screen potential customers using Only Fans as well as make additional money selling words and pictures,” says Rosemary who has several thousand subscribers paying her around US$ 4 per month. Michelle also uses the internet extensively and markets her services on sugar daddy dating sites, again leading potential johns to her own website where she screens them. “It’s a business like any other, and we have embraced e-commerce.”
About the author
Hein Kaiser is a seasoned journalist, broadcaster, producer, and marketing communication professional and has worked in a variety of markets, sectors, and countries. He presently hosts the 360 Brunch over weekends on Mix 93.8FM, writes for the Citizen and consults to various companies on a strategic level.