A new adaptation of the 1980s film American Gigolo has recently hit Aussie television screens. Stan’s new series by the same title revisits the high-energy story and brings it back to audiences in series form.
Julian Kaye (played by Jon Bernthal) lives a fairly intense life in American Gigolo that leads to a murder mystery and wrongful incarceration – classic Hollywood stuff. But what does the life of a real-life gigolo look like?
We chatted with Samuel Hunter, who works as a straight male escort, to find out precisely that. And to separate the fact from fiction when it comes to portrayals of sex work on screen.
A day in the life of a male escort in Australia
First things first. Although the Stan series is titled American Gigolo, the term gigolo is not really one that many use.
“I haven’t heard gigolo ever being said,” Hunter clarified during our phone chat.
“I think it’s either an American term or a dated term. I’m not actually sure.”
For Hunter, his preference is to go by straight male escort, and he explained that “sex work is the umbrella term for anything in the industry, including strippers and cam people; only fans creators, etc.” He also shared that there’s been a push to move towards the term sex work over prostitution “because too many organisations try to talk about like trafficking and prostitution so there’s (sic) too many negative connotations [there].”
When it comes to day-to-day escort work, Hunter said that there is one through-line between himself and depictions like that of American Gigolo, and that’s the tendency for life to be on the glam side (at times).
“Occasionally, you do get that fun lifestyle of living the high life and lovely hotels, amazing restaurants,” he said.
“…I did have the lucky pleasure of going with a client for 10 days in Phuket,” he offered as an example.
But aside from that, life as a male escort is not really anything like he expected, and it’s definitely not like how most shows and films tend to portray it.
Before his first booking, Hunter shared that he joked to a friend that his work as an escort was “gonna be the three C’s; it’s going to be conversation, cuddles and cunnilingus. And like, and I’ll be completely ignored, my penis will never be touched.”
While the three c’s are certainly a part of Hunter’s work, bookings can go all kinds of ways – including throwing pleasure in his direction.
He explained that he’ll only see one client a day and that most appointments run for about four hours – two hours for social time and two hours in the bedroom.
“Recently, it’s mostly at my incall apartment. So I kind of I’ll prepare a nice charcuterie board or something and make some cocktails when they get here. And I charge a little bit more to host it here, but that saves them taking me out for dinner and hiring a hotel room,” he said.
What happens from date to date can vary pretty significantly, with some clients wanting to lean more into cuddles and chat, with others “literally kneeling on a pillow waiting for me to walk in”.
And when it comes to media portrayals of escorts, Hunter shared that most of the time it’s glaringly inaccurate.
“In general, I don’t think sex workers are portrayed correctly [on TV and in movies], mostly because they’ve probably never been approached to talk about it.”
He also shared that, most of the time “they’re the victim at the start of a crime show” and male-identifying escorts don’t really get portrayed all that often at all.
“But, Good Luck to You Leo Grande… that’s probably as accurate as it could be. Like…it feels like a montage of my last few years,” he said.
When it comes to American Gigolo, while the extremes of the story may not reflect Hunter’s own life, he did say it was one he has added to his watch list.
“…It’s like porn,” he said. ”
“It’s acting – it’s there for dramatics and theatrics, etc. And that’s the point of it.”
Moving away from the idea of ‘needing’ to pay for sex
When I asked Hunter who his regular clients tend to be, he shared that they come from all walks of life. But there is one clear commonality between all of them.
“The youngest client I’ve had was 23 and the oldest was 70,” he said.
“And I think the only real similarity between my clients is that they have always put their own needs last.”
That may be women with kids who are grown and raised, those who don’t have time to date, or people coming out of abusive relationships, even.
And while Hunter’s work as an escort offers a fun, safe place for these women to prioritise their pleasure, there does remain a certain shame around paying for sex.
He explained that there may be the idea that people who engage with escorts may not be able to get sex elsewhere, but “it’s not that the slightest”.
“It’s about agency…taking control, it’s about knowing what you want or looking for a safe place to discover what you want.
“I’ve had a few clients with a kind of BDSM and bondage stuff and they wanted to, [who have said] like ‘it’s a fantasy, I have not had the opportunity or the safe space to do it before. I have that going with you. Can we try that out?’ And it is a safe place to explore those things and what you like,” he said.
There’s also a genuine bond that builds over time that can allow for a more relaxed and pleasurable time, Hunter shared. Most of his clients are regulars at this point and that naturally leads to a connection.
“Last year, I had a client who I saw about once a month and she once quipped that she was my part-time girlfriend. I thought about it, and I went, it’s kind of accurate,” he said.
It’s also pretty much guaranteed to be a much better experience than going on a dating app and ending up with “some really shit experience,” Hunter added. “[Like] A one-night stand where you’re used like a fleshlight”.
I mean, when you consider the orgasm gap that exists for straight cis women, you can hardly deny that Hunter has a point. So, why shouldn’t these women invest in pleasure in a way that makes them feel safe and comfortable?