Argh. I seem to be turning into a weekly blogger. I apologize. I will try to start posting a late-week blog now and again, but thanks for always popping by on Tuesdays!

Just a note on last week’s topic – I’ve learned that having a soundtrack for one’s book is very helpful when one must go back to revise said book, months later. Yep, I got my first edits on GOTH — tres exciting. And going back and listening to all those songs I had on heavy rotation while I wrote it is really helping me get back into the book.

So here is a TMI Tuesday topic generously donated by our dear friend, Vagabond Lindsey.


Often called the “world’s oldest profession”, prostitution shows up a lot in historical romance. Lately we’ve had some romances with prostitute heroines, most notably Anna Campbell’s (amazing and powerful) Claiming the Courtesan. In Elizabeth Hoyt’s (delicious and witty) The Raven Prince, the heroine goes to a brothel and pretends to be a prostitute. And then those rakish Alpha heroes we love so well often have a number of prostitutes in their past. High-class ones, of course — you know, the elite courtesan, the kept mistress.

Both of my heroes thus far (Jeremy in GOTH and Gray in SOAS) have some pay-for-play dalliances in their pasts. Although Hero #3 doesn’t. In Gray’s case, because he was a sailor traveling from port to port… ’nuff said. And in Jeremy’s case, because i wanted him to be quite experienced, and the alternatives were:
Virgins – not cool
Married women – also not cool
Servants or tenants who are financially dependent on him – way not cool
Loose women and widows – okay. He had some of those, too.

But think about putting these heroes into a contemporary romance… and ick! Who is going to find a modern hero likable if he’s been with a bunch of high-class call girls? But then, the modern hero has far more socially acceptable outlets for his, er, passion.

What do you think about this? Do historicals romanticize prostitution? (Not that historicals are alone in using the “hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold” storyline – just look at Pretty Women.) Is it truly historically accurate, to assume every man of means visited the brothels or kept a mistress? Do you think less of a romantic hero if he’s been with prostitutes? Would you think less of a RL guy?

25 comments to “TMI Tuesday – He Pays to Play?”

  1. TiffinaC
    · January 29th, 2008 at 6:06 am · Link

    Well, historically speaking. It’s not like the higher class could have girlfriends. So I don’t think they romanticize (okay just a little bit, there was a lot of disease and other problems not mentioned in our romance books when dealing with whores and bawdy houses). Anyways.
    I don’t think everyone kept a mistress… many yes, especially if he were a man of means. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with it. A healthy man needs sex, and lots of it…come to think of it, so does a woman…but we weren’t allowed back then. lol.

  2. Maggie Robinson
    · January 29th, 2008 at 6:30 am · Link

    Ixnay on a contemp fictional hero paying cash. Nowadays getting some really shouldn’t be a problem for a single guy.

    But I’m more forgiving in a historical, because choices were limited—including jobs for women. As we all know prostitution was one of the few ways a girl could earn a living, such as it was. Some romance novels certainly glamorize brothels. I know I have. I don’t think we’d care much for the reality.

    My husband was traveling alone in the Far East, and was repeatedly asked by the elevator operator in his hotel if he’d like a girl for the night. After several nights of saying no, the guy finally asked if he’d like a boy. My husband assures me he turned that down too. Prostitution is an international scourge, but sex tourism is a big business.

  3. terrio
    · January 29th, 2008 at 8:55 am · Link

    Man, great question. I’m more apt to forgive the hero for having mistresses. Though I’m aware that young men also visited brothels back then. Since it was the reality, I can roll with it.

    But I also think there was much more bed-hopping going on inside the aristrocracy than is depicted in most historicals. When these young debutantes married much older men, they realized they enjoyed sex and enjoyed it more with the younger men available.

    It’s sort of the way Mayne worked. He had done practically all of the married women who weren’t particularly in love with their husbands. And we still loved him.

    In a contemp, I expect if the hero is *skilled* that he has just had many girlfriends or was educated by an older, experienced woman at some point. I can’t imagine the hero in a contemp doing the hooker thing for any reason. Maybe in erotica but even then, it’s doubtful as there are plenty of places for that kind of lifestyle without paying.

  4. Renee Lynn Scott
    · January 29th, 2008 at 9:24 am · Link

    I can’t see a hero in a contemp with a hooker either, too many of those girls are strung out on crack.

    As far as historicals, these heroes obviously got their experience somewhere, unless they’re virgins. I’m sure brothels were a part of growing up, hanging with their friends at certain clubs. As they got older, they moved on to experienced ladies of the ton.

    I think mistresses might have been a safer call especially if the mistress was faithful only to him for a long period of time.

  5. Anonymous
    · January 29th, 2008 at 9:44 am · Link

    Important question to raise is the “Madonna-Whore” syndrome and whether RL women are actually comfortable with, and believe the “Pretty Woman” storyline in writing and in reality. Perhaps, they are more forgiving on paper than in RL as it pertains to their own past love affairs or their men’s. However I think even women are unforgiving of themselves if they were the whore turned “madonna.”

    Obviously there is a double-standard that women tend to be OK with men and their past escapades but maybe the question is whether
    there is hypocrisy here as eventually RL women tend to learn of their RL men past histories as it “bleeds” into present life and the affects of it. Typically more than not negative than good (e.g., RL men who surf certain explicit sites or go to social community sites such as facebook to chat with ex girlfriends or find new “friends that are girls.”

    More accepting than not on paper I guess. However in reality if you did date a guy who dated a bunch of “whores,” would you be comfortable with that? Not me! If my man had a sequence of failed relationships all to which he took advantage of (slept with) to no end, I would be offended and disappointed as it would reflect my integrity and my choice in men. Something like that. Am I being too serious? Girls, ask your man who’s he been with and see if you are okay with the steady string of women or not? If your history matches his in kind than more power to you and there is no reason for unfairness. I guess “you get what you deserve” although that is not the case in historicals and sometimes not in RL.

  6. terrio
    · January 29th, 2008 at 10:03 am · Link

    I’m not sure I get all that but I think you are saying you wouldn’t want to be with a man-slut. For me, I’m in my mid-30s and would therefore, be looking for a man in his thirties somewhere. I can’t expect a man of that age to have been with one or two women and only have slept with his long-term committed partners.

    For me it’s more a “sex can be dangerous these days” sort of thing but not by any means do I think I’ve lowered my standards if my boyfriend has been around the block several times before we met.

  7. Tessa Dare
    · January 29th, 2008 at 10:17 am · Link

    Wow, lots of great points being made.

    Tiff – you’re right, the general blind-eye turned toward venereal disease does make for a prettier picture of prostitution than what was probably reality.

    Maggie – I think you’re on to something with the financial constraints of women. Women were almost always financially dependent on men, and their “worth” to men was very tied to their sexuality. So whereas a modern guy can find plenty of unattached, independent women to sleep with, there really weren’t many of those for much of history. That’s too funny, about Mr. R. What a hero he is. 🙂

    Terri, I also bet that, in reality, women were more sexually active than fiction would suggest. It also skews things that historicals commonly deal with the aristocracy, as you say, where purity of bloodlines and virgin brides were probably of far more importance than in any other social class. It’s my opinion that people are people, pretty much, and I’d bet your average regency person had just about as much sex as your average 21st century person.

    Renee – I agree that long-term mistresses were probably the “safest” arrangements – but for some reason, I don’t like it when heroes have those in romances. I don’t like to imagine them having been in any “serious” relationships before the heroine (unless they’re widowers or something).

    Which brings me to anon’s comment. The rakish/playboy hero is definitely a popular figure in romance – historical and contemporary. I’m not sure the fantasy is so much about the guy being such a stud, as proved by his string of lovers. I think it’s more that the stronger the hero’s pattern of playing the field, the greater the heroine’s “triumph” in reforming him. Some readers find it a powerful fantasy that the ultimate bed-hopper will be taken by this sweet, demure heroine and be instantly cured of his roving eye syndrome. Personally, I don’t find that especially believable or attractive as a fantasy, which is why I try to emphasize that my own heroes have already grown dissatisfied with that lifestyle before they meet their heroines, and are really looking for something more meaningful.

    It is true that there’s a horrible double-standard, though. Experienced heroines are a far tougher sell than experienced heroes – hence the popularity of the “virgin widow” or the “unorgasmic widow”. If they have had sex before the hero, they’ve usually never enjoyed it. But then again, that’s part of the romantic fantasy, I suppose – this guy must be “the one” because he makes her feel feminine, beautiful, encourages her to enjoy her body, etc.

  8. Tessa Dare
    · January 29th, 2008 at 10:40 am · Link

    Terri, like I was trying to say above – it sounds like maybe anon thinks that getting with a manslut is a fantasy for some readers. But I would argue it’s not getting with the manslut that’s the fantasy, it’s curing one.

    Of course in RL, everyone has his/her own level of experience and expectations for his/her ideal partner. And a reader’s preferred fantasy doesn’t necessarily mirror her real-life wants and needs. That’s why it’s a fantasy. I love a good tortured hero in a book, but I wouldn’t want one in real life. There are lots of women who enjoy reading m/m fiction – if you try to translate that into a real-life desire, it gets confusing!

  9. Sara Dennis
    · January 29th, 2008 at 11:24 am · Link

    I guess I’m going to go against the majority and say: I wouldn’t have a problem with a hero who had, in the past, used high class callgirls. Obviously, if he’s doing so while trying to win over the heroine of the book, that’s a no-no. But in his past history? No problem for me.

    Actually. I could probably handle less than high class, depending on the hero. What matters to me is his behavior in the present, not the sins he’s committed in a bed in the past.

    And I’m sorry, I just can’t imagine that some of these bad boy heroes don’t occasionally get lonely, get horny, and fork out cash to get some.

  10. Janga
    · January 29th, 2008 at 11:25 am · Link

    Yes, I think historicals romanticize prostitution, but Jo Beverley’s Blanche Hardcastle, Betina Krahn’s Gabrielle LeCoeur, Mary Balogh’s Fleur Hamilton and Priscilla Wentworth, Diane Gaston’s Maddy—prostitutes, courtesans, mistresses all–are some of my favorite heroines. I am not bothered that they are to varying degrees less than realistic. If I want to be reminded that there were 55,000 prostitutes in London, that many of them died of VD, that young women who turned to prostitution often did so because it paid better and provided greater independence than did the alternatives, I can read history books. If I want moralizing with the prostitute as object lesson, I can read Gaskell’s Mary Barton. I am not looking for historical data or moral object lessons in romance.

    And this post sounds much more pompous than I intend it too, but I stand by my main point. 🙂

  11. Anonymous
    · January 29th, 2008 at 11:38 am · Link

    Thank you for the responses- I think realizing that it is a fantasy when accepting a tortured hero is the first step.

    Sidenote to RL: In RL you cannot reform a man who has had a string of relationships (meaningful or non-meaningful) into believing that your/*my* relationship is ultimately the most valuable. Trust me. I’ve been there as the unorgasmic virgin (widow) to his “whores.” Didnt change his immaturity or penchant for desiring more women friendships.

    The next gal he marries is just testament to him not getting the girl he really wants (example, the other girl married somebody else or the other girl is one he knows he doesnt deserve nor can afford.)
    Unless the man and woman have had a long-standing friendship (relationship) over the course of *years* than he is very certain of his decision to stay with her. Yea, I have issues but I’m also a psych major so my points revel true.

    At the same time, Tessa D. I commend you on your romance writing and you giving women the opportunity to fantasize of better things (moments) than RL. You go girl!

    I’m moving on to another blog- it was nice chattin’

  12. Tessa Dare
    · January 29th, 2008 at 12:38 pm · Link

    Anon, I do understand what you’re saying. If I had a friend who was contemplating a relationship with a guy who had a long history of promiscuity or especially infidelity – I’d want her to be really, really careful. Being married to a rake probably wouldn’t be much fun in real life, but then – neither would being married to a billionaire corporate mogul. (So I tell myself. 🙂 )

    Sara – Ooh, points to you for taking the other side! You know, there must be a lot of men using these modern-day prostitutes, and I’d guess not all of them are utter sleazebags. It’s kind of my dilemma with my own heroes’ sexual history. They know they don’t want relationships. But they want to have sex. Which is worse – for them to woo a woman and make her promises they can’t keep to get her into bed? Or to find a woman who’s not expecting anything more than they’re prepared to offer, and just take care of business?

    Is there anyone out there who knows a real guy who will admit to having slept with prostitutes?

    Janga – I agree, I’m not looking for moral lessons in my romance novels. But I also have trouble relating to protagonists who seem completely ignorant of the darker side of history. I like passing nods to reality in my fantasy, if that makes any sense. 🙂

  13. Janga
    · January 29th, 2008 at 1:03 pm · Link

    It does make sense, Tessa, and I too have grown weary of the sanitized versions of Emma Hamilton that seem to populate too many historicals. But I think some of the characters I mentioned make readers aware of the darker side even though the picture they offer of the “fallen woman” is romanticized. For example, I find the scene in Jo Beverley’s An Unwilling Bride where Blanche commits murder chilling and it makes me aware of how dark some parts of Blanch’s past must be. At the same time, the frienship between Beth and Blanche and later Blanche’s acceptance into the larger company of Rogues seem quite romanticized. And I like it that way.

  14. terrio
    · January 29th, 2008 at 1:04 pm · Link

    Janga makes a great point as always. Skimming the lines for entertainment purposes is not such a bad thing.

    I work for a military contractor where most of my co-workers are male and former military. Most have lived all over the world at one time or another. I’ve never taken a poll or asked too many personal questions but things get discussed from time to time.

    I know one guy who does not equate stepping out for *personal entertainment* while half-way across the planet for a year or more as cheating. It amazes me and this guy is actually a nice guy but that’s how he thinks.

    I think men would admit being with a prostitute before women will. We’re not going to pretend there aren’t male prostitutes. Would anyone here every go *there*?

    For the record, don’t think I could. And no one has to answer of course, just playing devil’s advocate. *g*

  15. Sara Dennis
    · January 29th, 2008 at 1:21 pm · Link

    I know several guys who will, and have, admit that they *would* pay for sex, and a couple others who’ve admitted that they have.

    Terrio, were I not married, and if I had the money to pay for someone who met my particular standards, yeah, I might use a male escort/prostitute/whathaveyou.

  16. Anonymous
    · January 29th, 2008 at 1:47 pm · Link

    Tessa D.- My girlfriend and I read past blogs and this one. You are an amazing talent. Now, tell me, how did you end up with a guy who likes to buy creamers that look like a huge nipple?

    Girl, you deserve better- a billionaire corporate exec as you noted seems to match nicely to you being romance novelist extraordinaire. Just a thought.

  17. Tessa Dare
    · January 29th, 2008 at 1:48 pm · Link

    Hmm. Terri, I don’t think I would. I mean, all ethical and moral (and legal!) considerations aside, I’d be too self-conscious to enjoy it. And without any emotional connection it probably wouldn’t be much good for me anyway.

    Now, if someone out there offered a service where a strapping buck with a deep voice and British accent would come read me bedtime stories, brush my hair, and tell me what a gorgeous, amazing woman I am until I drifted off to sleep… then did the laundry and dishes? Then I might be tempted.

  18. Tessa Dare
    · January 29th, 2008 at 1:55 pm · Link

    LOL, is this a new anonymous or the first one?

    Mr. Dare is so good to me. He actually does brush my hair and tell me what a gorgeous, amazing woman I am until I drift off to sleep, although he’s terrible with accents. I guess all I need is to hire someone to do the dishes and laundry. 😛

    And really – I told him to buy that nipple creamer because it made me giggle. It’s going to be a gag gift for someone, anyhow.

  19. Lindsey
    · January 29th, 2008 at 3:55 pm · Link

    I knew you all would make this an awesome discussion! I have a lot of ambivalence about it. A part of me buys into the romanticized view of it – I like the inherent conflict, its potential to add to the hero’s characterization, and the contrast it sets up between the hero’s past and his future with the heroine. A part of me thinks I could almost buy it in a contemp if the circumstances and characterization were right.

    But on another level I want to put it in the same not cool category as virgins, married women, servants, etc. I’m not sure I accept that compensation constitutes choice – a lot of the examples Janga pointed to do a great job of showing how little choice and autonomy a kept woman would have.

    I know, of course, that’s not what Tessa’s implying. It’s just the shorthand of the genre – easier to give a passing nod to the hero’s past mistress than an infodump about the married woman with a cruel husband and two sons who entered into an affair with no expectations, etc, etc, etc. Even though the system’s flawed, I think it works because we know the hero would treat a prostitute well.

  20. Tessa Dare
    · January 29th, 2008 at 9:06 pm · Link

    Lindsey, I think a lot of it depends on whether you believe prostitutes ever truly choose their profession. I know a lot of people would argue they don’t – that prostitution is exploitative and an industry that preys on women who have no other choices. And in many (most?) cases, I think that’s true. But I do believe that there are some who actually choose it as their career. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a good choice of career – just that not every prostitute is driven to it by poverty or addiction or abusive pasts or whathaveyou. To me, the moral judgement I place on men who pay for sex really depends on which kind of prostitute they’re visiting. First kind – definitely not cool. Second kind – not as bad. I mean, historically speaking, how many women were trading sex for their financial security – whether it was with a husband or clients? At least a woman could retain a measure of financial autonomy as a mistress – plus, she could leave if she wished.

    But you make a good point that from a writing standpoint, it’s certainly easier to just allude to vague ‘mistresses’ in a character’s past and move on.

  21. Santa
    · January 29th, 2008 at 10:08 pm · Link

    Great discussion guys.

    I do think prostitution is romanticized in romance novels. I can’t think of any contemporary romances that even put prostitutes in unless there’s a bachelor party gone awry.

    Quick question and I don’t know if this speaks to your hero, Tessa but tavern wenches are often written as good for a ‘slap and tickle’ as it were. Is that considered prostitution? Most write them as not seeking any coin but just happy to be ‘of service’. Am I mistaken in my interpretation? Could you use that approach for your hero, Tessa?

  22. Alice Audrey
    · January 29th, 2008 at 11:10 pm · Link

    I used to assume a lot of men used prostitutes, but every single time it ever came up the man in question got quite snippy in saying he didn’t ever need to pay for it. Most of them would rather do without for a while than buy it, and not because of the expense. So now I tend to have an attitude toward guys who do, like there must be something wrong with them. I shouldn’t, but now I do.

  23. Lindsey
    · January 30th, 2008 at 9:24 am · Link

    You’re very right, Tessa. Obviously, we have to romanticize it and pretend the heroes are patrons of savvy businesswomen rather than exploiters of women trapped by the system. And I’m cool with that.

    I guess my interest is more that this isn’t a topic that gets discussed. People jump all over women’s issues in the genre – forced seduction, for example – and just walk on by prostitution. Arguably that’s because forced seduction tends to be more in the forefront of the plot, but I have read romances that depict a sexual encounter between a hero and a prostitute who is not the heroine. It kind of squicks me out – though that may have more to do with Tessa’s point about wanting to believe a hero has put that part of his life behind him before entering a relationship with the heroine.

  24. lacey kaye
    · January 30th, 2008 at 7:28 pm · Link

    Great discussion here. I’m reading avidly, though I can’t post my thoughts on this subject with my account turned on (boo!). Keep going!

  25. India Carolina
    · February 8th, 2008 at 7:53 pm · Link

    Oh I am waay behind on my blogging. Okay, I’ll just step right up and say I hate the “prostitute factor” in historical romances. It’s always a hurdle I have to overcome on my way to falling in love with the hero. In fiction, I can manage that with effort. In the real world–no way, Jose.