'Hung's' Middle-Aged Male Escort Straddles Fact, Fiction

In real life, experts say, men would have a tough time selling sex to women.

July 24, 2009 — -- Posters promoting "Hung," HBO's new series about a burgeoning escort service, show a down-and-out middle-aged man and woman, she with a smirk and a "Pimp" plastered underneath her mug, he with a furrowed brow and a "Ho" below.

It's a nice reversal of the norm, the "Pretty Woman" model turned on its head, the gender that played the prostitute for centuries finally getting to call the shots.

It's also a complete fantasy.

While "Hung's" plot is rooted in real life dilemmas -- its "ho," Ray (Thomas Jane), finds he can't pay back his adjustable rate mortgage with his salary as a high school basketball coach and turns to Tanya (Jane Adams), a former hook-up, to help market his supposedly massive manhood -- the premise of women paying for a romp in the sack strikes some in the industry as ludicrous.

"I don't see women reaching out to male prostitutes; it's not financially viable," said George Flint, director of the Nevada Brothel Owners' Association. "The concept of male prostitutes marketing to female clients makes about as much sense as selling sand to Waikiki. I think it makes a nice story, but I don't see it being reality."

Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss seemed to figure that out earlier this year when she abandoned her plan to open and run Heidi's Stud Farm, a brothel aimed at female clients, outside Las Vegas.

But what "Hung" has right, according to former and current sex workers, is the more-common-than-talked-about trend of good looking guys exploring side gigs as escorts during tough economic times America's currently enduring.

"Sex work is always an option when other options run out," said Craig Seymour, author of "All I Could Bare: My Life in the Strip Clubs of Gay Washington, D.C." "If you're a cute guy, you can always find a way to make money based on your looks, probably more from gay men than you can from straight women. In real life, Ray would probably be turning to gay men instead of straight women."

That doesn't necessarily mean Ray would be gay.

"There are a lot of straight guys that sell their sexual services to gay men for money," Seymour said. "Many of my friends who do that might be high school drop-outs, maybe they work in construction; in general, they have temporary jobs. When those dry up in a bad economy, the one thing they rely on is stripping for men or escorting for men."

Adam, a 22-year-old college student, sees some of himself in "Hung." He started selling sex services four years ago to supplement earnings from his part-time job, using online social networks to find clients. But now, because of the recession, he relies on escorting to get by.

"My dad got laid off from his job in November, so I started tricking more to pay my rent and make my car payments," he said. "I used to have a strict rule for myself that the money I made from sex was strictly to be used for fun. That somehow made it less real. But that's definitely changed with the recession."

Adam, who asked that his full name not be revealed, estimated he earns about $500 a week thanks to appointments with two regular clients, both male. He doesn't know any men who make money marketing to straight women.

"A lot of my friends have started stripping for men because of the recession and not being able to find a job," Wright said. "I'm 90-percent sure that most of them have dabbled in escorting as a result."

The unrealistic notion of male-to-female escorting isn't lost on "Hung's" creators, Colette Burson and Dmitry Lipkin. But they argue that turning the prostitution paradigm on its head makes the show appealing.

"There is this fantasy element psychologically: Ray can't run away from these women the way men yearn to run away from relationships," Burson said. "He can't just say, 'You're being really weird' to a client and get out of there. He needs them."

That's the reality of a down economy. But, as Seymour pointed out, "There's something about our personality that draws us into the line of work that we do. ... If you're escorting, you're probably enjoying it on some level."

So while the premise of a man selling sex to a woman may be the stuff of fiction, the idea that a guy would enjoy that line of work doesn't seem so farfetched.

"Ray says in episode two, 'I'm game.' He has no other game to try and he's willing to try this one," Burson said. "But I don't think the journey is excruciating to him. It's scary, for sure, but in some ways, I think it's the most interesting journey that's ever happened to him."