"Red lights" in Paris
Gaëlle Dupont

PARIS — As French lawmakers consider new legislation that would make it a crime to pay for sex, it’s becoming clear that we tend to know very little about the clientele of prostitutes.

Based on the few reports that have been published on the subject, between 12% and 18% of men (and less than 1% of women) have paid for sex in France. The majority are in relationships, have children and enjoy good social situations. So what are these men looking for? And will they stop if there is a risk of being fined or jailed?

Some of these so-called patrons agreed to answer questions by email on the condition that they would not be named (all used aliases). Of the 50 people we contacted via websites dedicated to prostitution, seven replied, though sometimes hesitantly. “It’s not that easy for a man to agree to talk about his paid relationships with women,” wrote Jean, a 37-year-old divorcé. “It’s because of the fear of being judged, of looking like a bastard, which I probably am, but I’d rather not think about that.”

These are men who are willing to spend 200 or 300 euros for a one-hour meeting with an escort. They are looking for “high-quality service” as opposed to “low quality, or even low-cost” street prostitution. They work in finance, marketing and IT.

“Need for change and novelty”

Most of these men say they don’t pay for sex to overcome a feeling of loneliness but instead because they want to fulfill fantasies. “We can do things that we can’t do with our everyday partners,” explained Radric, 24, who is part of a couple. “And we can meet all sorts of women, in accordance with our physical criteria.”

Similarly, 40-year-old “Antoine Inconnu” explained that he “achieves” with prostitutes what he is “not able to achieve” with his wife. He also referenced a “need for change and novelty.” As for François, 52, and also part of a couple, prostitutes bring him “a little variety” and were “a bit of sexual company” when he was alone.

“I met types of women that I would never have been able to mix with in my everyday life,” wrote “homme cool,” who is 34 and single. “For example, I met this tall brunette, dark skin, 5-foot-9 and with everything in the right place.”

Cédric, 27 and single, went to see a prostitute for the first time in August. “She was a beautiful, promiscuous woman and an expert in her sexuality.”

Easy, discreet, no commitment

Prostitution offers a certain number of guarantees: It is easy, discreet and requires no commitment. “Antoine Inconnu” wrote that there is “no pressure” and no risk of interfering with his “private life.” Radric described a “moment of escape where I don’t feel judged by the woman in front of me,” a “stimulating transgression.”

Paying means that you can “avoid the seduction phase, and the restaurant or cinema, which can sometimes lead nowhere,” says “homme cool.” At the end of the day, it can even end up being cheaper, he said. Jean explained the “fear of engaging with someone, the fear of suffering and failing once again.”

Jean is the only one to have met with a woman who was clearly forced to work as a prostitute. “She had bruises on her forearms … She was scared. I paid and I left instantly,” he recounted. “I'm more careful now. There are unmistakable forerunners.”

All vehemently condemn pimping and human trafficking in the strongest terms. And all but Jean say they have met only women who freely and willingly sell their services. “Of course, I can’t be certain,” François noted. In their minds, coercion is associated with physical abuse but not with financial needs. In fact, they dislike the thought that prostitutes would do it just to earn a living.

“There are some who do it because they need the money, and I don’t feel comfortable with them (probably because I feel guilty) so I avoid them,” “Mas Reg” wrote. “There are others who do it because they like sex and money.” “Antoine Inconnu” said he had the “weakness to think” that the escorts he met were doing it “because they needed to and also a bit for pleasure.” Jean told the story of a young woman who had no other client besides him. She contacts him “whenever she wants sex, tenderness or money.”

“The world isn’t made of rainbows and lollipops”

Some even said they prefer the “occasional” prostitutes which allow for “more human” encounters, as opposed to “professionals” who are more “mechanical.” “It’s as if they all had the same training,” Radric said. Cédric is straightforward on this question: “What motivates the prostitute is none of my business.”

People who oppose prostitution think of the women as victims, that they are forced to sell what should not be sold. “The world isn’t made of rainbows and lollipops. People buy and sell anything,” Jean wrote. Some escort girls earn “a lot of money without working full time. It’s easy money,” “homme cool” wrote. “Everybody wins.”

For these men, the possibility of a new law that would prosecute clients is appalling. An idea they characterize as “hypocritical,” “cowardly,” “stupid” or “certainly due to a feminist point of view.” Only François has mixed feelings. “I can't make up my mind about it,” he said. “I’ve read articles that were for and against it, and I found they both had valid arguments.” He explained that he will probably stop if the bill passes. He is the only one, and he is also the one who patronizes prostitutes the least: not even once a year, as opposed to up to three times a month for the others. And yet, they do not feel threatened by the legislation.

“If I agree with somebody by email or by phone to meet at her place, at mine or at a hotel, I hardly see how the police could ever know anything and intervene,” "Antoine Inconnu" said. “Besides, don't they have anything better to do?”

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Boris Johnson tells France — not so eloquently — to prenez un grip

Bertrand Hauger


-Essay-

PARIS — I'll admit it straight away: As a bilingual journalist, the growing use of Franglais by French politicians makes my skin crawl.

Not because I think this blend of French and English is a bad thing in and of itself (it is!), or because the purity of the French language should be preserved at all costs (it should!) — but because in a serious context, it is — at best — a distraction from the substance at hand. And at worst, well …

But in France, where more and more people speak decent English, Anglo-Saxon terms are creeping in everywhere, and increasingly in the mouths of politicians who think they're being cool or smart.

Not that long ago, Emmanuel Macron was dubbed "the Franglais president" after tweeting "La démocratie est le système le plus bottom up de la terre" ...

Oh mon dieu

They call it Frenglish

It is much rarer when the linguistic invasion goes in the other direction, with far fewer English-speaking elected officials, or their electors, knowing more than a couple of words of French. (The few Brits who use it call it Frenglish)

Imagine then my horror last night watching British Prime Minister Boris Johnson berating France over the recent diplomatic clash surrounding the AUKUS submarine deal, cheekily telling UK media from Washington: "I just think it's time for some of our dearest friends around the world to prenez un grip about this and donnez-moi un break."

Cringe. Eye roll. Facepalm.
Here's the clip, in case you haven't had your morning cup of awkward.
Grincement de dents. Yeux au ciel. Tête entre les mains.

First, let me offer a quick French lesson: Sorry, BoJo, you needed the "infinitif" form here: "It's time for [us] to prendre un grip about this and me donner un break."

But that, of course (bien sûr), is not the point in this particular moment. Instead, this would-be bon mot is not just sloppy and silly, it is incredibly patronizing, particularly when discussing a multi-billion deal that sparked a deep diplomatic crisis in the Western alliance.

The colorful British politician is, alas, no stranger to verbal miscalculations and linguistic gaffes. He's also (Brexit, anyone?) not necessarily one who cares about preserving relationships with longstanding partners. This time, combining the two, even for such a shameless figure as Mr. Johnson, only one word came to my bilingual brain: Vraiment?

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