The life of a modern-day gigolo can be cruel, reveals Spread , a new Ashton Kutcher flick that opens today in theatres.
In between lounging poolside and raiding his sugar mommy's kitchen for milk and peanut butter sandwiches, Mr. Kutcher's character Nikki suffers numerous indignities.
When Nikki's provider Samantha realizes she's been duped, she whips the designer jeans she bought him at his head, yelling: "You're nothing but six inches." Starving and homeless, Nikki eventually pleasures a Botoxed woman for a club sandwich.
Degradation aside, the gigolo still enjoys a much more ambivalent place in society than his female counterparts, the much maligned gold digger and the trophy wife. Today, the gigolo hovers somewhere between player, prostitute, sugar baby and genuine cougar lover.
"There isn't the same kind of moral judgment around it," says Josey Vogels, a sex columnist and author. "Is he a male prostitute? Is he just a womanizer? It's not really defined in our culture."
This speaks to a double standard, she adds. "It's an interesting result of gender shifting. Women want to be more powerful and get taken seriously, [so]living off the avails of a man is seen as insecure or pathetic. Whereas guys, if you're secure enough in your masculinity, you should be fine with an older woman with lots of money and power."
While the gold digger is consistently portrayed as a tawdry type, the film builds a certain reverence for Nikki's audacious seduction techniques. A sample: He explains that a man needs 26 points for a woman to trust him - he gets one for flowers, two for dinner and three for an orgasm. Once a man hits the 26-point mark, he can "go back to watching football."
Anna David, author of the book Bought , about pricey prostitutes in Los Angeles, knew some of these "unemployed, broke, gorgeous young men" who lived off powerful women in the city. She found they were often commended by friends for their prowess, like a "sick compliment."
"I was friends with guys like that and really saw what they were able to do, and saw no female friends of mine doing that," Ms. David said.
Much of the gigolo's game overlaps with that of the pick-up artist, but where the gurus of the PUA community feed lines to men frantic for sex, gigolos have natural charm and use their game for lodgings and luxury cars.
Although Nikki worms his way into Samantha's life with his point system and non-stop sex, other gigolos are more clear about their intentions.
On websites such as SeekingArrangement.com, where sugar mommies, sugar daddies and sugar babies post profiles, the exchange is explicit. All users must provide their specifics: height, body type, eye and hair colour. Mommies and daddies must also specify their budget, income and net worth.
So what's in it for successful, seemingly intelligent women?
"The baby offers companionship, the love of life, the spirit," said Brandon Wade, who founded the Las Vegas-based site in 2006.
As their net worth rises, Mr. Wade said, middle-aged women are feeling increasingly "empowered" to forge such relationships: Mommies now outnumber babies by 100 to 1 on the site.
Spread 's screenwriter Jason Dean Hall said powerful women feel entitled to their young lovers: Many have neglected their personal lives into their 40s while pursuing careers, and may not have been "the ones who got every boy they wanted in high school."
"It's having some man candy on your arm, like, 'Look, I still got it,' and 'Look what I can attract,'" Ms. Vogels said.
The gigolos appear equally entitled.
Mr. Wade said sugar babies frequent SeekingArrangement.com "because they want to form the kind of relationships that they feel they deserve."
Not surprisingly, some angst lies in the money department. Male sugar babies are often sensitive about the financial exchange, especially as it pertains to their masculinity.
"That's the big issue. That's the hardest part," Mr. Hall said.
But there are coping mechanisms. Nikki, who struts around in Spread with his life close by in a backpack, speaks of "building equity" by never showing the women that he is impressed with their wealth.
On SeekingArrangement.com, men shy away from using the word "allowance," Mr. Wade said.
"They're not just looking for the cheque or the wad of cash at the end of the night. They're wanting the overall stability," said the site's marketing director, Stephan Smith, adding that many babies seek mentors to help them network in their industry.
Maybe so, but some sugar babies' situations are far less corporate.
Mr. Hall based Spread largely on his own caddish meanderings when he arrived to Los Angeles at age 22.
"I definitely did things out of necessity," he said, recalling a "change of pace" that took him from sharing the back of his car with his dog to living with an older woman at her Benedict Canyon home.
Mr. Hall said he felt conflicted when he developed feelings for the wealthy woman: Were they for her, or her digs?
Still, he was reticent about using the word gigolo to describe Nikki.
"I'm actually much more comfortable with the word whore than I am gigolo. … In some ways I think whore is a softer word than gigolo because you can be many forms and shapes of a whore, and the image of a gigolo kind of reminds me of someone on Hollywood Boulevard with a tight, sleeveless T-shirt and tight jeans worn out around the crotch. To me, a gigolo is Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy ."
Mr. Smith doesn't use the G-word for Nikki either.
Rather, he sees a sugar baby like the ones on his site, who "enjoys the overall lifestyle provided by semi-ongoing relationships with wealthy women who would show him off to friends, not just have him for a quickie poolside."