Despite the plethora of courtesan romances out there, male prostitutes in romance are rare, especially in contemporary settings. There are many likely reasons for this: Readers who prefer the “Alpha” hero might dislike the idea of a man who has sex with women (or men) whom he does not choose. Other readers might be uncomfortable with other possible implications of prostitution, such as sexual abuse or disease.
In historicals, the male prostitute tends not to have chosen his profession. He might have been forced into prostitution as a child or young man. Examples include Laura Kinsale’s The Shadow and the Star, Kate Pearce’s Simply Sexual and Simply Sinful, and Judith James’s Broken Wing. Or he might, like the hero of Evangeline Collins’ Her Ladyship's Companion, have been raised in a brothel and come to prostitution via that route. In Gaelen Foley’s One Night of Sin, the hero unhappily becomes a woman’s kept man because of his gambling debts; this situation is a little more common in historical romances among rakish heroes with little cash.
Mary Jo Putney's The Spiral Path is an example of a contemporary in which the hero was forced into child prostitution, and keeping that secret becomes a major factor in the plot; however, since it’s a secret for most of the novel, it’s addressed indirectly.
The most commonly mentioned contemporaries featuring prostitute heroes are The Fifth Favor by Shelby Reed and Fallen from Grace by Laura Leone; I also took a look at a newer book, Finding Home by Lauren Baker and Bonnie Dee. Perhaps because of their unusual heroes, all three of these novels are from smaller presses (Ellora’s Cave, Five Star, and Samhain, respectively). The newest, Finding Home, pushes the most boundaries (in my opinion, at least).
In The Fifth Favor, the hero Adrian meets the heroine, Billie, when she interviews him for an article she’s writing. Billie is relatively innocent, sexually, at least in comparison to Adrian. Adrian has chosen his profession as a male escort for the money and the glamor, but is becoming disillusioned with how his job is preventing him from forming personal relationships. Constantly having to restrain his emotions is affecting his self-esteem. It’s one of the few male prostitute novels in which the hero isn’t a victim of any sort, nor does he harbor hidden secrets or deep angst.
Ryan of Fallen from Grace chose his profession only because the woman who rescued his teenaged self from the streets runs an escort service. He’s under pressure, sometimes violent, from his boss whenever he tries to quit the life, and that aspect of the plot is the main barrier to his romance with Sara, a mystery writer. At first Ryan hides his true profession, telling her he’s a model. The relationship is also complicated by Sara feeling she’s too old for him (nine years older). The age reversal as well as the power differential lends an interesting dynamic to the plot.
Finding Home, by Lauren Baker and Bonnie Dee, features a young man turning tricks (with male clients, unlike my two previous examples) to survive. As in The Fifth Favor, the heroine, Megan, is a journalist, aspiring to do a piece that will earn her a promotion, but overall the plot is more similar to Fallen From Grace. Megan rescues the hero, called “Mouth,” from the streets. Finding Home addresses an assortment of issues; for instance, the heroine feels responsible for the hero both because of the rescue and because she is older than he is (though not as much older as Sara in Fallen from Grace). She’s uneasy when their relationship begins to change. It’s a darker book than the others I’ve described.
Judging from these three books, I predict that male prostitute heroes will become more common in romance, and especially erotic romance, and will explore deeper and darker themes as more of a canon develops and the novels can be in dialogue with one another. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing how authors play with this type of hero.
Victoria Janssen is the author of three erotic novels and numerous short stories. Her latest novel is The Duke and The Pirate Queen from Harlequin Spice. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriajanssen or find out more atvictoriajanssen.com.