As part of a series on getting by with little money, Business Insider ran an article detailing how a Manhattan twenty-something uses dating website Match.com to get free dinners and booze. Jessica Sporty’s progression from merely being frugal to using sex appeal to obtain material goods unleashed an utterly predictable storm of reactions from all corners of the political spectrum.
Really, though, this isn’t anything new. Putting aside invocations of “the oldest profession,” the more moderate phenomenon of compensated dating has been around for quite some time. Called “enko” in Japan, or “enjo kosai,” it involves paying for a woman’s company more than her body, though depending on where the buyer and seller fall on the spectrum of sexual permissiveness, sex is not out of the question. Naturally, a “reverse” version exists as well: in The Great Happiness Space, a male host at an Osaka club describes the emotional toll of having sex with several paying women each week.
Perhaps the telling part is that unlike in Japan, most of the US seems to labor under the illusion that such practices are a thing of the past. “What woman does this sort of thing?” America had compensated dating in the 1920s, along with flappers and financially liberated women, but it just as surely had attempts to legislate these out of sight and out of existence. According to an ABC News survey, 30% of single men above the age of 30 have paid for sex.
And yet this sort of thing is distasteful to us now. Tokyopop cut the entire enjo kosai subplot, a valuable cultural nuance, from Initial D‘s American localization.
The original author at Business Insider has since complained that people were overly sensitive about Sporty callously playing with peoples’ feelings for fun and profit. She rebuked readers for making value judgments about a woman who just wants to live the good life at the expense of others.
Sporty kept things simple—no more than five dates with the same guy.
Perhaps the largest difference is that in Japan, there is necessarily a certain tension: whether drinking with a man at a host club, or going to karaoke with a high school girl, the client knows they are paying for the illusion of good times with the opposite gender. In Jessica Sporty’s outings, only one side is aware that it’s all a show.