Until his 1999 retirement, Shai Shahar was one of Europe’s leading gigolos and the first male escort ever to exhibit himself in an Amsterdam window display. Shai, who grew up in Philadelphia and moved to Israel in 1980, spoke to Heeb about housewives with needs, and the imaginary rabbi who watches over him, and his illustrious entrance into the sex industry.
How did you become a gigolo, and what exactly was Yasir Arafat’s role in your introduction to the sex industry?
Shortly after the Gulf War, I bet [filmmaker] Peter [Forbes] that I could get him an interview with Arafat in exchange for him hiring me as executive producer of his team. What Peter didn’t know was that I had worked in and for Israel for just under ten years and knew exactly how to get in contact with my opposite number in the Palestinian camp. In the process, I met some diplomats and go-betweens, and a few months later was invited to a lawn party where I met a very sexy, green-eyed woman. Over breakfast, she asked if I wouldn’t mind going shopping with her and insisted on buying me a double-breasted blazer. While kissing me good-bye, she stuffed a note wrapped around 500 guilders in my pocket. On that note was a phone numberâŽ¯not hers, but of the agency her friend ran. I held onto that number for four months before dialing it.
The agency was a high-class escort service, and that phone call led to almost ten years as a gigolo. How many women did you have sex with in that time and what were your usual rates? Professionally?
My final client tally was just over 500 women and 40 couples. I am hetero, not bi, so when I say I had sex with couples I mean I would be there to either have sex with the girlfriend or wife while he would watch and take pictures, or join him in doing her. My usual rate worked out to be roughly $150 for the first hour and $100 for every hour after that. All night was $1000 plus travel and expenses, and most often a tip was added.
So where did you learn the tricks of the trade? Was it all on the job, or are there special training courses you can take?
I learned everything I know from reading sex magazines when I was young. I later graduated into watching porn films and practicing with girlfriends. I was 35 when I started, so I came to the job with a fair degree of lifeâŽ¯and loveâŽ¯experience.
Why did your clients use gigolos? What were they looking for?
They wanted to know they’d been really completely taken or stretched to the limit sexually, and they didn’t want to hear about it later, during an argument about the dishes or the kids. They wanted to be seen “brand new” again, like they used to be, as Mary Jones or little Suzy Feinberg—the sexy, freckled teenager feeling frisky for the first time before becoming Mrs. So-and-So, who’s gained a pound or two and hasn’t had a proper manicure in months.
You place a lot of emphasis on what you learned during your time as a gigolo. What did you learn?
I learned that my rabbi was right when he said, “Never complain about your destiny until you know what it is.” I learned to lighten up and not to be so hard on myself for not being normal, or being, God forbid, a sexual deviant.
I’m fascinated by the internal rabbi you mentioned in accounts of your exploits. How long has he been speaking to you?
I think my “rabbi” has always been with me. Like a spirit guide, or a personified conscience. I remember hearing his voice when I was maybe seven or eight, explaining things or telling me to watch out for this and that. He was normally right.
Is he reformed or Orthodox?
By virtue of the fact that he’s stuck with me all these years, even after my eating pork, talking with Saeb Erekat once on the phone, and renting myself out to sexually gratify other men’s women over the course of a decade—I’d say he’d have to be highly-unorthodox.
He didn’t come with you on every job, did he?
At times he did seem far away. But at other times, he’d be looking over my shoulder and giving a running commentary on what he was seeing. He’s got one finely developed sense of humor. And great timing.
So what led to your decision to retire?
Enough was enough! I had begun to think of every woman as just another face of the same woman, which I knew couldn’t be healthy for me in a deeply human sense. And once I got past forty, my longings weren’t so much for unbridled, scandalous sex anymore. When my present partner, Cora, came into my life and brought with her a beautiful, talented daughter of her own, I saw not only a chance to find love again, but to build a family. Now I’m in the process of recording my debut album. My fantasy is to play Nathan Detroit in a Broadway/Hollywood remake of Guys and Dolls. And then a season in Vegas.
So, based on your experience, would you say that being a gigolo is really a job for a nice Jewish boy?
Yes. As a matter of fact, my clients preferred that I was Jewish, even though they sometimes wished my skin was a lot darker. But it’s not a career.
Shai Shahar can now be found performing with his band in jazz clubs throughout Amsterdam. Click to find about gigs and listen to some of his recordings.Â