"Everyone Has a Price
That's the slogan of What's Your Price, an internet dating site where self-classified "generous" people (i.e., those interested in paying for a date) can access profiles of self-classified "attractive" people (i.e., those interested in being paid for a date). After a user completes a profile, the company then approves it, and the parties are on their own. The experience appears to operate much like an internet auction or trade site (see here):
Once you find the people you'd like to date, ask them out by making an offer. If you're a generous user, name the price you're willing to pay for the first date. And, if you're an attractive user, name the price you want to get paid for the first date. Our offer negotiating system will allow you to accept an offer, reject an offer, or counter with a different price.
And then there are rules about paying one's date (here). The "generous" person is expected to pay for the date and deliver the "attractive" person's dating fee in two installments (50% at the beginning of the date and 50% at the end; cash only). Read all of the rules here.
The site's founder, Brandon Wade, is an MIT graduate. In an interview with the NY Daily News (here), Wade denied any link between his site and prostitution:
"We really try to frame the entire process very clearly - you're paying for the opportunity of a first date - it's a chance to allow somebody to like you more than just from an online profile or picture," he said. * * * The site, he claimed, is kept very clean with a clear notice about what is acceptable to post or ask for and what is not. If someone violates the terms of the site, he points out, they could be taken to court.
Early press reports focused on the fact that most of the "generous" site users are male and most of the "attractive" site users are female. I'd be interested in knowing the gender break-down of users in each group (i.e., buyers or sellers of dates), as well as their educational background, employment status, race or ethnic identification and geographic locations of the users. I'm sure that Wade would not make this data public, but it would serve as the basis for a fascinating study. Other questions I'd like to ask include how much bargaining goes on between buyer and seller? How do sellers maximize profits? How does the "purchase" experience impact the participants' self-perceptions? Other-perceptions? Do the participants tend to reflect so-called "liberal" or "conservative" social values? How are dating practices on this site different from traditional dating sites? Are there intra-group norms that have developed, for the "generous," the "attractive," or users as a whole?
The site gives me the creeps, I admit. Yet there are economic aspects to dating and mating that aren't too far below the surface for some people. I mean, unless each person on the date pays his or her own way, don't most dates involve some kind of economic exchange?
At the most simplistic level, is there a difference between a paid date and prostitution? No, in that both scenarios involve one person's "selling" his or her time/body to another for a price. Yes, if there is no sex act involved.