Studies of sex workers have shown that Western sex workers may provide a proxy ‘girlfriend experience’ (Sanders 2008). Chen (2006; 2008) argued that Taiwanese sex workers are self-trained to perform emotional labour and successfully create the illusion of ‘falling in love’ with clients to ‘keep’ them as clients. Ho, who suffered from long-term frustration in pursuing heterosexual women, argued that using prostitutes served to fill up his ‘psychological lack’, that is, lack of heterosexual intimacy. As Ho had never experienced heterosexual intimacy before he visited sex workers, his visits to them were very emotionally invested encounters:

I visited her frequently, and I got to spend more and more time with her. I then began to miss her all the time. How can I say it, I mean, at that time I didn’t have any experience of [heterosexual] intimacy at all. So, … it was like people put it, yun chuan [literally ‘seasickness’]. It’s yun chuan because I was inexperienced. I told her ‘I want to redeem your life!’ (ha, ha, ha… ) [emphasis by Ho]. Just like the old-fashioned lines of soap operas… It’s not love, it’s a feeling that I wished I could possess a woman who belonged to me. I had no idea of being depended on. The feeling of being depended on. … Even now I feel it was a kind of lack or incompleteness. It’s a bit similar to being mentally disabled. (Ho, 38, sales, married)

The ways Ho talked about how he missed the woman from the brothel and how he invested emotion in her were very similar to narratives of ordinary heterosexual love. This emotional narrative provides an example of how clients make efforts to negotiate intimacy in commercial sex. Nonetheless, in Taiwan, men who put themselves in this situation are called yun chuan (literally seasick) to indicate that they have lost their mind and failed to differentiate commercial sex from heterosexual love. Therefore, men who are ‘seasick’ can expect to be laughed at by their peers. They are taunted as ‘inexperienced’ clients who are ‘fooled’ by the ‘falling-in-love’ scripts of sex workers. Ho’s denial of the possibility of ‘love’, and claiming ‘seasickness’ and ‘inexperience’ are thus ways of reclaiming the social position of a masculine consumer.

Some others, who considered themselves to be ‘clear headed’ understood the ‘falling-in-love’ script differently. Liu reiterated that sex always ‘happened naturally’ when both hostesses and he had ‘sexual needs’ and proudly said that ‘I seldom pay for sex’. Liu ‘gives’ money to his regular women, but it is understood as a mutuality of friendship rather than a commercial transaction:

I don’t want to buy sex with money. However, sometimes I consider that she is working for survival, so I more or less give her some money. It is because I feel ashamed; otherwise, women usually do not talk about money when I take them out. … Although it is based on her consent, but, at least, as a consumer I am prepared to spend money while she is struggling to make money. (Liu, 47, truck driver, married)

This account is complicated and contradictory because heterosexual love relations interweave with sexual consumption and masculinity. ‘Authentic’ sexual encounters won by masculinity are supposed to be pure and not to involve money, while financial reward is the basic principle of sexual consumption. As Liu is always aware of his social status as a consumer, the intimacy will not be just like any other heterosexual relationship. The working woman was personalised as his lover, but yet she still existed as the ‘other’ whore who lived by prostitution. Above all, any ‘mutuality’ is always subject to the whim of clients’ arbitrary preferences (Plumridge et al. 1997: 172), especially when their economic situation and the calculation of gains and losses come into play. In fact, client-prostitute relationships, even in those long-term relationships, are mostly, at best, an intimacy without commitment. This was illustrated by how Liu described relating to a working woman:

I told her, ‘if you forced me to do anything, I would just leave you’. I mean, since we are friends and are together, you then cannot make things difficult for me. Neither would I make things difficult for her. So, she still kept working there. She needed to survive, you know. It was impossible for me. According to my personality, it is impossible for me to raise a cow simply to have some milk to drink! (laugh) You did your job, and I ran my own business. That’s it! (Liu, 47, truck driver, married)

Although Sanders (2008) argued that the relations between regular clients and their sex workers might be able to achieve what Giddens (1992) called a ‘pure relationship’ in that ‘the explicit boundaries of commerce are freed from the strains placed on conventional relationships’ (Sanders 2008: 110), I found that the long-term intimate relationship is not reciprocal, nor is it transgressive. It is the man who decides how far the working woman can cross the boundaries to have an intimate relationship and it is the woman who should always remember her place and not trespass.