Sexual Self-Delusion

by | October 21, 2019 | General | 11 comments

Hustlers movie poster

Last weekend, I finally saw the film Hustlers. I’m not going to review the movie (though I liked it a lot), as it has already received considerable media attention, partly because of its all female cast and woman director. My topic involves how the film portrays sex, especially male sexuality.

In case you haven’t heard or read about Hustlers, I’ll briefly summarize the plot. Capitalizing on the 2007 Wall Street boom, veteran stripper Ramona, her newbie protegée Destiny, and the other diverse dancers at New York’s Moves strip club are making a great living out off the bankers, stock traders and CEOs out for a night of expensive fun. When the financial crisis of 2008 decimates their former customers’ incomes and leaves the girls struggling, Ramona hatches a scheme to seduce wealthy guys at high end bars, slip them some drugs, drag them back to Moves, and max out their credit cards. The women’s larceny succeeds for a surprisingly long time, but eventually they get caught, and the legal reckoning shreds the close friendship between Ramona and Destiny.

Though the film has been banned in Malaysia and probably censored in other conservative countries, in fact it contains no actual sex acts and very little nudity. (I found it interesting that the one instance of full frontal nudity involved a man, which is pretty rare in American movies.) Indeed, though the strippers are experts at erotic titillation, the club, at least before the Crash, prohibits intimate contact between dancers and customers. Cameras in the private rooms enforce this rule (though there’s a hint that the really high rollers manage to get around this constraint). The strippers’ raunchy moves, lap dances and simulated lesbian routines arouse the customers by suggesting the possibility of sexual intercourse, but in fact that promise is rarely if ever fulfilled. Although the customers are well aware they won’t get laid, that doesn’t seem to matter. They still shell out hundreds of dollars to perpetuate the illusion that they’re going to get lucky and score with one (or more than one) of the voluptuous, scantily clad dancers who tantalize them so effectively.

Our first introduction to Ramona is her stunning pole dance routine, in which she shows off not only her strength and flexibility but also her ass and her crotch. The audience showers her with bills. By the time she finishes (in a provocative full split), the stage is littered with a thick layer of cash. She struts off stage clutching armfuls to her cleavage. “Doesn’t money make you horny?” she asks the stunned and admiring Destiny.

What motivates the men for whom she’s performing to react this way? Complete and utter fantasy. And for the guys who keep the club in business, that’s mostly enough.

When Ramona and company embark on their illegal enterprises, the film sharpens its portrait of men as willing participants in their own sexual self-delusion. The victims of their scam don’t know that the beautiful, expensively-dressed young ladies flirting with them are strippers, at least not initially. The women pass themselves off as wealthy party girls, just looking for a hard cock and a good time. And the target is willing to believe this – eager, in fact. How flattering to think that these gorgeous, fashionable creatures are attracted to him! How exciting that he might be able to take on not just one sexy woman, but three or four!

Ramona and her gang operate for several years, scamming their marks out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Why aren’t they caught sooner? The film suggests that the victims were embarrassed to admit they’d been fleeced by a bunch of strippers – but at the same time, there’s a mention of at least one guy who fell into their trap three times.

In short, these hustlers capitalized on the male ego. They weren’t selling sex – only the fantasy of sex.

Is this a realistic portrayal of male sexuality? I can’t comment. However, the movie is based on a true story. It does make one wonder.

And is fantasy enough? After all, that’s what erotica authors offer. Readers buy our books expecting to be aroused. Maybe this translates into better, or more, real world sex for them. Or maybe it’s a substitute.

This line of inquiry does make me a bit uncomfortable. Despite my personal slogan – Imagination is the ultimate aphrodisiac – I am a big fan of actual sexual activity. I’d like to think my stories enhance rather than replace sex.

Sex is political. Hustlers is definitely a political movie, with a well-defined perspective that I, at least would consider feminist. How seriously should I take the premise that men will do almost anything if you simply dangle the possibility of sex in front of their faces?

Guys – what do you think?

Lisabet Sarai

Sex and writing. I think I've always been fascinated by both. Freud was right. I definitely remember feelings that I now recognize as sexual, long before I reached puberty. I was horny before I knew what that meant. My teens and twenties I spent in a hormone-induced haze, perpetually "in love" with someone (sometimes more than one someone). I still recall the moment of enlightenment, in high school, when I realized that I could say "yes" to sexual exploration, even though society told me to say no. Despite being a shy egghead with world-class myopia who thought she was fat, I had managed to accumulate a pretty wide range of sexual experience by the time I got married. And I'm happy to report that, thanks to my husband's open mind and naughty imagination, my sexual adventures didn't end at that point! Meanwhile, I was born writing. Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, though according to family apocrypha, I was talking at six months. Certainly, I started writing as soon as I learned how to form the letters. I penned my first poem when I was seven. While I was in elementary school I wrote more poetry, stories, at least two plays (one about the Beatles and one about the Goldwater-Johnson presidential contest, believe it or not), and a survival manual for Martians (really). I continued to write my way through high school, college, and grad school, mostly angst-ridden poems about love and desire, although I also remember working on a ghost story/romance novel (wish I could find that now). I've written song lyrics, meeting minutes, marketing copy, software manuals, research reports, a cookbook, a self-help book, and a five hundred page dissertation. For years, I wrote erotic stories and kinky fantasies for myself and for lovers' entertainment. I never considered trying to publish my work until I picked up a copy of Portia da Costa's Black Lace classic Gemini Heat while sojourning in Istanbul. My first reaction was "Wow!". It was possibly the most arousing thing I'd ever read, intelligent, articulate, diverse and wonderfully transgressive. My second reaction was, "I'll bet I could write a book like that." I wrote the first three chapters of Raw Silk and submitted a proposal to Black Lace, almost on a lark. I was astonished when they accepted it. The book was published in April 1999, and all at once, I was an official erotic author. A lot has changed since my Black Lace days. But I still get a thrill from writing erotica. It's a never-ending challenge, trying to capture the emotional complexities of a sexual encounter. I'm far less interested in what happens to my characters' bodies than in what goes on in their heads.


  1. larry archer

    Why else would guys give their dick a name? Because you wouldn’t want a stranger to be making all your decisions for you!

    • Lisabet Sarai

      So you think this portrayal is pretty accurate, Larry?

  2. Belinda LaPage

    I believe both camps exist. Yes, some will use erotica as part of their real life sexuality, but a vast number, especially those who read edgier kink-based material fall into a can’t, mustn’t, or won’t camp.

    Some readers lack the social skills or graces to find a consenting partner. Some have a consenting partner who won’t share their fantasy. Some have a consenting partner but choose not to (or physically cannot) play out their sexual fantasy. For all of these cases, a well-turned piece of erotica offers them some temporary relief and hopefully satisfaction.

    • Lisabet Sarai

      Actually, I got an interesting friend request recently, from a young man who’s interested in submitting to a Mistress. No, he wasn’t asking me LOL…. but he was looking for reassurance that he was not crazy, warped or somehow damaged because of his desires. He told me he has been forced to play the dominant role in order to have a love life, but he really wants something else.

      I was touched and honored by his honesty. I tried to tell him he was perfectly normal, and that he shouldn’t stop looking for the right woman, one with complementary fantasies.

      I also sent him a couple of my femdom stories, to tide him over…

      • Donna George Storey

        My imagination is a key component of my eroticism, so whether my stories inspire or add spice to solo sex or partner sex, I’m happy! You raise some really important points, Lisabet, about how sexuality is presented in our society right now. I haven’t seen Hustlers, but your description suggests that it explores women turning the tables on female objectification. The pussy is replaced with the wallet. It also reminded me of an incident I observed when I was at a Cubs game in the 1990s and some trader-type guys started throwing $20 bills at some attractive women (who were clearly not strippers) to get their attention. My first response was that these guys were idiots to waste their money like that–and I’m not sure if it secured any introductions–but I actually feel sorry for the many men who feel that the only thing they can really offer is money. I know it’s more complex than that, but it’s also the oversimplification that creates situations like the man who contacted you. The dominant (pun intended, sort of) narratives of eroticism close down so many amazing possibilities. Your stories and your support are making a huge difference for someone who doesn’t feel free to express himself fully. That’s way cool!

        • Lisabet Sarai

          Thanks, Donna. I have to admit I was really flattered.

          I get the sense that many men feel very insecure about their sexuality. Maybe frustrated too. That makes them behave in weird (to me) ways when they think they see the promise of sex.

          I’m grateful that most of my lovers have been self-confident about their sexuality, rather than so needy. My husband had dozens of lovers before we met. He’s not particularly good looking (though he’s smart and funny, and really loves women), but he had great sexual success.

  3. Rose

    “How seriously should I take the premise that men will do almost anything if you simply dangle the possibility of sex in front of their faces?

    “Guys – what do you think?”

    I, for one, don’t have much respect for a guy who could be so easily manipulated. I prefer my men self-possessed. (That isn’t to say that there are a lot of men like that out there, but I got lucky. I have no idea if some or many men will do anything for even the fantasy or promise of sex. That whole dangling thing, though, that sounds like game-playing and I don’t like playing games. Fuck or don’t fuck, but don’t fuck around.) And it’s my experience that dangling the possibility of sex didn’t really net me anything anyway, except, well, sex. On the other hand, I didn’t actually “dangle” it for any reason. For me, sex was an opportunity for a bit of physical intimacy. (I don’t make a promise or imply a promise that I don’t intend to keep.) Sex was sex and it wasn’t a trading card. It either happened or it didn’t and it wasn’t contingent on anything except if I liked the guy enough to let it happen. It wasn’t a trade-off for money, dinners, jewellery, designer clothes, a fancy lifestyle, or anything else. If that’s how other women want to play it, fine, but that just isn’t me. And, as I said already, I wouldn’t want to have anything to do with a guy who could be that easily manipulated, so matter how wealthy he was. The implication, of course, is that those guys think they can buy anything and anyone, and perhaps 99% of time they can. I like to think that in this particular instance, this make me part of the 1%…the 1% that can’t be. Strength of character is way more important.

    I think I’m kind of a simple soul and I live a simple life and an uncomplicated lifestyle (no flash, no glitter, no social climbing). I don’t ask for much and expect only respect and companionship (which I reciprocate), and a few creature comforts to which I contribute as well. Oh, and good food and someone who appreciates it, especially if I’m the one cooking it.

    Rose 😉

    • Lisabet Sarai

      I agree 100% with your experience, but I do think that some men think it has to be some sort of trade. Very sad.

  4. Rose

    Actually, this is a follow-up to my comment, which is still awaiting moderation. As per usual, I kind of got lost in my own loquacity and didn’t exactly answer the question, said question being how seriously should you take the premise that men will do almost anything if you simply dangle the possibility of sex in front of their faces?

    What I was really getting at was that I hope fervently that that premise should NOT be taken seriously at all. I’m saying I hope it isn’t, not that I don’t believe it doesn’t happen. I just want to think the best of men.

    A long time ago, my late great husband told me that way back when, a lot of guys would just marry their first steady lay, because it was guaranteed sex. (He wasn’t one of those guys, but I can certainly believe that it happened, especially when the standard was still that “nice” single girls didn’t go all the way until they were married. The prospect of regular sex, for some guys, I’m sure, would tip the scales. Maybe not. What do I know? I never took a poll. What I do know is that when I was still young — which, of course, is now a very long time ago — there still was a stigma attached to girls who put out. The guys wanted to marry virgins, and a lot of virgins used that promise of sex as a means to snag a guy. I just don’t believe in using sex as a bargaining chip for anything.)

    I think that’s one of the reasons that I think of sex as more of an ice breaker. Once you get that out of the way, you can get down to the nitty-gritty of what each individual in a given relationship really wants out of life and how much they really have in common. Get the sex out of the way, go at it hammer and tongs during the introductory phase (weeks? months?), and then get into the serious topics about shared visions, activities, values, children (yes or no?), and whatever else keeps people together loving each other all their lives.

    I’d hate to think that a really intelligent man would allow himself to be manipulated by a woman dangling possible sex as an incentive to give her whatever she wants as a trade. And anyone who would throw their money around just on the possibility of getting laid, well, I think that speaks to (a) low self esteem, and (b) a possible gambling problem.

    Rose 😉

    • Lisabet Sarai

      Low self-esteem, certainly. In all fairness, though, I’ve been with guys who clearly hadn’t had as much sex as they wanted. They were so grateful to meet a woman who actually enjoyed sex, and wasn’t looking for something in return.

      Your comment about trading virginity for marriage is a reminder of the extent to which women have been viewed as property. If the only thing you have of value is your hymen (where value is defined by the patriarchy, not by you), maybe it’s wise to guard it rather than squander it.

      Thank heavens that wasn’t the world in which I grew up!

  5. David Croft

    Hi Lisabet,

    I haven’t seen the film and from what you’ve described, I doubt I’d enjoy it. I have no doubt that some men can be manipulated as depicted in the film. Of those men, I’d say that some would be only dimly aware (or not aware at all) or concerned with the “game”, while others would be aware of the game and perhaps mildly disturbed by it, though not enough to leave it.

    I also believe that there are men that have no interest in this kind of pursuit…men that (like women) actually want to feel desired and need to feel it’s genuine.

    Finally, I firmly believe that there are men that cannot be manipulated in that way.

    I don’t know it that’s helpful or not 🙂


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