Cruising down Sunset "is like a hunt," one prostitution addict said.
"It's like a ritual," said Doug, 40. "It's the hunter's instinct."
People have been having a hard time understanding why Hugh Grant -- star and boyfriend of a stunning model -- might go to a prostitute for sex, as police have charged. But Doug, a television executive (and "fairly decent-looking," he said) thinks he knows why: "It's about control."
Ask the handful of prostitutes who have taken back their media-saturated haunts along Sunset Boulevard. "We can do things their wives can't," one said. "We're their fantasy," said another.
Mr. Grant, the boyish Briton from the hit film "Four Weddings and a Funeral," was arrested near Sunset Boulevard early last Tuesday and charged with engaging in lewd conduct with Divine Marie Brown, identified by police as "a known prostitute."
The arrest had people across the country asking, "Why?" As tabloid journalist Maryanne Norbum put it in a widely quoted quip, "He could have sat at the Four Seasons bar and had action in three minutes."
But former paid-sex addicts and experts say it is not uncommon for attractive and "comfortable" men to pay for sex, citing adventure, anonymity, ease, power, shame and compulsion as reasons.
"There's a lot of risk involved, and that's part of the high. You're in public, you don't know these people, they could rob you, they could give you a disease," said Doug, a Los Angeles resident and self-confessed thrill seeker who said he has not had contact with a prostitute for two years. "I've gone to a room with a prostitute and someone chased her down the hall over drugs. I've gotten in car accidents, not paying attention to the road."
Then there's the issue of anonymity, particularly relevant in a star's case. "Prostitution is much less of a pressured interaction -- there are no emotional entanglements," said UCLA psychiatrist Dr. Joshua Golden. "A prostitute is a complete and total stranger."
That's especially important in Los Angeles, where many young women roam bars looking for stars and tabloid fame.
"The greater his wealth and celebrity status, the more she can sell the story of his affair to a tabloid, destroying his reputation," said sex expert Warren Farrell, author of "The Myth of Male Power."
"Next to this, the prostitute has the promise of being quick, easy. The contract is clear."
Mr. Farrell said men rationalize by saying, "I don't hurt my wife. I don't hurt my career."
Gilbert Geis, retired criminology professor from the University of California, Irvine, said one of the most important reasons men go to prostitutes is the ease of such an encounter. No fuss, no muss.
"Sometimes men don't have the energy to be romantic and social -- they want to be indifferent," Mr. Geis said. "There's a lovely line in Hemingway: 'I was just too tired to tell them I loved them.' "
Mr. Geis also believes that power plays an important role. "He who pays calls the tunes. You're buying the power to dictate, to make her do whatever you want to do. Often these are things you could not go home and command your wife to do."
Of course, Mr. Grant is not the only famous name to make sensational headlines.
Joey Buttafuoco was arrested in May and charged with soliciting a prostitute (who was actually an undercover cop) along the same stretch of Sunset. And, in 1985, track star Edwin Moses was also arrested on charges of soliciting, but was later acquitted.
Some say soliciting prostitutes stems from shame and temptation.
"In the development of a young boy, the idea of straightforward sex often meets with disapproval, punishment and humiliation," said Dr. John Money, a retired professor of medical psychology and pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University.
"When he is in a relationship, he is unable to keep love and lust fitted together in the same partner, and has to go to a prostitute and pay for something that he feels is incredibly sinful."