What’s a Male Mistress?

By Maeve Maddox

The other day someone asked me for the male equivalent of “mistress.”

Naturally, I shot back “master,” but that was not the answer. My questioner wanted a word that was the male equivalent of:

woman having sexual relations on a regular basis and being supported by man not her husband

The word that comes closest in meaning is gigolo:

1 : a man living on the earnings of or supported by a woman;
2 : a professional dancing partner or male escort

The film title Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo undermines the use of even this word to mean “male prostitute” by suggesting that a gigolo could be female–as if a man being paid for sexual favors is acting like a woman.

The master/mistress pair is one of many examples of words that were once more or less exact equivalents, but which parted company because of gender-based prejudices that govern the language.

Linguist Julia Penelope located 220 English words meaning “promiscuous woman,” but found only 20 for “promiscuous man.”

Another researcher, Muriel R. Schultz, found 500 slang terms for “prostitute.” She found 65 slang terms for “whoremonger” and “pimp,” but those are words for men who sell women for sexual purposes.

Other words, like “tramp,” differ in meaning according to whether they’re being applied to a man or a woman. Calling a man a tramp is to imply that he lacks a regular job and place of residence. Calling a woman a tramp is to call her a whore.

Originally, master and mistress were equivalent words for persons having control or authority over others. Mistress in the sense of “a woman who employs others or has authority over servants” is from 1426. By 1430 the word had taken on the sense of “kept woman of a married man.”

In some school situations the words are still equivalents as synonyms for “teacher,” but in general usage, if you say “Sally is his mistress,” the meaning is clearly sexual. On the other hand, a sentence such as “Sam is her master,” would be meaningless out of context.

“A lot of ink is spilled over the use of “he” when both men and women are meant, but not a lot of public awareness focuses on habitual use of words like “bitch” on television and in conversation as if they were acceptable synonyms for ‘woman.'”

Words for a promiscuous woman are invariably derogatory, but words for a promiscuous man are frequently perceived as compliments: stud muffin, Romeo, ladies’ man.

The reason for this tendency of feminine words to take on negative, sexual connotations is the cultural attitude that men are human beings for whom sex is only one aspect of their existence, while women cannot be thought of apart from sexual functions.

Here’s an exercise for you:

For the duration of a day or two, try using only the word “woman” or “man” when you wish to refer to one or the other. No dudes, bitches, chicks, jerks, s.o.b.s or the like.

If your intention is to identify the man or the woman as a sexually promiscuous person, use the word promiscuous.

Or, you may want to choose from two word pairs that have managed to hang on to their equivalent connotations for centuries now:

adulterer/adulteress – married person who has sex with person other than legal spouse
fornicator/fornicatress – unmarried person who has sex with other unmarried person

Meanwhile, I suppose the male equivalent of “mistress” in the sense of “kept woman,” must be “kept man.”

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49 Responses to “What’s a Male Mistress?”

  • EleanorRigby26

    This exact problem, however, enabled Flaubert to craft one of my favorite literary lines ever in Madame Bovary: “He was becoming her mistress” The gender role play makes it so much more interesting than if he’d tried to find a masculine equivalent.

  • Brad K.

    I went to high school at Everly Community High, in Iowa during the 1960’s. The team name was ‘The Cattlefeeders’. Yes, kind of rural. But during basketball season, when you mentioned The Cattlefeeders, you meant the girls team – they had made state champions once, and been to state competitions more than six times in 12 years. When you meant the boy’s team, you said The Cattelfeeders boys team.

    You mention using mistress as a figure of authority. I find a similar distinction as back in Everly applies, for me. That is, when I read “mistress” I most often think “mistress of the house” – alluding to a time when a ‘house’ was something a man owned and was master of. That is, mistress was responsible for running her husband’s household – a wife. I think that usage of the term, of a woman running a household, is what evolved into the generic ‘woman in position of authority’, an equivalent to master or sir.

    And isn’t mistress the source of the abbreviation ‘mrs.’? At least the abbreviation retains the connotation of co-authority in the household. I note the legal ramifications of marriage, combining the couple’s ability to contract and commit in the name of the household.

    As for male mistress where the connotation is kept man, how about boy toy? That implies at least the similar perception of lack of redeeming social value, other than social image or sexual gratification.

  • Maeve

    Both Mrs. and Miss derive from the word Mistress.

    I think “boy toy” is just another cute expression designed to make the man’s behavior appear pleasant and acceptable compared to similar behavior on the part of the woman.

  • Tracy

    I think the term mantress should catch on for a male mistress.

  • Barbara Ling

    I vote for “he-wench.”
    🙂

    Barbara

  • Traci York

    When I got my first domain name, I decided to choose “webmistress@” for my email address, since so many sites I knew of had a similar “webmaster” type addy. I have friends who still tease me that with an email like that, I must have a hidden page for my S&M fetish. However, now that “webmaster” seems to be a blanket term for both males and females who are in charge of websites, I still refuse to change.

  • Brad K.

    In the new movie “What Happens in Vegas”, Jack uses a name tag at his wife’s company retreat, “Joy’s Bitch”.

    I do find it curious that usually ‘mistress’ as a label is derogatory, but Mistress as a form of address is usually a term of respect. “Yes, Mistress.” Sometimes ‘master’ as a label is less than complimentary, but not very often.

  • Maeve

    Traci,
    Sometimes, if enough people do it, a word can be reclaimed by insisting upon one’s own definition.

  • Regina

    I loved the term ‘mantress’ for a male person of the kept for sexual favors kind, but my male co-worker liked ‘he-wench’. I think mantress better portrays exactly where the man will be performing his ‘duties’.

  • Tania

    EleanorRigby26 – good comment! Could you point me to the part in Mme Bovary where the line you quote appears? Haven’t read it for a while, and would like to reference the French.

  • Meryl Evans

    That’s fine — a TV show mentioned this very issue. Maybe that prompted the question?

    Nonetheless, I’ve got an old post that keeps coming back to life about the use of “messrs.” Whether it should have a period, how to pronounce it, whether to use it in this or that situation. Fascinating.

    Well, at least, we don’t give every object a male and female form as many non-English languages do.

  • Joshua

    I was just thinking about this topic a few days ago. A friend of mine said he was his girlfriend’s “man whore” implying that only women could be whores…silly if you ask me.

  • hcabbos

    The article states, “fornicator/fornicatress – unmarried person who has sex with other unmarried person.”

    That’s not quite right. An unmarried person who has sex with a married person would still be considered a fornicator.

  • Brad K.

    hcabbos – I think the term ‘mistress’ has many connotations, only a few of which are explicitly sexual. Fornicator/fornicatrix refers specifically to the sex act, a much more narrow focus than the social role that a woman plays as mistress. In some contexts, mistress is a description of authority in a domestic household, with no implication of marriage status nor sexual roles.

    Adultery is an act of sex by or with a married person. If your partner is married, your partner is engaging in adultery. And so are you. Note the biblical remedy – thrust a spear through both parties. This passage, about the time of the giving of the ten commandments, is fairly descriptive of what adultery is.

    For a male mistress, how about ‘My Man’? Nicely ambiguous, the possessive implies intimate and responsible duties, a certain degree of confidentiality. “Maeve’s Man” has a nice ring to it.

  • Katie

    Brad K.:
    I don’t feel that works, as when a man says, “My woman,” he is usually referring to his wife or the woman he intends to marry, not his mistress. Once again, you are making the mistake of using a word for a male mistress that still makes it seem acceptable in society, instead of a term with a less positive connotation.

  • Karyn

    I think boy toy is perfect because it has that same connotation of one who’s being used. A mistress is kept by the man. A boy toy is kept by the woman. The boy part of it even brings the image to mind of an older woman keeping him, and usually the imagery of a mistress is something that an older man has.

  • Adam

    I think everyone will enjoy this site.

  • fmen

    you know what…us as women, should come up with a word that sounds repulsive to describe a male that F* everything that moves.
    Not to add a word or change another word meant for us females. You know there’s that thing called soft language to make men sound better when they fool around with everyone. I think it’s us too though, we as women also look down on other women who has sex with one too many men.
    But other males look up to their buddy that does the exact same thing.
    Now if we rise up as women and look down on men as oppose to our fellow sister we just might beat the norm.

    Now all we need is a truly terrible sounding word to describe a man being a sex fruit….

    “Chorea”- is an abnormal involuntary movement disorder.(rapid and uncontrolled)- i think this makes sense to me…

  • fmen

    adjective is “Choreic”

  • yeahfmen

    Scathe, Spore,Onus,SNORT? this is particularly hard, i can’t think of any ugly words.
    snark?Lewd?

  • Hyel

    I think the reason why most/almost all words for promiscuous women are derogatory and most words for promiscuous men are positive is related on one level to how the sexes court. Men chase, women resist, on the whole, therefore making the consummation a victory for the man and a defeat for the woman. I privately think there’s a tendency in most men to place less significance on the sex act and find it easier to get off with a stranger than most women do; women requiring more trust and a more skilled lover for there to be pleasure in the act, thus explaining the chase/resistance scenario. That’s gross generalisation, though, and I seriously doubt all this Men Are From Mars business. How much of that female resistance is actually related to the fact that the consummation of courtship is SEEN as the woman’s failure and the man’s victory? Round and round we go.

    I’m thoroughly opposed to the term “slut” and all its variations. We should not have derogatory words for promiscuous people – male or especially female.

  • fmen

    I believe that system is dated.
    I chase males ALL the time, in fact, women now are much more notorious to chase guys and yet we are still labeled as “whore,skank,slut”. It has nothing to do with victory.
    Just ugly words men chose to belittle the opposite gender.
    How are men expected to have more sex often when they create these words? Their sending the notion that a women having sex is wrong. Whereas if these words were lifted…they would probably have sex a lot more often and everyone would be happy. Basically it’s working against them. They should have more terms used for women who don’t have sex, “prude” isn’t used often enough.

  • Juci

    How about cicisbeo? I think that old Italian term fits rather nicely as a male equivalent of a mistress. In fact it was common for a wife of the 18th- 19th century Italy to have a male mistress or cicisbeo, as des the husband having a mistress. The husband and the cicisbeo viewed each other as brothers, as the wife and mistress viewed each other as sisters. It was a status symbol for the wife and husband to have a cicisbeo and a mistress around. It meant that the husband could afford to spend money on such luxuries, both for himself and his wife.

  • Tony Marcus

    I find myself in the unusual situation of actually being a “male mistress”–I’m madly in love with a woman who is married, and who has declared she has no intention of leaving her husband. Unusual turnabout, maybe, but I’m so in love with her I cannot help myself.

    Now I understand why women stay with married men despite their refusal to end their marriages…

  • male escort

    I’m not sure what the correct term would be – maybe the opposite of a sugar daddy, as well? histress?

  • Knight B

    Gigolo…

  • vera

    simple….sirstress!

  • Samjo

    Man-whore. Enough said.

  • Anton Meneghella

    I must say I am growing quite used to the term ‘mantress’, having rolled it around my mind for long enough to associate it with the praying, or should that be ‘preying’, mantis. (as in, “please, please, please, please have sex with me ….”)

    While I understand the push to find a similarly derogatory term for the male of the species, I find it hard to accept and have to ask “why”.

    In total agreement with fmen, I support the call for a unique identified appropriate for our times, and suggest that it be one that neither degrades nor celebrates the person (or the act) being labelled.

  • Mason

    I think the term “tool” could be an appropriate and satisfactory term, but it would be more slang than what mistress is.

  • Corey

    Interesting comments about finding a male equivalent for the word mistress. I began looking for that word myself, if such a word existed, not only because I’m an English lit major and interested in language, but because I now find myself in the position of a “male mistress”.

    The connotation of “mistress” in the sense I’m thinking of it (and in general accepted parlance nowadays) is a woman having an affair with a married man. I don’t think being kept monetarily necessarily enters into the equation (although it may, I suppose).

    In my case, I am a single male having a sexual affair with a married male. He is not keeping me monetarily. Yet we are devoted to each other as much as this complicated situation allows. So, what am I? The term “male mistress” just doesn’t work for me. I am coining a new term which I hope will gain general acceptance because there are countless numbers of men in positions similar to mine. I consider myself a “manstress” and I hope the term finds acceptance. It doesn’t take much guessing when one first sees or hears the word to surmise its meaning.

    I’d be interested in feedback.

  • rolfrrex

    you manwhore!! you sleeping with a married man.
    i think the apporpriate term in this essay length topic is sheman

  • hb

    been there. being the mistress to a married woman. I actually am there now. I have found two and only two choices that work to best describe the situation.
    1. paramour
    2. consort

    good luck

  • LJ

    I used “mistro” once when I was keeping a boy on the side. lol, it does sound quite funny.

    I agree, I hate all derogatory words referring to promiscuity – such as slut, whore, etc. As long as one is honest, there shouldn’t be a need to judge other’s sexuality. I find that as a smart, sexy and fun single woman, I must hide the fact that I date around because many people view it in a bad way. Shame really. I tried to hard to be a trendsetter in women being allowed to fully express their sexuality without being judged. What can I say?

    I admit, I really like he-wench! 🙂

  • Anna

    No all mistresses are supported exclusively by their male lover, some have jobs on the side, so terms like gigolo aren’t an exact match.

    They are more words for promiscuous females than promiscious males quite simply because female sexuality historically has been a much more valuable commodity than male sexuality. It’s a double standard, yes. However, it often works in women’s favour as well. Let’s not pretend that having a vagina is not a golden ticket to a life of endless power and luxury, should the woman wish to cash in on it. E.g. female models, porn actresses, and reality stars routinely out-earn their male counterparts. Female bodies are valuable whereas male bodies are viewed as undesirable and worthless. (Just witness the terrible homophobia that men have about other male bodies).

    Perhaps we should ask gay men for the male equivalent of mistress. I think gay men won’t be as sexist and hate-filled as the women here. They might actually come up with a term that’s loving and respectful.

  • Sally

    @ Anna

    “Let’s not pretend that having a vagina is not a golden ticket to a life of endless power and luxury, should the woman wish to cash in on it.”

    The women of Saudi Arabia thank you for your wise words.

  • Laura

    Robert Jordan in his Wheel of Time fantasy series described the queens of a certain country having a tradition of keeping a “pretty”. I kind of like that term. I like manstress and paramour as well, good suggestions.

  • Loney

    i like to be some MISTRESS and MASTER sissy male maid all the time and they can tie me up to and i like for them to take out as a sissy male maid and woman and rent me out to.

  • Hola

    This is a pretty funny dialog. You can spot the confusion in our culture. “fmen” wrote “you know what…us as women, should come up with a word that sounds repulsive to describe a male that F* everything that moves.”

    Six months later that same woman wrote “I chase males ALL the time, in fact, women now are much more notorious to chase guys and yet we are still labeled as “whore,skank,slut”.

    Maybe this is why so many marriages fail nowadays.

  • lucid

    I was always a fan of the term “mister” as the “ess” generally imparts a feminine, removing it would leave the masculine. Lion/lioness, waiter/waitress ect.

    I am married and do not have a mistress, but there was a long running joke between me and her, she was my mistress, I was her mister.

  • LR

    Manstress

  • Edward Lee

    The term you may be looking for is “Lothario.” It comes from Don Quixota as well as various other plays and stories. Originally the name of a guy sent to seduce a married woman. Used widely as a discription of a social “man-mistress” But most people still see male sexual conquest or misconduct as an act of merit. Thank the GODDESS for female rap… lol

  • nurd.

    Lothario is a great suggestion – Funny though, it is a very young word compared to its feminine counterparts. First usage was in 1703 (Rowe Fair Penit. v. i. H 3 Is this that Haughty, Gallant, Gay Lothario? OED 2004)
    “Gigalo” arrived only arrived in 1922!

    The feminine pejorative terms like whore (1100), wench (1290), prostitute (1572), Slut (1402), are almost as old as the language itself.
    I would Love to find out if there might be some old forgotten male sexual pejoratives – In the 1600s Harlot meant “sometimes a man of loose life, a fornicator,” as in “A man a harlot, and a wife a whoore.” (Z. Boyd, OED). Sadly, by the 1700s, the feminine definition had stuck.

  • alonso

    lol, i vote “Boy Toy” or “male mistress”… thats about it 😛

  • amira

    I guess I came to the right place with my confused mind.
    I’m taking away with me
    Mantress
    Mistro
    Histress
    as the equivalent opposite for mistress –
    in the the context of the lover 🙂

  • dsd

    i think calling a boy “master” is stupid and sexist and it makes women seem like a dog instead of a human being. just my opinion

  • M. Wilson

    I argue with the assumption that a “mistress” must be promiscuous or is somehow compared to someone who sells sex. I think that for a married/partnered person, the term boyfriend or girlfriend is descriptive enough of the relationship. There is no need to find a word that matches mistress since the term is quickly falling out of relevance.

  • J. Silcock

    I like the terms “consort” and “paramour” though the later to me really seems like it could represent both males and females. I don’t know why but ‘consort’ seems very masculine to me.

    There is one word though that I don’t think has been mentioned previously: “lover”.

    I do not believe that we should try to create a derogatory version just for men, surely there are enough words out there with a horrible connotations already. I think the reason why there are far more words for a promiscuous woman than a promiscuous man is because men are more likely to talk (or brag!) with other men about a sexual encounter whereas women up until recently do not usually share the same inclinations.

  • J. Hale

    It was mentioned before, but the word cicisbeo isn’t just Italian. It’s in the English dictionary and may be the only gender-specific word there that refers to a male mistress. So we do have it, it’s just very rare. I read it once in a Samuel Beckett story.

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