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?”

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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 🙂

  • alonso

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

  • 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.

  • 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

  • LR

    Manstress

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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! 🙂

  • 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

  • rolfrrex

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

  • 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.

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