You’re a rich 25-year-old in São Paulo and you want to go out. There’s nothing on at the cinema and you are bored with hanging out at your favourite bar. What are the other evening activities available to you? An increasingly fashionable option is to go to the local brothel.
In the last five years prostitution in Brazil’s largest and richest city has had a makeover . A new type of brothel has proliferated – aimed at a younger, more funky, less reticent customer. Forget dirty old man, think guy-about-town. There are about 20 of these “luxury houses” in the city. It is no longer enough just to offer girls and a threadbare room in a sleazy backstreeet – these superbrothels are not even in red light areas; some have a restaurant, live bands perform and even the rooms are fancier, with saunas and flat screen TVs.
“Since the 1990s Brazil has become a more liberal country - because of a democratic government, a stable economy and, to a certain extent, the internet,” says a friend who works for a Brazilian top shelf magazine. “Investment in what are euphemistically called ‘houses of male entertainment’ has boomed. And they have changed – they have become more secure, and more glamorous. Young people have always gone, but now they go a lot more – the atmosphere is just like going to a normal club.”
The Café Millenium is the lodestar of this new phenomenon. It is the largest brothel, with the most girls, the fastest turn-around and the youngest, most up-for-it crowd. As well as a bar, a dancefloor and rooms to rent by the hour, the Café Millenium has a restaurant, a swimming pool, a stage for musical performances, a fitness centre, a hairdressers and a shop. And, on a busy night, about 300 girls.
I went there recently on a Wednesday night. The brothel takes up all of a large building set back from a main road, 20 minutes drive from the city centre. It was lit by an orange light, with a line of palm-trees in the front. There was nothing to suggest what was going on inside – no neon sign, nor hostess on the door. Indeed, the non-descript frontage could have been an office block.
Inside, however, it was a sex supermarket. The reception area gave an idea to the volume of customers and the open way of doing business. Half a dozen uniformed staff stood behind several computer screens. Signs made it clear that all credit cards were accepted. After giving your name you receive and electronic card, just like in a boutique hotel, with which you buy whatever you want on the premises.
My receptionist entered my details on the computer and gave me a debrief. “Entrance is £25, which can be used as credit in the restaurant and bar,” she said. “If you want to rent a room, they are £17.50 an hour. You negotiate directly with the girls how much they charge, but there is a house minimum of £40.” On the upper floors there are 60 hotel rooms, and sometimes they are so busy that you have to queue for 40 minutes to get one.
Behind the reception is the main area of the brothel – it looks like a large, upmarket international nightclub. The space was huge, enough room for maybe 800 people, with a stage at the end where a band was performing hit Brazilian songs. The bar stretched down the length of one side of the room; on the opposite side were booths where you could sit and chat. Up a circular staircase was an upstairs balcony with views of the band and the dancefloor below.
But it was not the décor that caught your attention. There were about 200 women, most of them dressed in skimpy lingerie. The women outnumbered the men – it was a slow Wednesday night – and just by scanning the room you would catch half a dozen of their eyes. Some brothels have a rule that the men must approach the girls. At Café Millenium anything goes. They wink, they pass you and cup your crotch, they pinch your bum. And they don’t mind if you pinch theirs back.
The girls were not sitting looking bored, waiting for passing custom. Some strutted up and down in their high heels, others sat at the bar and posed like footballers’ wives. They were mostly aged between 18 and 22, and as beautiful as you would expect in a stylish Brazilian nightclub. Although there were a few suited men in their fifties, most men were in their twenties and thirties and there with a friend or in a group.
Leading from the bar is the restaurant, which has about 50 covers. I sat down on the only free space, on a table with three girls. Fernanda, aged 22, was thin and blonde and from Porto Alegre, a city 700 miles away. She told me that she lived in the basement – about 100 of the girls did, in tiny rooms with two bunks each. In return for free rent she has to work daily eight hour shifts.
Girls are, of course, drawn to prostitution because of the money. Salaries are very low in Brazil – a call centre worker, for example, will earn less than £200 a month. At Luciano Moggi you can earn that in two days. Cintia, aged 21, also on the table, is paying for herself to go through college. But there is something else that draws girls to selling their bodies – it does not have the stigma that it does in Europe of the US.
One of the best-selling books of the last two years in Brazil has been the memoirs of Bruna the Surfer Girl, a former prostitute. Her graphic tales of sexual antics have made her a national figure – a film is already in the pipeline. Bruna’s take is that she enjoyed being a on the game because it gave her financial independence, introduced her to glamorous people and it was fun. The most recent hit telenovela on TV Globo, the main Brazilian channel, features a luxury brothel. Camila Pitanga, one of the country’s top actresses, plays the role of prostitute.
Yet these arent the “tarts with a heart” of British lore, these girls are called “garotas de programa”, which translates as something like “girls with a plan of action.” Brazil believes that it is the “country of sex” and there is a sense that prostitutes are merely professionals of what the country does best – proud ambassadors for the Brazilian way of life.
“I have pride in a job well done,” says Fernanda. “I know that I can give any guy a good time. And when I give someone a good time, I have a good time too. Every time I go to bed with a guy it’s a new experience.”
Brazil is the world’s largest Catholic country and was also in a dictatorship until the mid-1980s. As the country becomes more tolerant talking about sex has become more public and mainstream – one obvious way this has happened is in the greater acceptance of pornography. “Family” stars such as singer Rita Cadillac, soap actor Alexandre Frota and TV dancer Viviane Rodrigues have all made porn films. This hasn’t finished off their careers – if anything, it has made them more famous.
Many of the girls I spoke to at Millenium are also porn actresses. Lots had filmed movies for the Buttman franchise in Brazil. The third girl at the table, 19-year-old Rafaela, is desperate to become a porn star. “I think it will be fun, and I will get famous,” she says. “At first, I didn’t like being a prostitute, but I have learnt to love it. I met my boyfriend here too.”When I asked if she had met any famous people in the brothel she said. “Of course, I cant give names of the men I’ve slept with. But look over there – there’s a player for Corinthians [São Paulo’s biggest football club].”
The girls here were not especially exotic-looking. Only two were black – most had white, European features. This is partly because São Paulo had less slaves brought here than, say Rio de Janeiro, but it is also because in Brazil race is still a strong determination of wealth. The girls here deliberately look like the sort of girl a rich Paulista would want to go out with, or meet in a bar. Tourists prefer mulatas.
One feature that linked most of the girls was their silicone breasts. Boob-jobs are seemingly de rigeur. If you ask a girl if she has had a breast enlargement, she will enthusiastically tell you how many mililitres she had put in and pull her bra out the way to show off the workmanship.
Both old and new media have flourished as prostitution and pornography have become ordinary. One magazine, Sexy Premium, is aimed at young frequenters of the luxury brothels. It reviews them, interviews the girls and features them in photo shoots. (Although, as the law insists, the word prostitution cannot be used nor is it mentioned that you can pay them for sex).
The girls all have different rates. The ones who have been in magazines – such as Sexy Premium, or Playboy – charge more. Rates also change depending on how many men are around. When I was there most wanted about £60.
The internet has also had a huge influence. There are dozens of sites in Brazil with thousands of girls who you can call up and arrange to meet for sex. Often these sites let thegirls stick up their own mobiles, thus eliminating the need for pimps. One site even offers a regular dowloadable video of the “girl of the week.”
The boom in brothels has made them bigger, more acceptable and made the industry safer for the girls. Café Millenium insists all girls have STD tests every three months. And because everything is so above board – and well-staffed with security men – the girls are much less at risk of violence than they used to be. Which has also increased the number of girls willing to work there.
In fact, if you are a girl you never need to leave Café Millenium. On the floor above the restaurant is a gym and a beauty salon. The girls can work out during the day, get their hair cut and have their Brazilian waxes. There is also a shop selling lingerie, bikinis and sex-toys. Men can also use the gym – during the day an acupuncturist and a non-sexual masseuse attend clients.
For many years, the most cult nightclub in São Paulo has been Love Story – an after hours joint for off-duty prostitutes, also frequented by clubbers and rich kids. It is a local institution where the sleaziness is embraced as cool. Clubbers like the thrill of the sex industry and the prostitutes like feeling accepted as normal. In order to cater for an expanding market of men, and women, who like this vibe, Café Millenium will soon open a 1,000 person-capacity nightclub in the back of the building. The line between brothels and nightclubs in Brazil is about to become even more blurred.