2 out of 4 stars
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As you open Peter Wood’s The Hidden Playground, you know immediately that despite being a work of nonfiction, it is likely to involve sexual content. Wood opens up with an introduction of his background and why he became a “hobbyist,” which means a person who uses an escort’s services for the purpose of having sex. He discusses his various encounters with women with great detail. He also shares information on some of the social constructs: laws (both international and in various states), history of the profession, cultural attitudes, and why people become hobbyists or “providers” (a term used for the escorts). Wood exposes his readers to a world that most are unfamiliar with, as it is so different from their own lives.
My favorite portions of the book were those that discussed the various social constructs of the “hidden playground.” As my degree is in sociology, I always find these types of things fascinating. In the discussion on demographics, I was surprised to learn that over 50% of hobbyists are married men. The chapter on history had me on the edge when I discovered that in the Middle Ages, a well-known Catholic priest encouraged prostitution as “it helped prevent what was considered to be the greater evils of rape, sodomy, and masturbation”; read the book to find out who this was!
Wood shared many of the women’s stories and background information. It was interesting to see such a diverse group of women. Many are college educated and find being an escort as more lucrative than jobs in their fields. There were quite a few single moms in the mix, as well. Sometimes he bartered with these women; for example, he helped one escort with her chemistry assignments. The biggest surprise were the ones whose husbands knew what they did and approved.
The Hidden Playground is explicit. Wood describes in detail many of the sexual encounters he had with escorts. I don’t mean that he says he had sex with “Mary” or did oral with “Suzy.” He actually describes HOW the oral is performed. Over and over again. The repetitiveness got to me more than the descriptions. If he felt descriptions were necessary, he could have used just a few examples to get his point across. He also repeats many of his stories, sometimes with almost the same phrasing, in different parts of the book.
At times, I found Wood slightly delusional in how he perceived the various women’s feelings and desires. Occasionally, he said that maybe they were acting. Maybe? I was surprised that there was minimal acknowledgment of human trafficking, and that he didn’t seem to consider that some of these women might not be performing these services by their own free will. Many of the women Wood paid were from foreign countries, where it is common for Americans to lure the women into this life that they can’t get out of due to their commitments to the “agency” or “the john.”
There are two appendixes plus a detailed listing of the Endnotes. The first appendix lists the various terms and abbreviations used in the “hidden playground.” The second appendix addresses the health and safety concerns facing both hobbyists and providers.
I rate The Hidden Playground 2 out of 4 stars. The repetitiveness was overt and, at times, tedious. The discussion of the various social constructs makes the book worthy of more than one star. The book will appeal to those who enjoy learning a bit about people’s hidden lives or who are fascinated by the unimaginable. Do not pick this book up if you do not like to read details of explicit sex.
The real question that I’ll leave you with is, “How does Wood’s story end?” I will tell you that it shocked and surprised me, bringing a few unexpected emotions.
The Hidden Playground
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