Male prostitution is the act or practice of men providing sexual services to either men or women in return for payment. When compared to female prostitutes, male sex workers have been far less studied by researchers, and while studies suggest that there may be differences between the ways these two groups look at their work, more research is needed.
Male prostitutes are known by various names and euphemisms including male escorts, gigolos (usually implies female customers), rent-boys, hustlers, models or masseurs (although the last three do not always refer to prostitutes). A man who does not regard himself as gay, but who is prepared to have sex with male clients for money, is sometimes called "gay-for-pay" or "trade".
Clients, especially those who pick up prostitutes on the street or in bars, are sometimes called "johns" or "tricks". Those working in prostitution, especially street prostitutes, sometimes refer to the act of prostitution as "turning tricks".
Male prostitution has been found in almost all modern and ancient cultures. The practice in the ancient world of men or women selling sexual services in sacred shrines, or sacred prostitution, was attested to be practised by foreign or pagan cultures in the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament Male prostitutes are also attested to in Graeco-Roman culture in the New Testament, amongst many other ancient sources. Some interpreters consider that in one of the Pauline vice lists, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, one of the words malakoi ("soft") or arsenokoitai (a compound of "male" and "bed", from whence, "koitai", the word "coitus" originates, through the Latin) refer to male prostitution (or male temple prostitution): this interpretation of arsenokoitai is followed in the New Revised Standard Version.
The Encyclopedia of Homosexuality states that in ancient Greece prostitutes were generally slaves. A well known case is Phaedo of Elis who was captured in war and forced into slavery and prostitution, but was eventually ransomed to become a pupil of Socrates; Plato's Phaedo is told from his perspective. Male brothels existed in both Ancient Greece and ancient Rome.
Court records and vice investigations from as early as the 17th century document male prostitution in what is now the United States. With the expansion of urban areas and the aggregation of gay people into communities toward the end of the 19th century, male/male prostitution became more apparent. Around this time, prostitution was reported to have taken place in brothels, such as the Paresis Hall in the Bowery district of New York and in some gay bathhouses. Solicitation for sex, including paid sex, took place in certain bars between so-called "fairies."
Male street prostitutes solicited clients in specific areas which became known for the trade. Well-known areas for street "hustlers" have included: parts of 53rd Street in New York; Santa Monica Boulevar] in Los Angeles; Forsyth Street in Atlanta, Piccadilly Circus, in London; "The Wall" in Sydney's Darlinghurst; The Drug Store and Rue Saint Ann] in Paris; Polk Street Gulch in San Francisco; and Taksim Square in Istanbul. Bars such as Cowboys and Cowgirls and Rounds in New York, Numbers in Los Angeles and certain go-go bars in Patpong Thailand were popular venues where male prostitutes offered their services.
In southern areas of Central Asia and Afghanistan, adolescent males between twelve and sixteen years old perform erotic songs and suggestive dancing and are available as sex workers. Such boys are known as bacchá.
In India, a hijra is a physically male or intersex person who may sometimes enter into prostitution. Not all hijras are prostitutes, however, and many consider themselves to have a female identity in a male body and accept this as a sacred condition or gift. Hijras dress as women and dance at weddings, child births, and other celebrations. Many hijras in Pakistan are religious.
Present-day male prostitution
The following categorization of the male prostitute is not exhaustive:
Professional escorts (indoor sex workers) often advertise on male escorting websites, usually either independently or through an escort agency.
Streets, bars, and clubs
Most big cities have one or more areas where male street prostitutes regularly make themselves available to potential clients who drive by in cars. Such an area may have a locally-known informal name. These areas tend to be risky for both the client and the prostitute, from a legal perspective when it is in a region where street prostitution or solicitation is prohibited by law, or also from a safety perspective. These areas may be targets for surveillance and arrests by law enforcement. Some male prostitutes solicit potential clients in other public spaces such as bus terminals, parks and rest stops.
Bathhouses and sex clubs
Male prostitutes may attempt to work in gay bathhouses, adult bookstores or sex clubs, but prostitution is usually prohibited in such establishments, and known prostitutes are often banned by management. However, in some places it is overlooked in order to keep the flow of business.
The Cleveland Street scandal featured a London male brothel frequented by aristocrats, in 1889, when male homosexuality was illegal in the United Kingdom, as brothels still are. In her biography, The First Lady, April Ashley quotes her ex-husband, the late Hon. Arthur Corbett (later 3rd Baron Rowallan), who worked in the City of London, but was addicted to cross-dressing, as telling her in 1960: "There's a male brothel, I pay the boys to dress me up, then masturbate me." Acts of male homosexuality were not legalized in the UK until 1967.
Until 2009, when it outlawed all prostitution, Rhode Island was the only U.S. state at that time to allow male sex workers to work legally.
In November 2005, Heidi Fleiss said that she would partner with brothel owner Joe Richards to turn Richards' legal Cherry Patch Ranch brothel in Crystal, Nevada into an establishment that would employ male prostitutes and cater exclusively to female customers, a first in Nevada. However in 2009, Fleiss said that she had abandoned her plans to open such a brothel.
In order to work in a legal brothel in Nevada, a cervical exam is required by law; therefore males are technically not allowed to work as prostitutes. In late 2009, the owner of the Shady Lady Ranch brothel challenged this provision before the Nye County Licensing and Liquor Board and prevailed. In January 2010, the brothel proceeded to hire "Markus", a male prostitute who would offer his services to female clients. Markus left the ranch a few weeks later, in March 2010.
In contrast to most of the other venues, most sex tourism in regards to male prostitution caters to female clients. Women travel to Southern Europe (Italy, Greece, Albania and Spain), to the Caribbean Basin (Jamaica, Barbados, Dominican Republic, and Martinique), to parts of Africa (Tunisia and Kenya), Indonesia (specifically Bali) or Thailand (specifically Phuket), to enjoy sex tourism. Lesser-known destinations may include Morocco, Fiji, Ecuador and Costa Rica. Women may travel to specific locations to enjoy a holiday and find a "temporary boyfriend" who will fill the roles of sexual partner, dining companion, tour guide, dancing companion/instructor and will sometimes procure softer illicit drugs like marijuana and ecstasy for his client. German women frequent Sosua in the Dominican Republic, Greece, and Morocco. A popular destination for the Japanese is Bali in Indonesia, while Canadian and Scandinavian females don't appear to favor a specific destination. Women who spend time with male escorts while on vacation may be any age but are predominantly middle-aged women looking for romance along with their sex. The rate of HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections may be relatively high in some Caribbean and African countries which are popular destinations for female sex tourism. Male prostitution has become increasingly visible in India; male for female service is growing but there have been reported cases where female clients have been blackmailed by gigolos they visited
As in all forms of prostitution, male prostitutes and their clients can face risks and problems. For prostitutes, the risks may include: social stigma; legal/criminal risks; physical abuse; health-related risks, such as the potential risk of sexually transmitted diseases; rejection by family and friends; gay bashing (in the case of male-male prostitution); the financial risks that come with having an insecure income; and risks of the mental/emotional effects that come with all of those factors. Teenagers and runaways engaging in sex work have shown to be particularly at risk.
For clients, risks may include: fear of social stigma and family or work problems if their activities with prostitutes do not remain secret; health-related risks; being robbed; or, very rarely, being blackmailed or injured. The German fashion designer Rudolph Moshammer, for example, was killed by a man who said that Moshammer had reneged on a promise to pay him for sex. If a male prostitute steals from a male client or accepts money without then "putting out" the agreed-upon sexual services, it is sometimes referred to as "rolling a john".
Research suggests that the degree of violence against male prostitutes is somewhat lower than for female sex workers. Men working on the street and younger men appear to be at greatest risk of being victimized by clients. Conversely, the risk of being robbed or blackmailed posed to clients of sex workers appears to be much lower than many imagine. This is especially true when clients hire sex workers through an established agency or when they hire men who have been consistently well reviewed by previous clients.
The pimp is relatively rare in male prostitution in the West, where most prostitutes generally work independently or, less frequently, through an agency.
Factors like the difference in age, in social status and in economic status between the sex worker and his client have been cited as major sources of social criticism. See, for example, , "Practical experiences of Men in Prostitution" (Sweden, Denmark, Stockholm), pp. 23–26: "All [the] interviewed men [in Denmark] are aware of societies’ negative perception of prostitution and do whatever possible to cover up. As a result they live double lives and create more and more distance from close relations and the wider society. Isolation and sufferance from not having anybody to share prostitution experiences with is profound. Some men describe[d] how the clients are their main or only social relation to society, and consider the relations as sexual friendships or the customers as father figures." Similar social stigma may also be attached to amorous relationships that do not involve direct payment for sexual services, and therefore do not fit the definition of prostitution, but which may be seen by some as a form of "quasi"-prostitution, (in that there is a power imbalance and a reward for companionship or sex). The older member in such relationships may be referred as a "sugar daddy" or "sugar momma"; the young lover may be called a "kept boy" or "boy toy". see Dynes, supra, for a discussion of the fine line between "kept boys" and prostitution.</ref> Within the gay community, the members of this kind of couple are sometimes called "dad" (or "daddy") and "son" - without implying incest. The social disdain for age/status disparity in relationships is and has been less pronounced in certain cultures at certain historical times.
Help and support for male sex workers
In the United States and other places, there are few resources and little support readily available for male sex workers working and/or living on the streets. Men and boys in this situation may face many issues. They may be at a higher risk for health problems and abuse. Male street prostitutes may have issues such as drug addiction. Offering support and health care to such stigmatized people can be difficult due to a reluctance to disclose information about their work to health care professionals, which can also make male prostitutes difficult to identify in order to reach out to.
In recent years, some organizations directed specifically at helping male sex workers have been founded and some studies have begun on this little-studied population. For example, Richard Holcomb, a former sex worker, founded 'Project Weber' a harm reduction program in Providence, Rhode Island that offers resources and support to male sex workers living on the streets, including a needle exchange and HIV testing. Holcomb cited the lack of data available on male commercial sex workers in the region as his reason for helping develop a 2010 survey to assess the needs of this population. Project Weber recruited and surveyed 50 male sex workers living on the streets of Providence. Holcomb cited the fact that he and members of his team are former sex workers themselves as one of the primary reasons why they were able to gain access to the men in order to conduct this survey. The project says they have gleaned valuable data on male sex workers who work and live on the streets of Providence. Holcomb has also created several documentaries meant to draw attention to the subjects of male street prostitution and drug use.
The topic of male prostitution has been examined by feminist theorists. Feminist theorists Justin Gaffney and Kate Beverley stated that the insights gained from research on male sex workers in central London allowed comparison between the experiences of the 'hidden' population of male prostitutes and the traditionally subordinate position of women in a patriarchal society. Gaffney and Beverley argue that male sex workers occupy a subordinate position in our society which, as with women, is ensured by hegemonic and patriarchal constructs.
In contrast, social theorists writing from a post-structural critical theory perspective have claimed that unlike women, male sex workers are seen as less likely to take on submissive roles by their clients due to hegemonic misogynistic social constructs. Based on a series of interviews, Douglas Langston finds the attitude of "johns" and underground male sex workers towards gender relations 'remarkably misogynistic,' and compares their attitude to that of the fiction and Christian apologetics of C. S. Lewis. Langston argues that both express a remarkably similar misogyny to the point of male homoerotism, and fetishization of patriarchal domination, especially over subjects seen by other members of society as less likely to take on submissive roles and more likely to rape and/or abuse women who try to dominate them.
The male prostitute or hustler is a frequent literary and cinematic stereotype in the West from the 1960s onwards, especially in movies and books with a gay perspective, in which he may be a stock character. The male sex worker is often portrayed either as a tragic figure, as in the film Mysterious Skin in which a male prostitute has a history of molestation, or as an impossible object of love or an idealized rebel. Though less frequent in cinema and in novels, the male prostitute with an exclusively female clientele (the "gigolo" or male for female "escort") is generally depicted as less tragic than the gay hustler. The film My Own Private Idaho, starring Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix, focuses upon the friendship between two male prostitutes. Rob Schneider stars as a gigolo in his slapstick farce Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo and Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo|its sequel. Wiktor Grodecki's controversial film Mandragora tells the story of young runaways who are manipulated into the dark underground world of prostitution, drug addiction and AIDS. Another well known movie featuring male prostitutes is Midnight Cowboy. The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone offers an older woman and a young gigolo in a tragic tryst. The TV series Hung is about a Detroit high school basketball coach who, due to financial pressures, turns to prostitution.
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