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Male prostitution is the act or practice of men providing sexual services in return for payment. It is a form of sex work. Although clients can be any gender, the vast majority are male. Compared to female prostitutes, male prostitutes have been far less studied by researchers.
The terms used for male prostitutes generally differ from those used for females. Some terms vary by clientele or method of business. Where prostitution is illegal or taboo, it is common for male prostitutes to use euphemisms which present their business as providing companionship, nude modeling or dancing, body massage, or some other acceptable fee-for-service arrangement. Thus one may be referred to as a male escort, gigolo (implying female customers), rent boy, hustler (more common for those soliciting in public places), model, or masseur. A man who does not regard himself as gay or bisexual, but who has sex with male clients for money, is sometimes called gay-for-pay, or trade.
Male 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 part of nearly all cultures, ancient and modern. The practice in the ancient world of men or women selling sexual services in sacred shrines, or sacred prostitution, was attested to be practiced 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, among 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") 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 prostitutes in ancient Greece 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 City; Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles; Cypress Street in Atlanta; Piccadilly Circus in London; "The Wall" in Sydney's Darlinghurst; The Drug Store and Rue Sainte-Anne in Paris; Polk Street Gulch in San Francisco; and Taksim Square in Istanbul. Bars such as Cowboys and Cowgirls and Rounds in New York City, Numbers in Los Angeles, and certain go-go bars in Patpong, Thailand were popular venues where male prostitutes offered their services.
A table in Larry Townsend's The Leatherman's Handbook II (the 1983 second edition; the 1972 first edition did not include this list) which is generally considered authoritative states that a green handkerchief is a symbol for prostitution in the handkerchief code, which is employed usually among gay male casual-sex seekers or BDSM practitioners in the United States, Canada, Australia and Europe. Wearing the handkerchief on the left indicates the top, dominant, or active partner; right the bottom, submissive, or passive partner. However, negotiation with a prospective partner remains important because, as Townsend noted, people may wear hankies of any color "only because the idea of the hankie turns them on" or "may not even know what it means".
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.
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. Such sites can face legal difficulties; in 2015, Rentboy.com – a well-known American site – was shut down by the United States Department of Homeland Security and its operators charged with facilitating prostitution and other charges. Recent research suggests a substantial growth in numbers of online escorts worldwide, to the extent that the online market accounts for the vast majority of male sex workers. This has persisted despite anti-sex worker laws like the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act in the United States, thanks in part to escorting websites based in other countries.
Streets, bars, and clubs
Major cities in Europe and the Western Hemisphere often 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 of 1889 involved a male brothel in London frequented by aristocrats when male homosexuality was illegal in the United Kingdom. In her biography The First Lady, April Ashley quotes her ex-husband, the late Hon. Arthur Corbett, who worked in the City of London, and 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."
In order to work in a legal brothel in Nevada, a cervical exam is required by law, implying that men could not work as prostitutes. 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 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 hired a male prostitute who offered his services to female clients, but he left the ranch a few weeks later.
Female sex tourism
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, or dancing companion/instructor. 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 sex. The rates of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections are high in some Caribbean and African countries which are popular destinations for female sex tourism. 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. A 2008 masters thesis reported that 300,000 male prostitutes were under the age of 16.
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. 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.
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. 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". 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.[which?]
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. They face greater pressure to engage in unprotected sex than female prostitutes. They are generally paid less than female prostitutes. 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. At the same time, other feminists have noted that male sex workers are usually seen as engaging in sex work out of their own free will and for enjoyment much more than female sex workers, who are often perceived to be victims of human trafficking and exploitation, especially by second-wave feminist activists. A review of the public discourse and media reactions following the closing of two websites hosting sex work ads – one for women and one for gay men – found that concerns with human trafficking and victimization were cited only for the closure of the former. The closure of the latter was attributed to homophobia and conservative religious values.
The male prostitute has become a literary and cinematic stereotype in the West. He is often portrayed as a tragic figure; examples in film include Oscar-winner Midnight Cowboy (1969) about a tragic would-be gigolo, My Own Private Idaho (1991) about the friendship of two young hustlers, Mandragora (1997) about young runaways who are manipulated into prostitution, and Mysterious Skin (2004) in which a hustler has a history of being molested as a child.
The male prostitute may be presented as an impossible object of love or an idealized rebel, such as in The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961) about a middle-aged woman and a young gigolo in a tragic tryst. Though less frequent in cinema and in novels, the gigolo (a male prostitute with an exclusively female clientele) is generally depicted as less tragic than the gay hustler. In the film American Gigolo, Richard Gere stars as a high-priced gigolo who becomes romantically involved with a prominent politician's wife while simultaneously becoming the prime suspect in a murder case. The comedy-drama TV series Hung (2009–2011) is about a high school basketball coach who turns to prostitution to deal with financial troubles. Male prostitution is sometimes the subject of derisive humor, such as the slapstick farce Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo (1999) and its sequel (2005).
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- (Weitzer 2000, p. 8)
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- See, for example, European Network Male Prostitution Activity Report, November 2003 Archived 2007-02-21 at the Wayback Machine, "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."
- see Dynes, supra, for a discussion of the fine line between "kept boys" and prostitution.
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- Justin Gaffney & Kate Beverley, "Contextualizing the Construction and Social Organization of the Commercial Male Sex Industry in London at the Beginning of the Twenty-First Century," Feminist Review, No. 67, Sex Work Reassessed (Spring, 2001), pp. 133–141.
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