Understanding Male Sex Work

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Understanding Male Sex Work


Understanding Male Sex Work: The Social Meanings Behind Male Sex Work and its Relationship with Sexuality.

Student Sample Paper:


Sex work is best defined as the exchange of sexual services for drugs, goods or money (Overs, 2002). Strippers, prostitutes, and adult film actors are only a few of the many sectors within the gigantic industry of sexual services. For many years, the world has assumed that broken women are the prototype for sexual services. As a matter of fact, the sex work narrative typically involves a female prostitute or stripper, sexually exploiting themselves for financial gain or personal gain. The terms prostitutes and strippers assert that women are the sole distributors of sexual services. Even though women globally comprise 80% of sex workers, the other 20% of the 40 million individuals are the male demographic (Lubin, 2012). Men in the sex industry, more specifically in the stripping and prostitution services, have been an unseen segment of humanity for ages. Times have changed and culture norms along with gender roles have evolved for the better. Men and women are now finding their place in their respective niches. However, the labels have not vanished. The stigmas have yet to disappear. And the public scrutiny has yet to die down for each gender. These central ideas are best demonstrated in the male sex business where male sex workers are fighting to maintain a sense of self-identity in an industry that thrives off the vulnerability and exploitation of men.


Male sex work is a rising global phenomenon. With the modern advancements in technology and communication, male sex workers are slowly emerging as a more visible segment of society. Male sex workers are among the most diverse group of individuals. These men all emanate from different countries, socioeconomic backgrounds, cultural upbringings, and even different health levels. Despite their differences, male sex workers are all brought together through the byproducts of the profession. On the outside, it seems as if it’s all just sex and pleasure but on the inside, there is a whole lot of ugly. Men in the sex industry have to bear the scrutiny and stigmas that occupancy the deviant label of sex work. Male sex workers also battle society and themselves to find their own identity in a traditionally female profession.

The purpose of this literature review is to investigate the dynamics of the male sex work industry to enrich our understanding of male sex work. This paper aims to provide a few aspects regarding male individuals in the stripping and prostitution industry to explore potential causes and products of male sex work. Collectively, the literature reviewed in this paper serve as means to uncover the social position of male sex work in relation to human sexuality through sociological, psychological, and medical lenses.

Literature Review

Understanding Health  

The first word that comes to anyone’s mind at the mere mention of prostitution is sex. Sex is the name of the game. Individuals who subject themselves to prostitution services, put their bodies on the line for any type of personal gain whether that be money or drugs. It’s very easy to view prostitution as only a sexual entity with sex on at the forefront of the worker’s minds. However, in order to understand the profession of male sex work, it is very important that the psyches of male sex workers are explored. When researchers sought out information to help explain the social significance of male sex work, the first aspect they examined were the mental fitness of the male sex workers. The study conducted by McCabe et al. (2011) reported the mental states of 12 male street prostitutes in the city of Dublin in Ireland and uncovered issues of alcoholism, low self-esteem, depression, homelessness and suicidal tendencies among male sex workers. The McCabe et al. (2011) constructed an in-depth relationship between mental fitness and sex work among males. The findings of the study challenged the ideals of sexual fulfillment and desire among men. All the subjects reported that the sexual practices performed were shameful and unenjoyable experiences (McCabe et al., 2011). Moreover, the men retained their roles as sex workers solely to benefit from the economic earnings or the byproduct of drugs. The study delves deeper into the mentalities of the 12 men by unfolding the layers of their lives. Reports of physical childhood abuse and sexual childhood abuse were cited as influencers in the sexual victimization of the men in the sex industry (McCabe et al., 2011). The brokenness of these individual male sex workers gave rise to the speculation of the causes of young men entering sex professions. The results of the McCabe et al. (2011) study confirmed that a combination of childhood sexual and physical abuse, dropping out of school, leaving the family home before the age of 18, and a dependence on heroin paved roads for young men to enter male street prostitution (McCabe et al., 2011). A culmination of these mental stressors created a predisposition to prostitution. The study supported the idea that a male sex work can be best understood with the lenses of psychology and mental health. The males that reported psychological tenderness because of a low level of education, broken homes, abandonment based on sexual orientation, homelessness, sexual, physical and emotional abuse as well as drug addiction ignited the sparks for an alternative dissection of male sex work. Moreover, the research uncovered by proves that there are a lot of things aside from sex that need to be explored in the study of sex work. Uncovering the psychological layers of male sex workers can help the world understand the deeper meaning behind prostitution among the male population.

Research in public health have placed an emphasis on the study of HIV/AIDS prevalence among male sex workers. Researchers are looking for extended ways to control the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Verhaegh-Haasnoot et al. (2015) conducted a clinical study on both male and female sex workers to compare the different STI and HIV test results. The results of Verhaegh-Haasnoot et al. (2015) study show that male sex workers tested positive for STI and HIV in 40% of the consultations while the female sex workers tested positive in 9 and 14% of the consultations. The male sex workers were a population of young immigrant sex workers from eastern Europe. The men reported that they often had sexual contact with female clients. The research presented in the study argues that male sex workers are at a higher risk for STI and HIV infection than female sex workers. Verhaegh-Haasnoot et al. (2015) elaborate that male sex workers form a bridge population in HIV and STI transmission. Furthermore, the researchers assert that male sex work is a potential threat to the western public as it serves as one of the main gateways of HIV/AIDS transmission, but it must be heavily intervened.

Sexual Objectification/Self-Identity

Scull delves into the psyche of male strippers by investigating how stripping shapes the self-concept of the men. The objectification of the male adult performers help generates more positive self-feelings. Scull (2015) reports that male performers highly enjoy the positive attention as a sex symbols. The enhancing of the self-concept is found through the profession where the men use stripping for personal validation. The sexual attention they receive from female patrons is a source of self-esteem ignition (Scull 2015). Scull also explains how erotic dancers find meaning through those around them. The men reported that they thrive off their social lifestyles and the attention received during the performances (Scull 2015). Feelings of mattering are the ingredients for commitment to their job. Aside from mattering the men can identify feelings of mastery from performing in front of crowds and enticing lust in the eyes of female clients. Not only are they able to hustle women, they are also able build confidence about other parts of their lives. Personal satisfaction, confidence enjoyment, and success from a performance goes a long way in the minds of an erotic dancer (Scull 2015). A culmination of these different aspects helps up the ante on a male stripper’s self-esteem. On the other side of it all, male stripping can also damage the self-concept of a performer. Negative scrutiny over body image can influence unrealistic self-expectations on a performer (Scull 2015). The male dancer may also feel the pressure to adhere to desirable body standards to please clients. The damaging body standards of men and male performers can generate negative feelings among the men. Scull (2015) closes the conversation by arguing that the social psychological rewards of male stripping outweigh the satisfaction that financial rewards provided. Participants felt increased feelings of mastery, mattering, and self-esteem arose when the participants could maintain professionalism and hustle patrons (Scull 2015). The output of self-objectivation on their end resulted in positive affirmation from female clients thus boosting the male erotic dancer ego (Scull 2015).


Sexual Identity

In the real world, the everyday worker can separate themselves from their field of work. There goes the old saying, don’t mix business with pleasure. The statement implies that an individual should keep his or her’s personal life and or desires separate from their professional life in the workplace. Seemingly enough, the old saying applies across the board in many different professional settings. Even in the world of a male sex worker. The role of a male stripper is to put forth the intangible production of erotic fantasy for his consumers. Dancers are able to identify themselves not only as workers but as objects of value. Boden (2007) performs an ethnographic study to investigate the raw sexual emotions of male erotic dancers. Boden (2007) utilizes interviews, observes, and notes the culture of male strippers in their own place of business to explore the sexual involvement of the male erotic dancers. Boden (2007) explores the perspectives of male erotic dancers and their clients. The dancers report that their involvement in the occupation is for sexual entertainment, personal indulgence, ego boasting, sexual release or a short-term job for them. The responses from the individuals strongly implied that their work inside the entertainment venues were nothing personal to them (Boden 2007). Boden (2007) asserts that the sexual experiences that the men provide for the audience do not reflect their own personal desires. Boden (2007) also asserts that the exploitation of the male dancers for entertainment may run a risk of alienating the dancer from his own sexuality and carry the stigma of the consumers’ desires as most of the men reported their own encounters with being perceived as a homosexual. The dancers in fact establish their own physical boundaries and mental boundaries to remind themselves of their own personal sexual separation from the business (Boden, 2007). The delicate concept of sexuality that society constantly reinforces as the deepest and most private aspect of an individual are continuously tested within the realms of male adult entertainment. It moral conscience of the dance that is continuously tested as an aspect of his dedication in erotic work (Boden, 2007).

Social Stigma

Male strippers experience stigmas for engaging in what society labels as a deviant occupation. Shock, disgust, and false accusations of being gay are some of the many different types of stigmas that Scull (2017) examines in her ethnographic study of male erotic dancers. Through interviews and field notes, Scull (2017) can identify the first stigma of shock and disgust that the men experience. The stigma is associated with the unethical, dirty, and immoral labeling that stripping is considered. For this reason, the male performers were hesitant to share information regarding their occupation with people they were not familiar with. The dancers reported feelings of shock and disgust that arose when they described their occupation with coworkers or met negative reactions from strangers. The second stigma that Scull (2017) uncovers is the what she calls fag discourse. According to McCormick, fag discourse involves using homophobic language to stigmatize and regulate a man’s masculinity as opposed to their sexuality. Masculinity (Carrigan et al. 1985; Connell 1987, 1995) is a result of what is not perceived as feminine. The participants found themselves as targets of fag discourse where they would be called gay, fag or even labeled as homosexual in a degrading way (Scull, 2017). These insults were presented to discourage the behaviors that did not abide by the traditional norms of masculinity such as the choice of wearing nice clothing, frequent grooming, and their choice of costume in the form of a thong that are perceived as feminine or gay behaviors (Scull 2017). Some of the men reported that they felt angered by the targeted attacks and other laughed off the insults and framed them as a result of jealousy. Scull (2017) concluded that the obscure language was used not only used to attack the erotic dancers’ masculinity but to also punish and police their behaviors. Lastly, Scull (2017) uncovers the men are targets of being falsely accused as deviants. The gay labeling of the heterosexual dancers come along with the social stigmas associated with homosexuality. The men faced gay labeling from female customers, friends and even family despite their heterosexual self-identity. The erotic dancers resort to acknowledging their self- identity, controlling and concealing the information surrounding their stigma, resisting feminine characterizations, maintaining a professional image, avoiding male patrons and simply laughing off the incidents to protect their self-views (Scull, 2017).

Scull concludes that her findings are consistent with other research that suggests that men who perform traditionally female occupations have their masculinity examined under a microscope and experience stigmas from the larger culture (Brandth and Kvande 1998; Morgan 1992; Williams 1995).

Sexual Abuse/Sexual Exploitation

Sex workers present their occupation as a professional job by displaying professional values and the desire to move up the ranks. Male sex work is often regarded as exchange of sexual acts for financial gain. Sex plays a heavy role in how well the male individual punches his meal ticket. But of course, every job comes with responsibility, benefit, and the ugly. Unlike every other profession that is out there, sex workers must worry about facing sexual violence each time they step out with a client. Jamel (2011) conducts a study to investigate the prevalence of client perpetrated sexual violence within male sex work. Not only does the research expose the public to the sexual violence within male sex work but it also explores the silencing of male victims of sexual abuse. Jamal (2011) provides a voice for the voiceless 50 participants that discuss their experiences with client perpetrated sexual violence. Jamal (2011) administers web based surveys, tick-box questionnaires, telephone, and face-to-face interviews to 50 male escorts to gauge the levels of sexual violence within the male escort business. The study used quantitative analysis based on descriptive statistics such as the demographic of the sample, the point at which the sex workers entered the industry, the assortment of sex work venues used by the individual escorts, and crime scene data. Jamal (2011) concludes that the frequency of client perpetrated sexual violence against male sex work was reported to be relatively low. An influencer in the rarity of sexual violence included the sub theme of male to male interactions between the escort and the client (Jamal, 2011). The presence of the same male gender prompted the idea among both parties that each individual felt equal towards one another within the business transaction (Jamal, 2011). The mutual feelings highlighted a factor that diminishes client perpetrated sexual violence. The power structure within that context mirrored those that are prevalent in society. Additionally, this situation highlighted the difference between male and female sex work. Where female sex workers are perceived as more vulnerable. Some of the male escorts reported that they had not experienced any sexual violence perpetrated by their clients. Another escort even considered himself lucky due to not experiencing any aggressive clients (Jamal, 2011). Jamal (2011) even exposes the idea that fewer sexual crimes occur among these male sex workers due to the non-confrontational gay clients who seek the services as well as the secretive heterosexual clients who want to keep their sexual orientation a secret. The escorts who responded with all the information allowed several conclusions within the male sex work industry to be made (Jamal, 2011). The study emphasized that age, gender, and sexuality were considered influential factors pertaining to vulnerability to sexual violence among sex workers. In the context of male sex workers, younger men were deemed more vulnerable to sexual violence according to the participants (Jamal, 2011). And gay men faced several risk factors of sexual violence due to their non-confrontational nature that was absent in their heterosexual clients. Transgender sex workers also face sexual victimization on the basis of gender incongruity during the sexual encounter (Jamal, 2011). The client is likely to lash out in a hate motivated sexual attack if they are not able to differentiate between the male and female (Jamal, 2011). These different aspects of human sexuality explored in the study illuminate the obstacles that male sex workers face, but more importantly uncover another layer behind the deep-rooted storytelling that the career does for the industry of male sex work.

The conversation of sexual abuse and prostitution continues as West (1993) speculates the relationship between childhood sexual abuse and prostitution based on the assertion made by that Bolton et al. (1989) that prostitution is a continuum of early sexual abuse. West (1993) interviewed a wide array of 50 young male sex workers in Europe who all reported recollections of early childhood sexual abuse. West (1993) discovers that the sexual abuse was perpetrated by close relatives, strangers, and acquaintances among the participants. All but one of the perpetrators were male, the remining was a female offender. West (1993) connected the prevalence of male perpetrators to the homosexual and bisexual orientation of some of the male sex workers and further asserted that a vast majority of sex violations performed on young boys are perpetrated by familiar male superiors (West, 1993). The material exploitation of these men as young boys generated lingering traumatic emotions. Furthermore, West (1993) hypothesizes that the early exposure to adult deviancy through poor parental care, supervision allowed the opportunity for sexual vulnerably among the young boys. West (1993) also explains how deviant groups including prostitutes, psychotics, sex offenders, addicts, neurotics, delinquents, anorexics, and the mentally ill that sexually abuse young men contribute to precursor of adult deviancy in the male sex workers. Findings in the study revealed that the young male sex workers used prostitution as means to support themselves after leaving broken homes full of substance abuse, drug addiction, neglect, and of source sexual abuse. The depth of male prostitution mirrors the high prevalence of histories of sexual abuse among female prostitutes. West (1993) concludes by citing that sexual abuse is often only one among the many features of a rough upbringing but is a high internal influence in male sex workers who subject themselves to further sexual exploitation.



The phenomena of male sex work cannot be understood using a monolithic critical lens. The subject of male sex work encompasses many concepts from sociology, psychology and most importantly human sexuality. Digesting the social meanings behind male sex work requires more extensive research that focuses more on the interactions and environments of the male sex workers as opposed to focusing on the individuals and or social context of male sex services.

Based on the review of literature, the theme of stigmatization emerged as a common topic of discussion. Stigmatization was presented as a product of the overly sexualized profession of male sex work. Elements of sexual identity, sexual exploitation and objectification, and even the baggage of sexual abuse were conditions discussed that influenced the dynamics of a male sex worker. The more modern perspective on male sex work not only involves stigma but it also reinforces the narratives of male sex workers as unclean, sexually diseased, desperate, degraded human beings. However, progressive research has uncovered that these narratives of male sex work are evolving. The male sex workers themselves are reclaiming these oppressive labels and using their voices for self-advocacy in the profession. Furthermore, the review of literature demonstrated that male sex workers require more attention. Attention in the realms of research beyond the ideas of deviance, HIV/AIDS transmission, and sex. Consequently, this topic cannot be understood by solely focusing on the sexual aspects that define male sex work but rather in an in-depth ethnographic study on the global industry of male sex work.


Boden, D. M. (2007). Alienation of Sexuality in Male Erotic Dancing. Journal of Homosexuality,53(1-2), 129-152. doi:10.1300/j082v53n01_06

Jamel, J. (2011). An Investigation of the Incidence of Client-Perpetrated Sexual Violence Against Male Sex Workers. International Journal of Sexual Health,23(1), 63-78. doi:10.1080/19317611.2011.537958

Mccabe, I., Acree, M., Omahony, F., Mccabe, J., Kenny, J., Twyford, J., . . . Mcglanaghy, E. (2011). Male Street Prostitution in Dublin: A Psychological Analysis. Journal of Homosexuality,58(8), 998-1021. doi:10.1080/00918369.2011.598394

Scull, M. T. (2015). The Self-Concept as a Side Bet: How Stripping Enhances the Self-Views of Men who Dance for Women. Deviant Behavior,36(11), 890-909. doi:10.1080/01639625.2014.977197

Scull, M. T. (2017). Managing Identity in a Dirty Occupation: Male Strippers Experiences with Social Stigmas. Sociological Spectrum,37(6), 390-411. doi:10.1080/02732173.2017.1365030

Verhaegh-Haasnoot, A, et al. (2015) High Burden of STI and HIV in Male Sex Workers Working as Internet Escorts for Men in an Observational Study: a Hidden Key Population Compared with Female Sex Workers and Other Men Who Have Sex with Men. BMC Infectious Diseases, 15(1). doi:10.1186/s12879-015-1045-2.

West, D. J. (1993). Male prostitution.

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