Academic journal article Sociological Focus

Personal Brand in Online Advertisements: Comparing White and Brazilian Male Sex Workers

Academic journal article Sociological Focus

Personal Brand in Online Advertisements: Comparing White and Brazilian Male Sex Workers

Article excerpt

We examine marketing strategies used by Brazilian and white American male sex workers in their online advertisements and the degree to which ethnicity is emphasized as an aspect of personal branding. The results show that both groups emphasize similar aspects that are important in the sex trade, particularly their physical attributes, although emphasis and details vary. The results also suggest that male sex workers are cognizant of ethnic and racial preferences or fetishes and use them to enhance marketability in their online advertisements.

Historically, issues "pertinent to the individual sex worker have been explored at length within the literature from the conceptualization of the sex worker as deviant" (Browne and Minichiello 1996:51). Many of the issues that researchers commonly examine, such as HIV/AIDS, drug and alcohol use, and history of childhood abuse and violence, also directly or indirectly contribute to and continue to support the negative view of sex work. Although these studies are important and require attention, the association of sex work with social problems fails to show the diverse experiences of sex workers and downplays any potential positive aspects of sex work. As West (1993:324) concludes, the "most important conclusion to come out of this survey is the danger of generalisations about male sex workers. There are enormous variations in lifestyle, in the organisation of the business, in the environment in which it is carried on, in the sexual activities involved."

In recent years, an increasing number of researchers has argued that "the intrinsic nature of sex work is not all oppressive, and that there are different kinds of worker and client experiences and varying degrees of victimization, exploitation, agency, and choice" (Scott et al. 2005:321; see also Browne and Minichiello 1996). For some workers, sex work is an occupational choice, and the decision to enter the trade is a rational one (Browne and Minichiello 1996; Calhoun and Weaver 1996; Sanders 2005; Uy et al. 2004; Weitzer 2005). Some sex workers view their work as transitional, undertaken while they await opportunities for other jobs. Others, perhaps more entrepreneurial and independent, treat sex work as a career choice (e.g., Marino, Minichiello and Disogra 2003). Koken, Bimbi, Parsons, and Halkitis (2004:29) report that some Internet escorts even reframe "sex work away from the stereotypical social problem model to sex work as a legitimate form of work which can be a constructive and positive force in the lives of those in the commercial sex industry as well as those who seek their services."

Sex work is no longer restricted to traditional venues. With improvements in transportation and communication technologies, many sex workers are advertising their services in a global market via the Internet. "Escorts now have websites, which include photos and descriptions of their services, and potential clients are able to e-mail these escorts or find them in popular Internet chat rooms" (Parsons, Bimbi, and Halkitis 2001:102). The popularity of Internet usage and its global accessibility provide sex workers with a cost-effective way to advertise their services. Websites providing advertisement space for sex workers range from catering to only one specific city to covering a worldwide market. Even when sex workers are advertising on a website specific to a city or region, they are often mobile, offering delivery of their services, sometimes across state and national borders (see Pruitt 2005).

Further, studies indicate that sex workers could be active agents in strategizing and positioning themselves in the market. For example, Sanders (2005) reports that some of the female sex workers in her sample actively shape their work identities and play an expected version of the prostitute role as a business strategy to attract and retain clients. In fact, some of the strategies employed by some sex workers are based on marketing principles used in other industries. …

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