Academic journal article International Public Health Journal

To Do or Not Do, That Is the Question: A Male Sex Worker's Perspective

Academic journal article International Public Health Journal

To Do or Not Do, That Is the Question: A Male Sex Worker's Perspective

Article excerpt

Introduction

This paper reports findings from a case study about a young man, Ethan (pseudonym), selling sex. The aim is to gain insight into a male sex workers lifestyle and an understanding of him as a person over time in relation to health service and social work equality. Research on male sex workers is sparse, compared to that on female sex workers, even though male sex work has increased in recent decades. Deviance was the focus for the first wave of research (1). The next wave's focus was on the sexual orientation of the male sex worker, where the distinction between the masculine heterosexuals and the effeminate homosexuals altered how they were understood and governed. The outcome was male sex workers as a public health concern, which facilitated the process of regarding them as a social problem (2). Now health and cybersex are on the agenda (3, 4). However, most research up to this point has been quantitative; hence, this qualitative case study attempts to fill the gap. There are differences between the research looking into men working in streets and bars, so-called "hustlers," and those who focus on men who work indoors, known as "escorts." Different from those with a middle-class background who work indoors, men working on the street seem to live a more marginalized life on the edge of society (5, 6). The number of male and female sex workers are similar, but for boys and girls ages 12 to 25 years who have received money or other reimbursement for sex, studies from the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, and the United States show a higher number for boys, sometimes twice that for girls (7). The notion of "male sex worker" will be used for the purpose of this study as an umbrella term for transactional sex, instead of the more stigmatizing term "prostitute" (8).

The phenomenon of people selling and buying sex and the sex trade industry has been high up on the public agenda in Sweden. There is a wide range of perspectives on the phenomenon of sex workers. Despite this, it is possible to distinguish two major themes in the discourse. The first is the sex worker as a victim - where she/he is regarded as an individual with limited control over her/his own life and the sexselling trade. On the other hand, there is the situation where the sex worker is in charge of her/his own life and own business. The present study assumes male sex workers to be both victims and agents. Second, most studies base their perspectives on either the environment or the personal character of the sex worker. The present study takes its point of departure from where these two perspectives meet - in the reciprocal interrelation between the person who sells sex and the sex-selling activity. Additionally, it discusses the notion that when individuals feel in charge of their life, they are more likely to take care of their health and their social and economic future.

The context

The brothel is located on the second floor in a lightyellow five-story building at the outskirts of the red light district in a major European capital. At the street level, next to the locked door, there is an intercom for entrance. Before the client is admitted into the large apartment with dark red wallpaper, he is examined through the fish-eye. In the dim light, there is a central bar, and some young men on the threshold of adulthood sit around tables or stand along the wall. Different pornographic films are shown on the TV monitors placed strategically around the establishment. While the client has something to drink in the bar, he is able to talk to some young men; others will approach him and some young men will look busy. After negotiations, the client chooses the young man he wants. For the sex service, a fixed price is paid to the bartender, and the brothel will pay the young man later, minus their expenses, a 40/60 split. Then the client will be taken to small private room upstairs, basalt furnished with a bed, chair, and TV. Afterward the client can tip the young man some pocket money. …

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