Book Review: An Exploration of Male Sex Workers, Beyond the Stigma

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male_sex_workbook_smBy: Paul P. Jesep*/TRT Columnist—

It’s January! Time to snuggle up with a good read!

Male Sex Work and Society,” edited by Victor Minichiello and John Scott, is a scholarly, though highly readable collection of essays exploring male sex workers who have sex with men throughout the world. Contributors include academics, criminologists, psychologists, and social workers. Male “sex work is now part of the global economy,” the editors observe, due in part to “new communications technologies” that have “expanded the reach of male sex workers.”

The work looks at a reality of life, often harsh and unforgiving, for male sex workers in a global context. China, Germany, Latin America, Post-Soviet Russia, and Ireland (the republic and the north) are explored in a way that doesn’t require you to be a clinician, social worker or nerdy researcher, though there is documentation is in each chapter to back up findings. [pullquote]The work looks at a reality of life, often harsh and unforgiving, for male sex workers in a global context. China, Germany, Latin America, Post-Soviet Russia, and Ireland (the republic and the north) are explored in a way that doesn’t require you to be a clinician, social worker or nerdy researcher, though there is documentation is in each chapter to back up findings.[/pullquote]

Although the book covers several nations, discussions are often targeted and don’t provide an extensive, integrated look at what occurs in those countries. Russia, for example, is extraordinarily diverse with a strong theme of xenophobia, homophobia and Eastern Orthodox nationalism weaved into its social fabric. The chapter on Germany focuses on migrant workers, not a wider industry of native Germans. Editorial commentary ties the various chapters together, suggesting the counterproductive nature to outlawing sex services, though legal in some countries.

Moral judgment or outlawing paid sex misses an opportunity to oversee one of the world’s oldest professions, while protecting the industry’s workers from exploitation, substance abuse, and managing the spread of disease. But why let logic, common sense and intellectual honesty get in the way? According to the editors, “the more liberal societies report less violence, safer and more productive client-worker interactions, and the development of a leisure sex industry that is both professional and responsible.” Hmm, “professional and responsible.” If only the banking industry behaved this way.

Too often, as one of the essays points out, the stigma of being a male hired for sex is overshadowed by the exploitation of women and children. Hence, males who are forced into sex work are frequently ignored, as if there is always a level of consent. Minichiello and Scott make a startling and troubling conclusion, when they say “Male sex work has largely been undertheorized in the social sciences. One reason for this lack of attention seems to be the fact that most male sex work involves adult males and, as such, there is an assumed equality in the exchange with power relations often ignored.” They also observed that “cultural assumption” concludes sexual encounters between men are positive and “actively sought.” [pullquote]The editors further conclude that the male sex industry creates “considerable challenges in the broader society, and some policymakers are responding creatively to issues related to public health, homosexuality, and the professionalization and commercialization of the male sex industry … the male sex industry—which includes highly diverse men of all colors, shapes, and sizes who sell sexual services—deserves significantly increased funding for future research on the basis of public health alone.”[/pullquote]

The goal of the book is to “broaden perspectives” about male sex workers. It far surpasses this lofty pursuit. It dispels myths and societal judgments about clients and sex workers by using research and analysis. It takes a mature approach to sexuality. There’s also the darker side of sex work evidenced in abuse and victimization that easily could be addressed with government oversight. Legalized sex work would have a direct impact on protecting clients, workers, and greater society from STDs and lowering rates of substance abuse. It could be taxed, with revenue going to help workers.

The editors further conclude that the male sex industry creates “considerable challenges in the broader society, and some policymakers are responding creatively to issues related to public health, homosexuality, and the professionalization and commercialization of the male sex industry … the male sex industry—which includes highly diverse men of all colors, shapes, and sizes who sell sexual services—deserves significantly increased funding for future research on the basis of public health alone.”

Although the work is readable and informative, it is also an invitation to readers to expand and build upon its scholarship in order to better understand a persecuted segment of society.

*Paul is an attorney, seminary-trained priest and founder of CorporateChaplaincy.biz, a firm committed to the spiritual wellness of professionals.  He also is author of “Lost Sense of Self & the Ethics Crisis: Learn to Live and Work Ethically.”