Telecommunications impacts on the structure and organization of the male sex industry



Publication Details

Scott, J., MacPhail, C. & Minichiello, V. (2015). Telecommunications impacts on the structure and organization of the male sex industry. In P. J. Maginn & C. Steinmetz (Eds.), (Sub)Urban Sexscapes: Geographies and Regulation of the Sex Industry (pp. 81-100). Abingdon, United Kingdom: Routledge.


The growth in sex as a commodity has been driven by recent economic, demographic, ideological and technological changes and a much broader tolerance towards the expression of sexualities, at least in Western countries (Ward and Aral 2006). There is increasing attention to the fact that global increases in sex work occur not only among female sex workers, but also among cohorts of male sex workers (MSW), and that both males and females can be clients of the industry. Despite this, current research continues to focus predominately on female sex workers, and specifically on street sex workers, even though there are large numbers of MSW and significant changes in the geography of sex work from "outdoors" to "indoors" (Lee-Gonyea et al . 2009). Male sex workers provide service to a broad clientele, who are largely, but not exclusively men. While data on this group are lacking, MSWs account for approximately 10 percent of the sex worker population globally (Perkins 1991; Smith and Grov 2011; Weitzer 2005). In Australia, where the regulatory landscape of sex work varies from state to state, a random sample of over 10,000 men, reported that 16 percent had hired a sex worker at some point in their life, three percent of which were MSWs (Rissel et al . 2003). There are indications that hiring a sex worker may be more common among men who have sex with men (MSM) than other populations. For example, a community-based survey of 660 sexually active non-monogamous MSM in New York City found that 42.7 percent of participants had either paid for sex, been paid for sex, or both. In this way, commercial sex transactions appear to be an integral element of the sexual landscape in gay communities (Koken et al . 2005). International research suggests that the majority of MSM meet their partners through the Internet (Berg 2009). Despite this, sex industry research has only recently begun to examine the impacts of technological change on the male sex industry. At a broad social level, telecommunications has increased the numbers of male escort workers, created new spaces for sex work encounters, and has extended the reach of sex work to a wider socio-demographic audience (Holt and Blevins 2007). At the behavioral level, research indicates that the needs, desires and experiences of sex workers and clients and the context of their encounters are different when conducted in cyberspace (Parsons et al . 2007). The usage of commercial sex among men needs to be understood within the larger social context of masculinity, power, spatially situated forms of interaction, and the body as commodity. Adopting a post-structuralist account of masculinities, this chapter examines how telecommunications, in changing the structure and organization of male sex work, has opened up new spaces for the expression of masculinity and intimacy. It is argued that support programs need to better understand and engage with telecommunications usage in order to develop successful harm reduction strategies for vulnerable MSWs.

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