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social sciences

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Sex Work and Prostitution: Male  
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The Hustler and the Escort

The two most common forms of male prostitution (involving direct sexual services) are the hustler and the escort. The hustler typically deals with his customers on a face-to-face basis--either on the street, at adult bookstores (a disappearing venue), bathhouses, and, especially, bars. In contrast, the escort generally arranges his business over the telephone, through an escorting agency, or on a website.

In the U.S., the motivation to engage in prostitution and other forms of sex work is often, though not always, economic. Several studies have shown that male sex workers often have low levels of formal education, and their work choices are limited to unskilled labor, which pays less than they can earn through sex work.

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Through the 1970s, in the United States, male sex workers worked primarily on the streets or in parks in sex districts or gay cruising areas and in porn theaters and bars, but their numbers sharply declined during the 1980s. Several factors were responsible. The onset of the AIDS epidemic, followed by the crack and crystal methamphetamine epidemics, hit street hustlers especially hard.

HIV disproportionately affected street hustlers and the homeless youth who supported themselves through prostitution. Many customers saw sex with hustlers as a high risk activity for HIV infection and turned to porn and phone sex services as low risk activities.

Phone Sex

During the 1980s, local gay newspapers began printing advertisements for men offering a range of sexual services, including escorting and massage. They also advertised other sex businesses, such as phone sex services, then the latest innovation. Since then male sexual services have increasingly used advertising, both in print and on the Internet, to attract customers. The rapid increase in the use of cell phones has facilitated this growth. Consequently, as the hustler declined in significance, the escort gained an increased share of the market for male prostitution.

Since its inception in the 1980s, phone sex has emerged as an important medium for providing sexual services with a large fantasy component. Phone sex services, typically reached through 900 or 976 numbers, provide personal contact with a phone sex operator who enacts or improvises a sexual scenario in response to the caller. Phone sex operators are "actors" who perform and improvise a large array of scripts that consist of sexually-explicit material organized around common themes that customers request. Operators will develop followings of clients who return time and time again to participate in their preferred fantasies with an actor who successfully maintains the fantasy's freshness and excitement.


In many large urban centers, bars and clubs offer strip shows and "dancing" as a form of live erotic entertainment. In strip shows, performers dance and strip in order to stimulate the erotic fantasies of their audience. The strip show promotes a sexual fantasy without an actual sexual act between the performer and the audience member, although the performer's presence permits a degree of interaction--even if it is only eye contact or stuffing dollar bills in a jock strap. Strippers may even create an ongoing fantasy persona that they regularly perform for their fans.

Strippers typically earn their income in the form of tips from customers--who drop dollars on the stage near a performer or tuck cash in the elastic band of underwear or a jock strap. Female strippers can earn quite large incomes, but male strippers, whether they work in gay clubs or before a straight female audience, earn considerably less. As a form of employment, stripping offers ready cash to performers, while providing an erotic spectacle to the audience. Local laws and enforcement policies determine the extent of nudity (which can range from underwear or jock straps to g-strings and total nudity), whether or not a live sex show can take place where alcohol is served, and the degree of touching that is permitted.

While many strippers may not work as escorts, stripping can serve as a point of contact for escorting. Whether or not strippers are available as escorts, they are nonetheless frequently solicited. Thus, "dancing" or stripping may also serve as a form of outreach and marketing to attract customers.

Pornography as a Career

Performing in pornographic movies is also a form of sex work, but one entirely devoted to creating a fantasy. Unless a performer strips or escorts, there is no interaction with members of the audience. Porn actors, like other sex workers, may exclude certain activities from their repertoire, but their sexual behavior is primarily governed by the demands and constraints of the video production.

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