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Sex Work and Prostitution: Male  
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Prostitution is a word meaning an exchange of sex for money, but as a metaphor used in everyday conversation it suggests a damaging compromise to one's sense of personal worth in exchange for money or other gain. The introduction of the term sex work reflects a move to de-stigmatize the idea of prostitution and characterize it as a form of ordinary work.

Sex Work is also a more inclusive category than prostitution and encompasses many different kinds of sexual services. These services exist along a continuum that includes varying degrees of direct sexual activity (such as oral sex or intercourse) and fantasy. For example, while performing in pornographic movies usually involves direct sexual interaction with other performers, its purpose is to supply fantasies to the viewers. Like prostitution itself, other forms of sex work that have a significant fantasy component, such as phone sex, stripping, and lap dancing, also involve some degree of interaction between customer and sex worker.

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The Sex Industry

Nowadays, sex work is often described as taking place in the "sex industry," where escort agencies, strip clubs, phone sex services, voyeur websites, or porn producers employ men and women who are as much sex workers as the street hustler.

While there are few rigorous statistical sources, the estimated revenues earned within the sex industry are huge--revenues in the U.S. porn industry alone are estimated at $10 billion dollars a year. The U.S. porn industry, according to one estimate, employs approximately 20,000 people--though it is unclear whether this includes the many occasional and part-time workers employed in the porn industry or whether the figure refers to full-time equivalents.

Nor is the number of sex workers at any one time a fixed population. In fact, sex workers range from being well-organized professionals (working for an escorting agency or managing an independent escort business) to those who engage in unpremeditated and sporadic cash transactions resulting from casual encounters.

Money is involved in many sexual transactions and involves many people who do not identify themselves as professional sex workers. Some see sex work as one among a number of strategies to survive and engage in it occasionally and opportunistically.

In most of the United States (Nevada does allow some forms of prostitution) and in many other countries, prostitution is illegal. There are, of course, other forms of economic exchange for sexual services, which are more indirect, such as gifts, financial support, drugs, or housing, which may be properly considered as forms of prostitution but which are not necessarily illegal.

The Oldest Profession

Prostitution is frequently characterized as the "oldest profession." While most people assume that the phrase applies primarily to female prostitution, historical evidence shows that men have also commonly worked in the profession. Much less has been written about male prostitution, but there is ample evidence of its existence going back as far as the ancient civilizations of Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and the Americas.

Ironically, in nineteenth century England, the term "gay" referred to a prostitute and did not have the homosexual connotation that it has today. During the nineteenth-century, in Europe and the U.S., young working-class men such as soldiers, servants, laborers, and messengers often worked as male prostitutes in order to supplement their low wages. While many of these men may have been heterosexual, others may have chosen to work as male prostitutes in order to engage in their preferred sexual activities, while yet others adopted female attire and would today be characterized as transvestites or transgendered individuals. Female-identified transgendered sex workers have always been a significant aspect of the "male" sex professions.

Many of the young heterosexual men who engaged in prostitution took typically "masculine" roles in sex (thus allowing themselves to be "serviced" in oral sex and to penetrate in anal sex). These men were characterized as "trade," a term in contemporary gay male slang that still signifies the same sort of homosexual behavior. In the first half of the twentieth century, these young men often used elaborate social and psychological strategies to neutralize the potential significance of their sexual behavior, and often engaging in homosexual activity as "trade" was a step on the path to coming out as homosexual, thus giving rise to the cynical proverb frequently used by homosexual men in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s: "Today's trade is tomorrow's competition."

Fantasy and Sex

In the contemporary United States the market for male sexual services is organized into a series of overlapping markets. These markets offer different combinations of sexual services, ranging from those that involve direct sexual contact (for example, hustling or escorting) to those that primarily stimulate sexual fantasies (for example, phone sex or posing for pornography).

While most forms of sex work (like sex itself) provide an experience that is a combination of interaction and fantasy, some (for example, massage and stripping) are specifically organized around controlled or legally regulated forms of contact.

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