Prostitution only affects women and children. Men don’t sell themselves or get forced into sex.

Fact: The prevalence and notoriety of female prostitution and sex trafficking often keeps the media and public attention fixed (rightly so) on their issues. But this, combined with a societal view that men are only perpetrators and women are only victims in sex crimes, and that men are strong and women are weak, can lead to an expectation that all men involved in prostitution activity are pimps or gangsters. Simply being male does not protect anyone from being sexually exploited[1]—nor does it mean that there are not customers willing to buy sexual favors from them.

Prostitution only goes on in poor or underdeveloped countries.

Fact: Male prostitution and sex work take place all over the world, even in wealthy nations. According to the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics, there were about 62,700 arrests for prostitution and commercialized vice in the U.S. during 2010[2]. (This includes prostitution and promoting prostitution.) 31% of these arrestees were men.

Only the very poor and underprivileged end up in survival sex work.

Fact: Many events in a person’s life—traumas, tragedies, accidents, etc.—can contribute to an individual ending up on the streets or engaged in sex work or survival prostitution. Even those from wealthy or privileged backgrounds can find themselves in a position in which prostitution seems like the best or only survival option.

Male sex workers and prostitutes are homosexual or transsexual.

Fact: Men of all sexual orientations end up in sex work. Heterosexual, homosexual, transgender, bisexual, queer, questioning—any orientation found among the general population can be found among male sex workers. Different kinds of sex work may have a higher percentage of people from a certain orientation, but sex work or, more specifically, survival prostitution, is just that: work, or a means of survival. Men do not have to be attracted to the gender (or individual “customers”) they are servicing in order to prostitute or engage in other kinds of sex work.

Sex work when you aren’t being “pimped” or forced is a choice; you can leave any time.

Fact: This is a complicated issue. And like most complicated issues, the reply to the above statement is both “yes” and “no.” Men are able to exercise their autonomy and to make choices that change their lives and behavior. Many men have and will choose to “leave” sex work (or conversely, to choose it for reasons other than survival). However, to simply say they can “leave any time” fails to recognize the many and real obstacles they must overcome to do so. Every individual’s story is different, but most face at least several of the following complications that make it difficult for them to obtain and hold a “regular” job or to change their behavior:

  • Past abuse (and accompanying mental health issues)
  • Current abuse
  • Emotional and spiritual abuse or pain
  • Mental health disability
  • Physical disability
  • Drug, alcohol, sex, or other addiction
  • Criminal record
  • Chronic homelessness
  • Lack of family support
  • Lack of resources
  • Limited job experience
  • Lack of education
  • No legal authorization to work (as with illegal immigrants)


References

[1] See Loree Cook-Daniel’s summarization of the issue in “Female Perpetrators and Male Victims of Sexual Assault: Why they are so Invisible” Victimization of the Elderly and Disabled, Vol. 11, No. 5, January/February 2009. A version of this article can be accessed here: forge-forward.org (PDF).

[2] http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/ascii/aus9010.txt