Bay Area Reporter

Book review: Male Sex Work and Society, edited by Victor Minichiello and John Scott

The grand relaunching of Harrington Park Press blasts off this month with Male Sex Work and Society, the publisher’s intriguing title about the history and cultural and sociological significance of male sex work. Co-authors Minichiello and Scott, both Ph.D.s and scholars in public health and social science, respectively, have amassed an impressive collection of essays by a wide variety of educators, health professionals, and researchers.

Steeped in study and intellectual analysis, the book’s four sections scrutinize the sociohistoric context of male prostitution, its public promotion, social issues, and its global impact on far-reaching areas of the world. A general lack of understanding coupled with a limited number of regional and international scholars researching this subject only added to the authors’ challenge. Their collective goal was to create a distinct, comprehensive tome of structured research material, educative insights, and thought-provoking perspectives on this taboo subject.

The opening sections, written by researcher and Lambda Literary Award finalist Mack Friedman and Kerwin Kaye, braid a rich, historic tapestry of sex work with its inherent cultural disgrace, and in concise prose, drive home the point that even in today’s digital society, the hustler remains “scorned, stigmatized, and unprotected, and though not a slave or servant, he is not too far removed from that status.” Kaye’s essay concludes with a contemporary update citing an uptick in “nonmonetary homosexual sex,” yet notes the ever-expanding gap between US states where gays can marry and states that have legalized sex work. Throughout history, much has changed in this field of study, but both authors agree that many aspects of male sex work remain unchanged due to ignorance, shame, and the widespread dissemination of misinformation.

The marketing of sex work moves the contributors’ research into more modern times, with scrutiny of magazine and newspaper advertising of hustling through the online revolution of hyper-sexualized escort services and massage practices, as explored by Trevon Logan, an Ohio State University Associate Economics Professor.

Most intriguing is Australian professor Thomas Crofts’ study of the sex industry’s criminalization and regulation, and the impact on matters of public health regarding HIV transmission and preventative care, both for the customer and for the sex workers themselves.

In other sections, all of them thoughtfully communicated, the book mines the mental health of workers, the future directions of the industry and its research, and the state of the culture within Africa, China, post-Soviet Russia, Latin America, Germany, and Ireland.

The lack of quality material available on this largely proscribed subject comes as no surprise. But these pieces have grasp and inclusiveness, and show expansive work done by academics who seem to have embraced the nature and nuances of male sex work. Using charts, graphs, still photography, and the obligatory (and unfailingly desirable) muscled male torso, Minichiello and Scott have produced an exploratory project celebrating the male sex worker.

Reviewed by Nancy Jim Piechota