Sexual and Relationship Therapy

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

This book falls into the “everything you ever wanted to know…” category. In a reader friendly volume of over 500 pages, Minichiello and Scott bring together 17 articles, plus their Introduction and Conclusion, about a topic rarely touched on in the literature of sexual health. In their preface, the editors state that among their goals, they sought to “…provide broad coverage of male sex work,… to include multiple disciplinary perspectives,… and to capture a sense of the cross-cultural variations…” The volume most assuredly fulfills these goals.

The content is divided into four categories: (1) male sex work in sociohistoric context, (2) marketing of male sex work, (3) social issues and cultures in male sex work, and (4) male sex work in its global context. Authors have been drawn from a wide variety of disciplines: anthropology, communication, criminology, economics, health sciences, law, psychology, social work, sociology and urban planning. While six of the chapters have been taken from existing books and journals, the majority have been written specifically for this book. Illustrations, photographs, charts and graphs provide a welcome visual enhancement to the text.

This is not a work of dry, uninvolved scholarship. While the editors have selected authors with sound academic, research and professional credentials, they have been careful not to dehumanize those who are the focus of this book. These are men and not only statistics, profoundly effected by the way history and society view male sex workers, and the policies which at times have resulted in their persecution. Physical and mental health challenges of this population are discussed by a number of authors, all of whom successfully avoid the tendency to pathologize those different from ourselves. The last section of the book focuses on male sex workers in six different geographic locations, emphasizing the critical role of cultural definitions and expectations. Among the issues raised are HIV concerns, financial transactions, the homosexual/heterosexual spectrum, stratification, legal sanctions and the question of overt communal recognition. These eye-opening chapters complete the book by providing the reader with a real-time picture of what has been called the world’s second oldest profession.

In their Conclusion, the editors note, “The postmodern view presented in this book is that sexual pleasure involves intensely personal erotic acts and interactions.” This perspective is not always reflected in this volume, where the vocation of male sex workers is sometimes portrayed as decidedly impersonal. As sexual health professionals, perhaps we would like to see this postmodern perception as a goal devoutly to be wished; however, the reality of the work we do confronts us with a picture at times not in synch with this conceptualization. This dichotomy does not detract from this book; rather it emphasizes the complexity of human sexuality.

This book is specialized and so will be its readers hip. At the very least it belongs in the library of every program touching on sex and sexuality, and in the personal collection of every sex researcher, academic and clinician dealing with this and similar populations.

Reviewed by David S. Ribner