Male Sex Workers
Who They Are
The sex industry is often mistakenly assumed to comprise an exclusively female workforce. Despite representing around 20%¹ of all sex workers, male sex workers form a largely invisible demographic within the sex industry. Numerous studies have found that:
- Around 20% of gay men in Australia have sold sex at least once in their lives²
- 0.9% of all men in Australia have ever sold sex³
- 0.5% of all women in Australia have ever sold sex³
In any given year there will be around 1000 male sex workers operating in Victoria.
In association with Sex Work Law Reform Victoria, film students at Deakin University present ‘Men at Work’, a six minute documentary about male sex work in Melbourne, Australia. The film tells the story of a young and determined male escort. For more information about this film, see the ‘Men at Work’ FaceBook page.
How They Work
Male sex workers operate differently from female sex workers in a number of ways. While female sex workers may work privately, in brothels, for escort agencies or on the street, practically all male sex workers operate in the private sector. Unlike female workers, a large proportion of male sex workers provide happy ending massage services. While most female sex workers service clients of the opposite gender, most male sex workers service clients of the same gender (other men). The vast majority of male sex workers are gay or bisexual, however, bisexual men derive almost all of their income from male clients. On average, hourly pay rates for men are around half that of women.
Like all private sex workers, male sex workers must arrange their own advertising. They were early adopters of the opportunities offered by the internet to advertise their services. Full service male to male escorts often use explicit imagery with full frontal nudity in their ads. Ads for male to male (M2M) happy ending massage services generally use less explicit imagery. Almost all male sex workers advertise on the internet. See our guide to private sex work laws for details about the legality or otherwise of these internet advertisements.
What Does ‘Gay for Pay’ Mean?
The demand from women for paid sexual services provided by men is extremely low. However, because there is high demand from men for sexual services provided by other men, straight male sex workers may choose to see male clients in order to boost their income. Such men are straight in their personal lives, but advertise as gay at work. They are known as ‘gay for pay’.
Do Straight Men Pay For Gay Sex?
People mistakenly assume that male clients of male sex workers must be gay. However, this is seldom the case. The majority of clients of male sex workers are men who identify as straight but are attracted to other men. Most of these clients are partnered with women. It is common for male sex workers to target this demographic directly. One internet ad reads,
‘Don’t worry if you are gay /str8/ Bi/Married
A high profile example of this phenomenon is the case of Christian pastor Ted Haggard in the USA.
Most male sex workers are based in the CBD and the inner suburbs of Melbourne. Some also tour around Victoria, interstate or overseas.
A male sex worker may offer his services in either or both of the following scenarios:
The client visits the sex worker at the sex worker’s home or in a hotel/motel booked in the sex worker’s name. Despite being illegal, this is a particularly popular option for men who offer happy ending massage services because it is inconvenient and costly to transport a bulky massage table to the client’s house or hotel.
Male sex workers charge an hourly rate around half that of female sex workers. Bookings are made for a minimum of one hour. Most hourly rates for a full service booking range from $200/hr to $500/hr. A small number earn between $800/hr to $1500/hr. For happy ending massage services, prices generally range from $80/hr to $350/hr.
Many websites carry male sex worker ads catering to the Victorian market. Websites that include both male and female sex worker ads will almost always display them in separate sections. Despite being illegal, many full service male sex workers display full nudity in their online ads.
Related: Opinion piece by Matthew Roberts from Sex Work Law Reform Victoria in LGBTIQ publication, Star Observer.
Almost all male sex workers are independent sole traders. This offers high levels of autonomy and flexibility. It also allows male sex workers to keep all of their earnings. Anecdotal evidence suggests that male sex workers who work illegally (which is nearly all of them) generally go unnoticed by police and authorities. Physical and sexual violence is reported to be much lower for male sex workers than for female sex workers, although stalking, harassment and blackmail on the part of clients does occur.
One disadvantage faced by male sex workers is a lack of choice in how they can work. There are no licensed brothels exclusively catering to male sex workers. For reasons that are unclear, there is no longer a demand for male street-based sex workers. Over the last decade, competition between male sex workers has become fierce, and hourly pay rates have declined.
Male sex workers operate differently from female sex workers in a number of key ways; these differences put them at risk of criminal prosecution to a much higher degree than female workers.
This is because:
- male sex workers use the word ‘massage’ in their ads more often than female workers. This is illegal.
- male sex workers show full nudity in their ads more often than female workers. Showing full nudity in online ads is illegal.
- male sex workers prefer to do incall bookings more often than female workers. Incall bookings are almost always illegal, attracting penalties up to three years’ imprisonment or a fine of over $190,000.
This results in at least 85% of male sex workers operating outside the law.
Male sex workers face barriers reporting crimes to the police. Their status as gay men and sex workers makes them particularly nervous about voluntarily reporting crime to police.
In 2018, due to legislative changes in the USA, two websites, Cracker and Backpage, along with the sex work section of a classifieds website called Craigslist, closed down. All three platforms were extensively used by male sex workers to advertise. These closures had a disproportionately large impact on male sex workers, resulting in a sudden and dramatic decline in income.
Working alone can be isolating. Male sex workers may not be acquainted with other sex workers. Due to stigma, misunderstanding and prejudice, they’re often unable to talk freely about their working lives with anybody else. This physical and social isolation means male sex workers are largely unaware of the support networks available to them. In addition to this, many of the existing support services are not designed for the specific needs of male sex workers.
- Data dates from 30 June 2018
- CAV categorises individual sex workers according to male, female or intersex, as opposed to their nominated gender identity
- Data based on all 1008 registered private workers as at 30 June 2018
- Data only includes registered private sex workers, excludes street-based sex workers, brothel workers and escort agency workers
- Data excludes unregistered private workers (the majority)
- Selvey, L., Hallett, J., Lobo, R., McCausland, K., Bates, J., & Donovan, B. (2017). Western Australian Law and Sex Worker Health (LASH) Study. A Summary Report to the Western Australian Department of Health. Perth: School of Public Health, Curtin University, page 16, Table 4
The above study found that in Western Australia in 2017, 19.2% of sex workers were assigned male at birth.
Benoit C, Jansson M, Smith M, Flagg J. “Well, It Should Be Changed for One, Because It’s Our Bodies”: Sex Workers’ Views on Canada’s Punitive Approach towards Sex Work. Social Sciences 2017, 6, 52. [Exhibit # 6]
The above study found that in five metropolitan areas of Canada in 2016 24% of the sex workers surveyed were male or transgender.
- Prestage, G., McCann, P.D., Hurley, M., Bradley, J., Down, I. and Brown, G. 2010, Pleasure and Sexual Health: The PASH Study, Monograph, National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research, Sydney
Bennett, G. 1983, Young and Gay: A Study of Gay Youth in Sydney, Twenty10, Surry Hills.
3. Rissel C.E., Richters J., Grulich A.E.,de Visser R.O. and Smith A.M. 2003, ‘Sex in Australia; Experiences of Commercial Sex in a Representative Sample of Adults’, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, vol. 27, no.2, pp 191-197
© Sex Work Law Reform Victoria 2022
Last updated: 23 July, 2022