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New study of male escorts finds that what they want to know is not what you think

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Internet-based male escorts want to learn about ways to improve their business, found a new study from researchers at the Center for HIV Educational Studies and Training (CHEST.) They want services beyond safer sex and express high interest in being helped in ways that will improve their careers as escorts. “A lot of current research on male escorts has focused on HIV risk and looked at ways to help men stop being escorts. The assumption has always been that, because male escorts exchange sex for money, they are in dire need of safer sex training,” says Dr. Christian Grov, one of the study’s authors. “Instead, we found that over 70% reported using a condom with their last client and that services such as ‘Attracting the right client and keeping them,’ or learning how to navigate the legality of escorting, outranked being trained in how to negotiate safer sex with clients,” said Grov.

The data were taken from a 2013 survey of 418 male escorts on Rentboy.com, one of the largest websites on which male escorts advertise themselves to other men. The research team partnered with HOOK (hook-online.com), one of the oldest grassroots organizations to provide services and advocacy for men in the sex industry. One of Hook’s most popular programs is “Rent University,” a series of workshops offered to men in the sex industry. “Rent University was started in 2004 and has offered a variety of workshops ranging from self-defense to substance use harm reduction,” says Hawk Kinkaid, HOOK’s President and founder. “We partnered with the research team at CHEST to gain greater insight about what courses and programs to plan for the next Rent U. sessions and articles on HOOK’s site. We wanted to know what interests men in the sex industry about healthy living through working smarter,” said Kinkaid.

The CHEST survey asked men about 14 different workshops and those topping the list predominantly had to do with ways in which men could build their careers as escorts (managing money, marketing oneself). In fact, ending one’s career as an escort ranked 8th and negotiating safer sex ranked 12th. “This suggests that both researchers and providers really need to rethink how we are going to approach the topic of escorting,” says Grov. “Instead of trying to ‘save’ these men from being escorts and assuming HIV prevention is their chief interest, perhaps we really should be trying understand motivations for escorting and the intrinsic benefits men receive from being escorts,” continued Kinkaid.

But this is not to suggest all male escorts are happy-go-lucky. “It is important to remember that exchanging sexual services for money is highly stigmatized and there isn’t an organized physical community of male escorts. Many of these men remain hidden among us,” said Grov. In fact, the study found more than 2/3rd of participants (69.7%) had not disclosed their escorting to a single family member and a quarter had not told a single friend. “And this is exactly why online grassroots organizations like Hook have proven so valuable for these men. Where there isn’t a physical place for escorts to gather, online communities like Hook have created a virtual space.” And while 70% of participants reported using a condom with their last male client, 30% did not. Although in the minority, the study identified areas for improvement.