We compiled a survey of online male escort profiles in all countries around the world, with some surprising results. Who knew that in the United Kindgom, more male escorts sought female and couple clients than male clients? With almost 325,000 male escort profiles online, one thing is clear: male escorting is a significant business and social phenomenon.
How many male escorts are there?
This is a frequently asked question, but not an easy one to answer. Most researchers agree that the numbers of male sex workers worldwide have increased in recent decades.
There is also some agreement on the drivers of that growth, which include: shifting social values, legislative reform around sex work, and, importantly, new technologies, such as the mobile phone and internet. All these factors have increased the visibility of and improved access to what has been a highly stigmatised activity for client and sex worker alike.
And while sections of the industry have expanded, notably online escorting, older sectors such as street work have experienced significant decline in Western contexts (see UK inquiry into prostitution).
A Swedish report into prostitution, estimates that male sex workers account for 10-20% of the overall sex worker population and online escort forums are likely to be the dominant venue where male escorts are found. However, these estimates are likely to vary between countries.
A Foundation Scelles report estimates the number of sex workers worldwide at about 42 million, with about 8 million thought to be men.
Some interesting and consistent observations about the male sex industry have emerged. Male sex workers are, generally speaking, more likely than female sex workers to initiate contact with clients electronically and to work as private escorts rather than in a brothel-based environment.
European research shows that, at least in Western countries, an increasing number of escorts use online advertising, accounting for anywhere from 40% to 60% of the business.
Male sex workers working in the online environment, generally speaking, have been found to enter the paid sex industry voluntarily and to work independently.
Online escorts: our research
Our research shows that globally there were 324,852 male escort profiles online worldwide.
The United States of America (USA), Mexico, Brazil, Spain, and the United Kingdom (UK) were the countries with the highest number of profiles, comprising about 93% of the total male escort profiles.
Sixty-one countries had websites listing male escorts from their countries, with an average of 10 male escorts websites per country. Some countries had a much higher number of websites listing male escorts than others, with a range from one to forty-two.
It is important to note that a number of websites that included escort profiles from around the world, such as Rentmen and Hourboy, were often hosted in countries where sex work was legal and these websites were among the largest overall.
Following the elimination from our sample of duplicate profiles, we identified a total of 105,009 male escorts, representing about 32% of the total escort profiles.
Regionally, South and Central America account for the highest number (44.2%), closely followed by North America (43.4%), Europe (10.4%), Asia and the Middle East (1.5%), Oceania (Australia and New Zealand, .4%) and lastly, Africa (.1%).
Social and legal influences
This distribution is perhaps not surprising when considering social attitudes and the legal status of same-sex intercourse and sex work in various jurisdictions that influence the structure and organisation of the sex industry. For example, in jurisdictions where sex work and homosexuality are criminalised, using online platforms to market services may be problematic, because the identification of the escort is revealed through information sharing. Operating such sites may violate law, as evidenced via the Rentboy.com case in New York State.
The law can also influence the terminology used to describe the service (such as ‘companion’ rather than the term ‘escort’) and type of services provided.
Of the countries with the highest concentration of male sex work profiles on the internet (see Table), same-sex relations were not criminalised in the following countries: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom. In China, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, and the United States, either homosexuality or prostitution is legal or restricted.
While it has been assumed that male clientele are the primary market for male escorts, our survey suggests there is a smaller but significant market for female clients who engage with paid sexual services with men.
Table 1 also shows that the clientele by gender varied. The majority of the sites (more than 57%) catered to male customers only, but a number of sites were specifically for female clients (11%) and a similar number of sites were for couples, mostly opposite sex (10%). As expected, there were about two times more male escorts for men (72,106) than for women or couples (32,948).
The top ten countries with the largest number of male escorts for women and couples were in order: Mexico (14,531), Brazil (6892), the U
nited States (3481), the United Kingdom (2926), Spain (2367), Germany (359), Japan (327), Belgium (307), the Netherlands (290), and France (182).
A number of factors may explain the variability between jurisdictions. For example, in Mexico, sex work and same sex relations are legal, its in close proximity to the United States, it has relatively low rates for hiring escorts, and the Latino sexual culture may provide an attraction.
Latin American and Western European countries feature prominently on the list, accounting for 65.5% and 20.3%, or combined more than two thirds of all the male escorts for women and couples globally.
The results also reveal that the United Kingdom had more male escorts seeking female and couples clients than male escorts seeking male clients, as did Uganda and Argentina.
Other countries with a higher percentage of escorts for women and couples in the country included: Chile (40.7%), Germany (40.2%), Hungary (45
.4%), Japan (41.5%), Malaysia (46.5%), and Russia (43.6%).
This is consistent with the results of an ongoing study conducted in the United Kingdom showing that although most escorts advertised to other men, a significant proportion also advertised to female clients.
Table: Number of male escorts online by country
|Country||No. of websites||No. of Escort Profiles (EP)||No. of Actual Escorts (AE)||No. of Male Escorts for Men (MEM)||No. of Male Escorts for Women/Couples (MEWC)||% of (MEWC/AE)|
|United Arab Emirates||10||379||337||213||124||36.79%|
We estimated the number of online male escorts throughout the world using an escorting app we developed, “Males”, and a Google search to identify new or deleted websites since Males was released in December 2016 (see our earlier research: A global overview of male escort websites for 2016 data and observations).
A word of caution
There are some limitations of the website survey worth noting. The numbers are almost certainly an under-representation of male escorts. There are several reasons for this:
- The survey only counts sex workers operating online and, therefore, does not count sex work in other, more traditional environments, such as brothels and massage parlours.
- This survey accounts for only one type of online sex work taking place via sex work-specific digital profiles. Sex work online also takes place in other settings that are less structured, such as classified ads, sex and dating websites and apps designed for non-commercial encounters, and general forms of social media. Importantly, sex work in these spaces is often more casual and occasional and these are not unimportant forms of sex work.
- It is also worth noting that these numbers are likely to fluctuate over time, with sex workers entering and leaving the market year-to-year and also month-to-month. It is this flexibility and fluidity that makes the online marketplace appealing for many but it means that these numbers are likely to change over a short space of time, not to mention the rise of new websites not included in the survey.
- Further, in jurisdictions where sex work or same-sex relations are heavily penalized, it is possible that escort sites are known only to participants within relatively closed social networks. It may be that these sites are listed on the part of the so-called ‘dark web’; these sites are not included in our survey.
One thing is clear from the large number of websites on male escorting: it is increasingly important to acknowledge and recognise that male escorting is a significant business and social phenomenon.
Research needs to develop a more comprehensive approach to establishing a reliable baseline dataset, so that trends in the distribution of male sex workers across time and nations can be studied.
Building on the method described here, a replication survey is highly desirable. Equally important is the development of a survey instrument that is produced in consultation with and administered with sex work organisations, non-government organisations (NGOs), health agencies and owners of brothels.
Capturing the varied sex work settings would offer a more comprehensive estimate on the number of male escorts globally.