Photo: Window prostitution at the Geleenstraat, The Hague, where cross-dressers are also working.
Guest article by Paul van Gelder
In 1971, the minimum age for same sex relations was reduced to 16 years in the Netherlands. Since then, three successive phases can be distinguished in the development of male prostitution/sexwork. In the years of transition 1971-1986, ‘boysclubs’ become manifest for the first time. The period 1987-1999 is marked by the aids epidemic, when HIV-prevention in male as well as female sexwork took high political priority.
In the year 2000, the ban on brothels was lifted in the Netherlands. Shortly after, almost all (until then tolerated) ‘boysclubs’ reacted by closing doors. During the following years street-walking was also prohibited in several larger cities, such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague. During this period, most male sex-workers started to offer their services on the internet and social media.
In 2009 I was involved in field research for Boys Online/Boys Offline in the region of the Hague.i It was an update of an earlier (only-offline) investigation into male sex-workers (MSW) in the three above mentioned cities.ii In 2009, there were approximately 300 MSW in the region of the Hague. About three quarters (76%) appeared (also) to be active online.
Four-year sample (2009-20112) of male internet escorts
Which trends emerge from the database of male escorts soliciting their clients online? To gain a more thorough understanding, from 2009-2012 supplementary online data were assembled. Within the region of the Hague, the neighbouring cities of Leiden, Zoetermeer and Delft were also included. All profiles and ads of male internet escorts who were soliciting clients in the local region were gathered. These profiles and ads were aggregated on an annual basis. After tracing and removing all obvious double counts, the total sample of MSW identified during these four years (2009-2012) consisted of 585 individual escorts.iii Below, I present some main trends emerging from the data.
Difference between age groups
In Table 1 a subdivision is made for the number of years each individual escort was identified. It shows that 483 escorts (75%) of the total sample of 585 could be cited in a single year. This indicated a high turnover among online male escorts in the region. The other quarter (25%), including 102 male escorts, was cited over two or more years. Only 5% (29) of the total sample could be traced during four subsequent years. 12% (67) of all male escorts were cited for three years, and 25% (147) for two years.
Table 1: Male internet escorts according to number years marketed, in the region of the Hague over the years 2009-201
|Years spotted||N||%||N Cumulative||% Cumulative|
According to Table 2, male internet escorts in the,18-22 year of age, turned out to be the most variable sub-group. Of this age group, 83% escorts were cited for 1 year and 17% for a longer period of time. Male internet escorts of 30 years or older were cited for the most prolonged periods. Of this age group, 67% could be tracked for 1 year and 33% for 2-4 years. The difference of 34% in the older age group indicates half the size of the youngest age group. For the male internet escorts of 23-29 years, the 1-year percentage is 74% and the 2-4 year percentage 26%; that is a difference of 48%.
Table 2: Male internet escorts according to number of years marketed and to age group, in the region of the Hague over the years 2009-2012
|1 year||2-4 years||Difference (-/-)|
|Age group||N (%)||N (%)||N (%)|
|18-22 years||149 (83%)||30 (17%)||119 (-/-66%)|
|23-29 years||166 (74%)||59 (26%)||107 (-/-48%)|
|30 years and older||112 (67%)||57 (33%)||55 (-/-34%)|
|Unkown||11 (p.m)||1 (p.m)||10 (p.m)|
|Total||438 (75%)||147 (25%)||291 (-/-50%)|
Differences in ethnic/national background
In addition to ‘age group’, we can find out whether ‘ethnic/national impacts on duration of visibility for the total sample of male internet escorts. In Table 3, the one-year and the multi-year male escorts were subdivided into a ‘Dutch’ and ‘other’ background.
Table 3: Internet sample of individual male escorts according to number years marketed and ethnic/national background in the region of the Hague, period 2009-2012
|1 year cited||2-4 year cited||Total sample|
|Ethnic/national background||N (%)||N (%)||N (%)|
|Dutch||238 (74%)||84 (26%)||322 (100%)|
|Other background||200 (76%)||63 (24%)||263 (100%)|
|Total||438 (75%)||147 (50%)||585 (100%)|
If all male escorts with another ethnic/national background are taken together, the year percentages show little difference with those of Dutch escorts. The percentages of both subgroups appear to be equal to 75% (1 year) and 25% (2-4 year) of the total sample.
Subdivided into world regions, male internet escorts with a Central European and an Asian background appear to be the marketing online for a lesser period of time in the local region of the Hague.
Age group and ethnic/national background
The factor ‘age’ and the factor ‘ethnic/national background’ have so far been discussed apart from each other. It is also possible to combine both factors into one single table. See table 4-a and Table 4-b. In these two tables ‘age group’ and ‘ethnic/national background’ are compared to each other for the total sample of 585 male internet escorts.
Table 4a: Internet sample of male escorts according to age group, and ethnic/national background, in the region of the Hague
|Age group||N (%)||N (%)||N (%)|
|18-22 years||92 (51%)||87 (49%)||179 (100%)|
|23-29 years||99 (44%)||126 (56%)||225 (100%)|
|30 years and older||123 (73%)||46 (27%)||169 (100%)|
|Unkown||8 (p.m)||4 (p.m)||12 (p.m)|
|Total||322 (55%)||263 (45%)||585|
Looking at the 1 year/2-4 year percentages of the age groups in Table 4a, the ethnical/national background of MSW appears to make little difference when compared with age background. The related comparison in table 4b, however, offers a different picture. In table 4b, the 18-23 age group of MSW with another ethnical/national background is +4% less likely to market services in successive years. The 23-29 year age group of MSW with another ethnic/national background is also less likely to market services in successive years, with a surplus percentage of +17%. In the age group of 30 years and older, MSW with a Dutch background are more prolonged in their marketing of services, with a surplus of -21%.
Table 4b: Internet sample of male escorts according to age group, and ethnic/national background, in the region of the Hague
|Dutch||Other background||Difference (-/-)|
|Age group||N (%)||N (%)||(in %)|
|18-22 years||92 (29%)||87 (33%)||(+ 4%)|
|23-29 years||99 (32%)||126 (49%)||(+ 17%)|
|30 years and older||123 (39%)||46 (18%)||(- 21%)|
|Unkown||8 (p.m)||4 (p.m)||(p.m)|
|Total||322 (100%)||263 (45%)|
The results of this four-year study of male internet escorts with male clients in the local region of the Hague have two main limitations. Male escorts soliciting clients via specific social media, such as gay dating apps like grindr, are not included. Male sex-workers only operating offline are also disregarded.
The most intriguing outcome of the 4-year sample of individual MSW is that so many male escorts were cited during one single year at the local level. From 2009 until 2012, three quarters (75%) of the total sample of 585 escorts was only cited marketing servcies for 1 year, while one quarter 25% were traced over 2-4 years. The result shows the clandestine/informal nature of advertising sexual services online. The most restless are the youngest male internet escorts in the group of 18-22 year olds. The variability among the youngest male escorts on the internet corresponds with other outcomes of the field research carried out in 2009. In face-to-face interviews, male sex workers who started in the pre-internet period, complained about changes to the organisation of the industry, which had resulted in more independent work. As one experienced male sex-worker said: “Almost all boysclubs are closed, everyone works on the internet. The traditional whore world is collapsing.” Another Dutch escort who started in boysclubs in Amsterdam, confirmed this change: “It used to be boys together, now it’s boys for themselves.”
There is still another reason for the apparent trend towards individualization. The internet and social media typically require a low threshold of resources to start-up business on your own. Before the legalization and before the rise of the internet and social media, the circuit of male sex-workers in the Netherlands was a shadow circuit of the female industry and society in general, with a high resource threshold for starters. Nowadays, a male internet escort can make a start from home.
Paul van Gelder is senior researcher at Shop-Den Haag (www.shop-denhaag.nl), a local Dutch ngo, and received a PhD in social sciences at the University of Amsterdam. He published a series of studies on male sex work, as well as prostitution in the Netherlands. He is, currently, involved in a research project on the position of sex-workers in window prostitution in the city of The Hague.
i Paul van Gelder and Léon van Lier (2011) Boys Online/Boys Offline. Seksuele dienstverlening door jongens/mannen (M$M) in Den Haag, 2009. Utrecht: De Graaff. (www.uitgeverijdegraaff.nl)
ii Paul van Gelder (2000) Streetwise and stigmatized: street-based ethnography among male hustlers in three Dutch cities. Focaal, nr. 36, pp. 17-29.
iii Paul van Gelder (2014) Boys Online/Boys Offline. Seksuele dienstverlening door jongens/mannen (M$M) in Den Haag, 2009. Update Internet-escorts, 2009-2012. The Hague: Shop-Den Haag.