In Prague's booming sex tourism industry, what type of man becomes a prostitute?
As the sixth most visited city in Europe, you may be familiar with Prague's iconic baroque, gothic, and neo-classical architecture, but if you're in the know, you won't be surprised that the city is one of the most popular destinations for sex tourism. As of 2002, the Czech Statistical Bureau estimated the sex trade to be worth $217 million a year. Because prostitution (though not organized brothels or pimping), became legal for workers over 18 after the collapse of the Soviet Union, neighboring countries like Austria, Germany, and a large majority (80 percent of clients) of international travelers have encouraged the business to boom. Some estimates claim there are 10,000 to 25,000 prostitutes in the country. Of those thousands, 5 percent are male. Groundbreaking documentary films like Not Angels But Angels and Body Without a Soul have given us a narrative insight into the real lives of male sex workers in the Czech Republic, but never has a film or study asked what types of men become online escorts while others end up working the streets and clubs, until now.
The Journal of Sex Research has just released a unique study comparing the childhoods, satisfaction, and habits of male sex workers advertising online and escorts working in specialty clubs. Anonymous surveys were completed by 40 male escorts and sex workers over a period of months in 2011. The results are both surprising and stereotype shattering. The study found that there were no significant correlations between between the age of the sex workers and the number of clients they got, no relationship between age and monthly incomes, and relatively no differences in job satisfaction between online escorts and club workers.
Are all male sex workers just gay-for-pay? Not when they're listed on GayRomeo.com. The study found Internet escorts are predominantly homosexual, whereas absolutely no bar and club workers in the study identified as homosexual. That means, for many of the straight sex workers, their first encounter with a male client was also their first encounter with a male sex partner.
Those not working the champagne room also have bigger wallets. To advertise yourself online is to have booty leverage. Internet escorts charge on average 22 percent more a night than their barside counterparts and generally get about three more clients a month. For the average Internet escort, they can turn out about $439 per night, whereas club workers make a more modest $340 a night. Though, money is only half of the driving force for online escorts to begin sex work, with 20 percent claiming they began to take clients purely for the sex. 90 percent of bar and club sex workers, on the other hand, reported that desperate financial situations, where they would have ended up homeless, lead to their decision to start streetwalking.
Interestingly, researchers also examined the home lives of Prague's sex workers. The common mythology is that to turn to a life a prostitution, a person must have been a victim of abuse, emerging from a morally desolate existence —never in your wildest dream would you picture two loving parents supporting their well fed child on meat and veggies behind a white picket fence and having him grow up to be an escort. But of those that participated, only two bar sex workers had a history of child abuse, while no online escorts had such childhood trauma. In fact, almost half of online escorts reported a perfectly normal, happy, school-going childhood.
With only 15 percent of online escorts being satisfied with their work (60 percent want to get out as soon as they can), and 30 percent of club workers reporting satisfaction, the male sex worker industry in Prague is far from idyllic. The lead motivating factor for continued sex work, at least in the groups studied, was decidedly financial. As in other countries, there's still risk of client abuse (15 percent of online escorts and 20 percent of club workers have been beaten on the job), there's still ample drug abuse, and common homelessness. This study is most important in that it humanizes and neutralizes the stark caricatures we have of our sex workers. These aren't on the whole broken people from broken homes scrounging for their next fix, these are fairly normal individuals desperate to keep a roof over their heads who are open with their sexuality. But even in the decriminalized streets of Prague, the safest and most lucrative place to be a sex worker is still in the hidden, anonymous confines of the Internet.
Tables via Journal of Sex Research.