Pays*x 010. Mannelijke sekswerkers in Rotterdam

Translated title of the contribution: Pays*x 010. Male sex workers in Rotterdam

C. Boutsias, F. van Oorschot

Research output: Book/ReportReportProfessional


At the end of 2019, the Municipality of Rotterdam commissioned Humanitas ESSM to re-
search the situation of male sex workers in the area of Rotterdam. This demographic often
goes unnoticed in sex work-related policies and interventions by public authorities. The
Municipality spotted their knowledge gap after a report on boys selling sexual services in the
region of Eindhoven came out in 2018.

ESSM developed and implemented a research project to create knowledge on the nature and
extent of sex work by boys and men in Rotterdam’s municipal area. We focused on discovering
common characteristics and potential vulnerabilities this group faces. Then we assessed their
needs in terms of support and assistance and examined whether the current offer from authorities
and organizations matches those needs.

To achieve those goals, our research group employed several methods. We conducted online and
offline fieldwork on digital and physical locations where sex workers may be found. Through this
fieldwork, we invited male sex workers to participate in in-depth semi-structured interviews.
We conducted 20 interviews. Additionally, we used information from known PMW cases of
men and boys that engaged in paid sex. At the end stage of our research, we conducted focus
groups with nine interview respondents to discuss our preliminary findings and elaborate on
points of interest.

Our results demonstrate that men who do sex work in Rotterdam are a rather diverse group.
During our fieldwork and interviews, we came across Dutch nationals, Dutch nationals of
immigrant background, immigrants with a formal and informal stay in the Netherlands, and
refugees alike. Starting from different economic backgrounds and availability of work options,
some work full-time while others complement their income from other sources. We met students
who financed their studies with pay dating, immigrants without a work visa who could not get
another job, Dutch men who escorted full-time and traveling sex workers who were making a
stop in Rotterdam before moving to another European city.

Most of them seek clients online through specialized websites, dating applications, and social
media platforms. In specialized platforms, they are open about the services they offer and the
rates they ask. In dating sites and social media, where sex work is usually not tolerated, they use
particular language in their profiles to hint at their job. We came in direct or indirect contact
with 386 profiles or ads of sex workers overall, although we cannot estimate their numbers in
Rotterdam. Their profiles change over time, sometimes they appear on several platforms, and
then simply disappear. Their ages ranged from 18 to 57, with an average age of 27.
Our interview respondents’ age ranged from 18 to 36, with an average age of 28. The age at which
they had their first experiences with paid sex ranged from 8 to 36 years old, and about a quarter
of them were minors at that time. Despite the Municipality’s concerns, they do not believe that
paid sex of minors is widespread in the area of Rotterdam. Some were worried that the Muni-
cipality looking into minors’ paid sex was a pretext for potentially imposing more restrictive
regulations around sex work. Instead of stifling sex work with more rules, they suggested that
the Municipality focuses its attention on the prevention of adults actively approaching and
grooming minors on the internet with unsolicited offers for paid and unpaid sex.

Many of the male sex workers mentioned a number of positive effects sex work has on their
lives. Most notably, the income they acquired led to financial independence and relative stability. Working flexible hours, they managed to repay loans, recover lost revenue, or support
their families. The fact that clients are willing to pay them for their time also led to increased
self-esteem due to feeling attractive and valued. Meeting clients from diverse social and cultural
backgrounds was presented as an exciting experience. Seeing the value and positive impact of
their sex work on their customers gave them a feeling of personal satisfaction. Further, many
reported enjoying their sexual encounters with many of their clients while using sex work also
as a tool to explore their own sexuality.

The most accentuated negative effect that comes with doing sex work is the societal stigma
around it. Most of our respondents are keeping their sex work secret from their families and
social environments. The fear of getting exposed and the potential repercussions can be over-
whelming. This double-life results in feelings of isolation and helplessness as they have no one
to turn to for moral support or for safety in bad times. Sex work can also impact their intimate
lives as sometimes their partners do not fully accept what they do, or because occasionally they
may lose interest in sex. For male sex workers who have sex with men, homophobia in society
intensifies the stigma they experience as non-heteronormative expressions of sexuality are not
tolerated within many households, communities, and cultural backgrounds.

Although most of our respondents mentioned having overall good experiences with clients,
some do not treat them as individuals offering a service due to stigma. Instead, they become
demanding and do not follow up on made agreements or express aggression and become violent.
Our participants mentioned ways of shielding themselves against abusive behavior, such as
verifying their customer’s identity, working together with a colleague, or letting a trustworthy
person know where they are. In times of economic distress, though, some male sex workers find
it challenging to maintain their boundaries. Being excluded from financial support schemes,
the advent of COVID-19 made it even more difficult for them to uphold safer sex practices and
more likely to engage in sexual acts or substance use they would otherwise not choose to, putting
their physical and emotional integrity at risk.

When faced with violent incidents, most of our respondents mentioned they would hesitate
to contact the police unless the situation was absolutely critical. They fear that having their
identity revealed to the police may expose them to a snowball of repercussions like outing them
to their family, receiving a fine for unlicensed work, getting under the tax office’s scrutiny, and
being evicted for working from home or jeopardizing their stay in the country. Further, most
are apprehensive that the police would not take them seriously because of their work and may
even consider them the perpetrator rather than the victim. Previous experiences of undeserved
police harassment, personal or hearsay, reinforce the belief that they cannot help them. Abusive
individuals exploit the high threshold sex workers experience contacting law enforcement and
continue with their actions, knowing they will likely go unpunished. Our respondents might
feel a bit more confident of receiving help from specialized teams, like Pink in Blue, that are
trained to be sensitive to gender and sexual orientation issues. Despite that, their willingness to
call the police in an emergency remained low.

To formally do sex work, one needs a license or needs to work for a licensed business’s proprietor.
There exist virtually no licensed workplaces for men in the Netherlands, and getting an individual license from a municipality is next to impossible. Almost all men work in the unlicensed
sector, and even when they pay taxes, they do not enjoy the social protections afforded to regular
workers. Our respondents were mostly unaware that they can apply for a license to the Municipality of Rotterdam under certain conditions. Many could not find this information or did not
intend to formalize their work because they saw it as temporary. Many also felt uneasy letting
the Municipality know of their work. In any case, they find municipal regulations confusing.
For example, it is unclear when one is allowed to work from home without breaking any rules.
Besides, two sex workers cannot work in the same house, which some respondents indicated as a
safety measure. Overall, they believe that there should be fewer special rules for sex work in place.
Our respondents suggested that most male sex workers do not know that specialized social
and health support organizations exist for them, while they often associate them with support
to female sex workers only. Some stated they would hesitate to contact these organizations
because they have no confidence that caregivers will respect their work and not treat them as
victims. Also, most are afraid that visiting a location for sex workers might lift their anonymity.
If support organizations gain the trust of male sex workers, they can offer valuable services to
them. Working primarily online, male sex workers experience little support from their peers,
as they often do not know anyone doing what they do. With chemsex rising in demand from
clients, sex workers can experience heightened risks of substance dependency and STIs due to
riskier sexual behaviors associated with certain drugs. According to our respondents, discreet
and comprehensive STI-testing, reliable and practical information on how to navigate sex work
safely, and facilitation of spaces where they can connect with their peers are needed services
for male sex workers.

At the end of this report, we formulated recommendations for the sex work community, social
and care work organizations, the municipality, and police to help improve the situation of male
sex workers in Rotterdam.
Translated title of the contributionPays*x 010. Male sex workers in Rotterdam
Original languageDutch
Number of pages120
Publication statusPublished - 2021


Dive into the research topics of 'Pays*x 010. Male sex workers in Rotterdam'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this