Many studies of prostitution and sex work devote most of their focus and resources to women involved in the trade, and as we’ve seen in readings of Parent-Duchatelet and other articles and books, derogatory words for women are often synonymous with prostitute. Despite this association, the reality of male involvement in prostitution is significant, particularly with regards to its public health relationship.
In all 19th century documents, be it from Parent Duchatelet, or official police documents, the language is highly gendered, and refers to all sex workers as “she” or “her,” and equate all stigmatizing behaviors to womanhood. Both the police and Parent-Duchatelet derogatorily discuss the “girls” involved in the trade, and do not make any mention of male prostitutes. Though they certainly were likely have existed, all public health initiatives were focused on the girls (who were not women or ladies, because that would denote a classier existence). In all sources referring to prostitution, men exist as the victims, or the saviors. Victims in that they are drawn in “such a manner as to draw attention and to cause trouble” (9), and saviors in that they were the people creating the policies to stop this “evil” from occurring. After much disturbance from this trouble that the women were causing, “the police captains had always given necessary orders so that the public houses would be closed Christmas eve at 10PM because of the midnight mass when the ceremonies began. Those which knew of the disturbances that had taken place every year in various Parisian parishes during this ceremony, appreciated the wisdom of this measure which reclaimed, after so much time, the general order and the decency of the worship” (9).
Though prostitution is still generally associated with the division of women as sex workers, and men as the people tricked into soliciting these services, more and more research is done surrounding the reality of men involved in the field. Mark Padilla, in his book entitled Caribbean pleasure industry: Tourism, sexuality, and AIDS in the Dominican Republic, explores the realities of gay sex exchanges, and the ways in which this implicates public health narratives, particularly surrounding the associations with the HIV epidemic and gay sexual interaction. With the highest occurrence of HIV outside of sub saharan Africa, in conjunction with the Dominican Republic’s existence as a site for male sexual solicitation, the need to analyze the intersectional nature of HIV and gender is significant.
This book provides the important perspective of men’s involvement in the sex work industry. In addition to providing the gendered lens through which to analyze these concepts, Padilla incorporates the AIDS epidemic, and its association with gay, male communities. As HIV/AIDS in the Western world is so closely associated with gay men, it would be an extreme oversight to continue with this project without fully taking these layers of stigma into account.
What has stayed the same:
In both historical time periods, it is a reality that women are more closely associated with prostitution than men. As such, public health initiatives in both eras are most focused on women and reproductive health concerns that most often affect women. For example, contraceptive devices are almost entirely created for individuals with uteruses. Though external condoms exist for people with penises, the ways in which reproductive health technology is developed implies that women are responsible for pregnancy prevention. Additionally, there are, and were, extreme stigmas associated with condom use, and solicitors will pay more to engage in sexual acts without condoms. Both eras boast the unfair reality in which women are blamed for being “dirty” and “diseased,” but are not imbued with significant autonomy to prevent the transmission of STIs such as syphilis or HIV.
What is different:
As discourse surrounding sex work has expanded, the reality of the gendered implications of the profession have been more available. Though prostitution is still widely associated with women, it is becoming increasingly common for professionals to recognize the role that men play in the commerce of sex. As Padilla recognizes, one of the most prominent occurrences of men being solicited for sex is within non-heterosexual, therefore less normative, situations. The reality of this shows the stigma associated with sex work in general, and the ways in which other stigmatized behaviors conflate with the profession of sex work.