Work life

China’s male sex workers, a.k.a. ‘Money boys’, love what they do and make serious bank

Cai Yifeng is a Ph.D. candidate at Brown University’s Anthropology department. He recently traveled to China to study the country’s gay male sex trade.

“When I went to China in May to study ‘money boys’–male prostitutes providing sexual services to male clients, known colloquially as MBs–I imagined that I would be seeking entry into a world of darkness, violence, and suffering,” Yifeng writes in a fascinating new piece published by Sixth Tone.

To his surprise, it wasn’t like that at all. Many of the MBs he spoke to weren’t just happy in their professions, they were making serious bank.

Related: Bananas, blood, & BDSM: Male sex workers share the wackiest requests they ever received

For example, Yifeng spoke to a man named Nan.

A former spa employee, Nan works as a personal trainer at a well-known local chain of gyms. He also has a solid customer base to whom he provides regular sexual services. Even back when he was working at the spa — in truth, a massage parlor whose workers frequently administered “happy endings” to paying customers — he was already making close to 40,000 yuan (about $6,000) a month.

Though prostitution is technically illegal in China, Nan told Yifeng he still makes several hundred yuan per encounter.

“But you see, my main income doesn’t come from sex, but from tips,” he says. “Sometimes people will tip me thousands more. That’s nothing. I have a friend whose client bought him a house in his rural hometown and a small apartment in Shanghai. It all depends on how lucky you are in getting wealthy clients who will take care of you.”

Related: Don’t Get It Twisted, These Male Sex Workers Love Their Jobs And Make Serious Dough

Most MBs’ prices, Yifeng notes, range from 400 yuan ($60.00 U.S.) for a massage with a happy ending to 7,000 yuan ($1050.00 U.S.) for intercourse. And that’s not including tips. Their annual salaries often exceed those of many of white-collar workers in China.

Yifeng writes:

But their earning power was not the only thing that surprised me. I was also intrigued by how blurred the line between selling sex and hooking up often became during these men’s sexual encounters. Most people in China still assume that people who sell sex don’t enjoy it; it is taken for granted that they endure the work to make money. Today, though, many customers who pay for sex are in fact young, conventionally attractive men. MBs themselves are frequently drawn to some of their own customers. In these cases, it becomes complicated to separate transactions between MBs and customers from sex between two or more mutually attracted men.

So what was Tifeng’s ultimate takeaway from the experience? Put simply, not all MBs are miserable, abused, poverty-stricken individuals struggling to get by. Many are happy and healthy and enjoy what they do.

Related: Gay-for-pay: An insider’s look at Manchester’s thriving male sex trade

“I left China with totally different data from what I expected, pondering the fluidity of my interviewees’ lives and my newly confounded sense of social justice,” he writes. “Back in the city, [these men] carried on with their jobs, wealthy, fulfilled — and not asking to be ‘saved’ from anything.”

h/t: Sixth Tone

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17 Comments

  • Donston

    Damn. A whole two days aren’t allowed to pass without posting something about sex workers or porn performers.

    Like, I have nothing against sex work. But this site’s constant endorsement of it as some type of attractive and fulfilling career goal is very damaging and just flat-out lame. Most people are not that naive. Also, an American man spending a couple days in China with a couple high-priced male prostitutes is not gonna be able to reveal much of anything about that life or the men who live it.

    • Brian

      Nowhere does this article suggest it’s a goal. You’re mad because you want to be mad. There’s no substance to your argument.

    • dwes09

      Uh… do you know how to read, or do you simply read headlines and allow your regressive irritation to dictate your response? Nowhere does the article refer to “a couple of days”, nowhere does it imply that he only spoke to a couple of workers (he says “many of the workers” he spoke too…use of the word many certainly implies more than two if one can read, or is not too lazy to read). This is a PhD candidate in anthropology (who also has a traditional Chinese name, so is not simply “an american in china for a couple of days”), so it is pretty obvious that research would have a certain level of depth. The study quite likely has more intellectual depth than you seem capable of mustering.

    • Donston

      sad.

    • IanHunter

      Same subject, I think that this article is just another look at it through an actual University study. There will always be prostitute and porn stories to be told.

    • Donston

      There may always be those stories. However, gay media’s endless obsession with “those stories” is what’s disturbing and depressing. And of course, the majority of these stories end up being very pro sex work and not very insightful at all. A fluff piece about lavish-living prostitutes in China doesn’t represent even 10% of sex workers’ actual lives and internal and external problems.

    • dwes09

      The stories are not at all similar. You really need to do more than skim headlines if you are going to comment.

    • DCguy

      The story was about them, about how much money they were making as compared to regular workers in China etc… I’m betting the researcher just took the original story and ran with it. That wasn’t a dig at Queerty, I was pointing out that they already reported out on this years before this guy did his “Research”

  • crowebobby

    I worked for a call service for 3 months back in the early 60’s while I was also working as a dancer in a legit revue. Despite having always been something a chicken hawk, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It stroked my fragile ego (as it does for many hustlers) and my attitude towards my clients was very much what I imagine a doctor/patient attitude is (or should be). They weren’t sex partners. they were clients. And while I wouldn’t have touched a 40-year-old with the proverbial 10-foot pole in my private life, an 80-year-old was judged by only his courtesy and charm. Or lack thereof. Having one of them rhapsodize over how beautiful I was was very satisfying and the fact that I turned them on turned me on. And even back then some clients were very young and attractive, but just too rich to risk cruising the streets for trade . . . which I could still pass for. I’m not saying this is the typical hustler experience, just that it was mine and you can’t always assume a “voluntary” sex worker of any age is bringing the same set of emotions and physical reactions to a sex act that you are to a hook-up.

  • Prax07

    Another story about whores…not surprised.

  • alanballs

    I’ve lived in China (and greater Asia) since 1989. I’m still living in China now (Dongguan City). It’s true that many (but perhaps not all) MB’s are doing quite well here, and they do enjoy their work. I know several MB’s from Shenzhen, Dongguan, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Hangzhou, as friends. I’ve had, and paid for one of them (a Shanghai MB) a few years ago, and he was fantastic. We stay in contact regularly through WeChat.

    Bangkok is another city full of MB’s, and full of potential clients….I’ve travelled to BKK regularly for business and pleasure also, since 1989 and have met, and have gotten to know, many of them.

    It’s easy to be judgmental, cynical and critical, but many of these boys/men ARE doing quite well, and manage to stay healthy.

    • Donston

      Are there stable-minded sex workers who are also doing solid financially? Well, duh. But clearly, that’s not what is the norm. And it’s the continuous obsession that gay media has with spotlighting and even promoting sex work that is bothersome. This isn’t actually about the sex workers themselves.

    • Hank

      Are they beautiful at least?

    • Bryguyf69

      @Donston said “But clearly, that’s not what is the norm….”

      Clearly? On what do you base that? Have you interacted much with Chinese male sex workers? Have you done academic studies? What is your expertise in sex work and Chinese culture?

      Every one of your comments in this blog is based on judgement and assumptions. Not one of them provide any data, sources and even a cogent argument SPECIFIC to the topic. Why do you bother…???

  • Hank

    asia is another planet.

  • JodyBoy

    We need to have this available in the United States. I have long wished for it to be legal here, or at least tolerated. I am definitely an advocate of sex work as a legitimate human need.

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