Over the past decade or so, the city of Manchester has seen a huge uptick in the number of men, both gay and straight, selling their bodies for money, the Manchester Evening News reports.
“We are seeing young men who, ten years ago, would never have come into contact with the sex trade as even an option,” Fergal McCullough, who works for The Men’s Room, a non-profit that offers support to male sex workers via engagement, outreach, and advocacy support, says.
“Now it seems to be far more of a thing that people consider doing.”
McCullough explains that male sex workers used to be concentrated around one general area–around Canal Street, the Undercroft, and Tariff Street–but the lines between sex and sex work have grown fuzzier.
“From being in a bar and going back to someone’s place for sex then potentially being offered money for sex, the lines are blurred and people shift up and down,” he says. “There are a lot of grey areas.”
He adds, “I’ve had people say ‘If I fancy him I won’t charge him’. That’s the reality for a young, out, gay sex worker. Some even see sex work almost as a right of passage.”
Many of the men who end up doing sex work are either homeless or unemployed, and a large number have recently been released from prison.
“We work with a lot of lads in their mid twenties who are out having a great time in the Village, have a home but no job, with high drug and alcohol use and use sex work as something to do,” McCullough says. “They are comfortable with it and happy with it.”
Then there is what is called “survival sex,” which is when a person is driven to sex work out of desperation or as a last resort.
“That’s more the young homeless lad out of prison, or highly addicted, who identifies as straight,” McCullough explains. “They hate it and they hate themselves for doing it but it’s a way of making money. They will likely do a bit of burglary, some drug dealing and a bit of sex work too.”
Unlike female sex workers in Manchester, who can often be spotted roaming the streets or hanging out on corners, McCullough says a lot of male sex workers advertise their services online.
Manchester Evening Star reports that in 2016, researchers found nearly 2,000 men selling sex online in Manchester on hookup sites and in classified sites like Craigslist, as well as on social media.
McCullough says a lot of men start by doing video work, but it’s often become slippery slope.
“We recently supported a lad who was persuaded to meet up with a client, they became obsessed with him, started calling him 20 times a day and then threatened to send the pictures to a close relative,” he says.
“There’s this idea that online work is safer but actually it has different risks.”
Detective Constable Chris Nield has been tasked with handling the issue. While the exchange of sexual activities for money or other goods is legal in the U.K., police still need to monitor the situation, as an alarming number of the people involved in sex work are being trafficked or underage, some as young as 14.
“The internet is an infinitely large place. Just searching through websites will not identify people at risk. We still need that tip off,” he says.
Nield adds that it’s a constant challenge.
“We would love to get more intelligence that allows us to help male sex workers but we just don’t get any,” he says.