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This article examines the narratives of men who purchase sex from street-level providers in a mid-sized city in Western Canada. These men narrated their purchase of sex as attempts to exercise or lay claim to male power, privilege, and authority; at the same time, research reveals how tenuous this arrangement is for men. Study participants drew on conventional heterosexual masculine scripts to rationalize their actions and behaviors.
We conclude that hegemonic masculinity is not only injurious to some men, but also to the sex workers on whom it is enacted. However, while it is true much less is known about buying than selling sex, there is a growing body of literature that attempts to understand who purchases sex, and for what reasons. This scholarship has started to address a range of questions concerning the men that purchase sex, including understanding the demographic features of this population, as well as the socioeconomic determinants and psychosocial motivations for purchasing sex.
Most of this research has focused on the experiences of men who buy sex in off-street venues, including escort agencies, massage parlors, and through online or print. This focus on off-street venues reflects in part the fact that men who purchase street-based sex comprise a hidden and hard-to-access population. This article addresses this gap by reporting from the of a qualitative research study that had two purposes: first, to develop and pilot strategies to recruit members of this hard-to-reach population, and second, to use a narrative approach to uncover and map the complex social relations and discourses of men who buy sex from street sex workers.
The interviews were analyzed using a grounded theory approach; this approach revealed, first, how hegemonic notions of performative heterosexual masculinity shaped how the respondents themselves understood their motivations to buy sex, and second, the important role that feelings of inadequacy, failure, and vulnerability play in motivating men to purchase sex.
For those respondents that provided complete narratives we did a secondary narrative analysis which takes the story as the object of investigation. We then provide a high-level overview of the findings of the study, including a discussion of recruitment and interview strategies. We then present three of the stories of our respondents, selected as being representative and emblematic of the narratives provided by the men that we interviewed.
We conclude with a brief discussion that highlights how masculinity is discursively negotiated in relation to sex work, and street sex work in particular. The growing consensus in the empirical literature is that the people most likely to purchase sex in Canada and the US are white, middle-aged, and middle-classed men Vanwesenbeek et al. The above-mentioned national survey data was derived from convenience samples of men in Canada who volunteered to complete self-administered surveys.
Many were recruited through purposive and viral sampling, primarily through advertisements posted on escort review boards and classified advertising websites Atchison and Burnett, Such recruitment strategies are aimed at obtaining a maximally diverse sample but given their focus on web-based recruitment tend to skew toward off-street buyers. When men were asked where they preferred to buy sex, This suggests that such research underrepresents the men who cannot afford the higher cost of off-street sex.
These are men charged with prostitution-related offenses who are required to attend, either as a condition of their sentences, or as an alternative to criminal convictions, programs that seek to change their attitudes toward women and sex work Sawyer et al.
The absence of literature on men who purchase street sex may also represent a bias on the part of researchers who see them as a less relevant population to study. Street-level buyers are often framed as unsophisticated, only in search of quick, impersonal, sexual release Bernstein, And yet, given that street-level sex work persists despite the burgeoning of online sex work environments, and that street-level workers consistently report the highest rates of harassment and violence Church et al.
What we know about what motivates men to purchase sex comes from a variety of sources including large quantitative datasets. Joseph and Blackfor example, analyzed a sample of 1, men enrolled in an American John school to learn more about the relationship between gender, violence, and buying sex.
Men who fit their consumer model purported to find the purchase of sex titillating, a recreational activity in which they are provided with a wide variety of partners and sex acts without the responsibilities of conventional committed heterosexual relationships. These are men who embrace hegemonic masculine discourses and believe that women are sexual objects who are there to satisfy their sexual needs and desires. On the other hand, they describe men who fit within the fragile masculinity model as those who feel less comfortable with, and attractive to, women and are generally unsuccessful in the sexual marketplace.
The authors conclude that while common sense might indicate that men who fall within the consumer masculinities category might be more dangerous to women—in that the associated qualities more closely match traditional understandings of sexually aggressive and dominant masculinities—it is men who fall in the fragile masculine category who are the most likely to support rape myths and commit sexual assault Joseph and Black, In other words, men who feel emasculated by women tend to harbor more aggression toward them.
This finding builds on that of Busch et al. This shifts the emphasis away from psychological reasons for purchasing sex toward a broader understanding of how social context produces gender-based norms and inequalities. Under such conditions it is unlikely that men would challenge the conventional gendered scripts made available to them. Instead it is likely that they would tailor their masculine self to the situation and audience at hand Arendell, Other research that provides insight into the discursive rationales of men who purchase sex include anonymous user-generated data gathered from escort review boards—online venues where customers report on their sex work encounters, evaluate individual sex workers, and discuss their considerations and strategies for purchasing sex see for instance, Holt and Blevins, ; Pettinger, ; Milrod and Weitzer, These gendered discourses are rationalized within the consumer logic of supply and demand, whereby the purchase of sex is a legitimate expression of consumer choice Bernstein, ; Holt and Blevins, ; Pettinger, In some of these descriptions masculinity is glossed over, and treated as a fixed entity, rather than a performance that is negotiated within different terrains of power and control Connell and Messerschmidt, It is relevant, for instance, that the men who post to these review forums are writing for an audience of like-minded but anonymous men.
Not only are men likely to exaggerate their claims to hegemonic masculinity within these kinds of homosocial environments, but the venue specifically calls for men to sexualize and objectify women Allen, ; Nixon, As a result their comments are unlikely to reveal more than what is considered culturally relevant and meaningful within such settings. The bulk of this research similarly focuses on the customers of indoor workers and again privileges the experiences and worldviews of middle-class men who desire intimacy and regular relationships with sex workers in off-street locations.
They want non-committal sexual pleasure on demand at a low price, but they want it to feel authentic, intimate, and as non-commercial as possible Huysamen and Boonzaier, While these men are willing to acknowledge that they pay for sex, they do not want to experience it as commercial at the time. Men will highlight in their narratives, for instance, the sexual responsiveness of sex workers as evidence of their pleasure and desire. In a commercial sexual exchange, it becomes particularly important as it allows men to lay claim to conventional masculine appeal—as sexually voracious, but also sexually desirable and skilled Sanders, This allows them to gloss over the aspect of the exchange that threatens their masculine identity.
Huysamen and Boonzaier summarize by saying. It represented a context where they sought to gain affirmation of their masculinity, sexual skill and sexual desirability to women, a reinforcement of hypermasculinityp. Purchasing sex is just further validation of their masculine identities.
While we hear little from the men themselves in this article, they are positioned as White middle class men living in a South African context. What is interesting to consider is how that privilege might have determined the cultural and sexualized scripts they were willing to draw on.
Masculinity is not one thing, but a wide range of embodiments, behaviors, practices, relationships, and ideologies that are used to define who men are, and who they are not Connell, ; Kerfoot and Knights, ; West, ; Connell and Messerschmidt, ; Hollander, At the same time it is widely agreed that certain masculine embodiments are valorized over others. Furthermore, as a discursive set of ideals, hegemonic masculinity is something to which men aspire. It is a moving target that is rarely reached and not easily maintained. Within this context men must constantly perform hegemonic masculinity, a process that is more challenging for some than others.
A key site at which men prove their masculine worth, and where they may find their masculinity threatened, is in the context of paid labor. For instance, during industrialization, men who worked manual labor jobs were seen as quintessentially masculine and occupied a position of discursive respectability in relation to middle class men Nixon, Demonstrations of physical strength, endurance, and resilience engendered respect and were a source of pride which in turn translated into power and authority in the home Nixon, Overtime and with deindustrialization manual labor became less valorized.
This is relevant for understanding men who purchase street-level sex because as our sample demonstrates, many occupy low socioeconomic class positions which shapes their choice in sex work venue and their sex work interactions. We suggest this has implications for understanding the disproportionate levels of aggression and violence experienced by street-level sex workers. The lack of attention to men who buy street-level sex led our research team to develop a qualitative research study with two primary purposes.
First was to determine and test recruitment methods for interviewing the hidden and hard-to-reach population of men who purchase street-level sex. Here we report on narrative interviews with 13 men who bought sex from the street at least once between and The benefits and challenges of these two approaches require a separate article length discussion, but in sum the former recruitment strategy proved challenging as it took a period of five months to complete a small of interviews whereas the later strategy yielded more potential participants than could be accommodated with all interviews completed in two weeks.
Advertising online, but doing so through local classifieds rather than online escort review forums, proved to be a successful way to recruit men who purchase street-level sex into research. However, this was the only point of concordance between our sample and demographics that have been reported in the literature. It should be noted, however, that relative to street sex workers these men are relatively privileged—i. Interviews averaged 1. A narrative approach to data collection was chosen as it enables people to tell their own stories in a way they find ificant.
Given the interview focus on masculinity, it is noteworthy that these were cross-gender interviews, conducted by a White female researcher with ificant experience interviewing vulnerable populations on sensitive subjects related to sexuality and sex work. Unlike the narratives of men shared in other studies, these men by and large did not enjoy the status and privilege associated with White middle-class masculinity.
In particular, the identity and status of the interviewer may potentially have thrown into greater relief the challenges that marginalized men face in narrating and performing hegemonic or normative masculinities Connell,a possibility that we expand on further in our findings. While generally narrative style interviews only provide minimal guiding questions, allowing the participant to construct their own story Riessman,our interview guide included both guided and targeted questions.
This was strategic so as to allow men to provide reflexive s of their lives, while asking opportunistic questions of a rarely studied research population.
This semistructured narrative approach proved to be useful as some men found general open-ended questions discomfiting, and would only respond to specific questions. For example, regardless of whether men provided complete stories of their lives, or snapshots in response to specific questioning, we found consistently that these men grappled with feelings of inadequacy and vulnerability, and achieving hegemonic masculine norms.How often do girls have sex?
Our initial analysis drew on grounded theory in that themed were revealed inductively, through careful and repeated review of data, rather than using a fixed category system derived a priori from the literature Moertl et al. In other words, we did not code the data for themes found in the literature, rather themes developed from our analysis of the stories these men told. This secondary focus on stories highlights what is meaningful and ificant to the person telling the story and, in the process, reveals them as complex social actors who defy simple categorization and abstraction Riessman, Thus, we queried relationships between the stories and specific discourses, in this case hegemonic masculinities, so that we could consider how the stories confirm or resist these discourses.
In the end, we did a complete narrative analysis of five of the more complete stories, of which we highlight three here due to space constraints. Every participant referenced the idea that sexual desire is a rationale for purchasing sex, making it a numerically dominant category. This echoes findings from other studies which indicate men draw on hegemonic heteronormative scripts to justify the purchase of sex Sanders, ; Huysamen and Boonzaier, In order to explore these complex relationships, we highlight the stories of three of the study participants in some considerable detail.
While these stories were chosen in part to exemplify the social processes observed in the interviews, focusing on three narratives in details allows us to place their decisions to buy sex within the social and cultural context of their own lives. Their stories illustrate some of the dominant, overlapping and very often, contradictory discursive constructions of masculinity the men across our sample employ to rationalize their purchase of street-level sex. Warren is 41 and single.
He is the only person from an ethnic minority who participated in the study. Although unemployed at the time of the interview, he was well-groomed and wearing expensive and trendy sports attire.
When asked to describe the first time he had purchased sex, Warren provided a long and detailed of his early life with little prompting. He describes growing up in a stable Catholic household where he was afforded many opportunities. He was someone who did well academically at the private school he attended, and earned a scholarship for university. He talked about how, during his high school years, he only had sex with two girls, both of whom he was in committed relationships with at the time. All this changed when Warren started dating his third girlfriend. Shortly after they began dating, she moved across the country to attend college and asked Warren to go with her.
Even though it was a major sacrifice, Warren was in love and decided to follow. As he describes that time in his life. I lived in the same house since I was born to age nineteen, so to give up your little Jordan collection you had when you were thirteen, your little first place trophy for that, everything. Sort of box it up, get rid of it, put it in storage, jump in a truck and sort of drive out here from [province] without any friends who you grew up with, cub scouts, anything like that. That was really, really tough for me […]. On top of this revelation, Warren learned that his girlfriend had been lying about her sexual history.
Rather than being sexually limited in experience as Warren had been led to believe:. She had had threesomes, been with girls, and to me- not that I was this very sheltered Roman Catholic kid, but that was just, very, very shocking to me. Sorry, unhinged is totally the wrong word there. He pinpoints this as a pivotal time; one that he feels fundamentally changed the direction of his life when he says that:. I was just super, super crushed from the girlfriend, kind of thing.
To read that journal, diary entry- to be alienated like that in a bar.Girls wanting sex Warren
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