OBJECTIVES: Recommendations of ‘social distancing’ and home quarantines to combat the global COVID-19 pandemic have implications for sex and intimacy, including sex work. This study examined the effects of COVID-19 on male sex work globally and investigated how men who sold sex responded to and engaged with the virus in the context of work.
METHODS: This study made use of an existing database of deidentified data extracted from the online profiles maintained by male sex workers on a large, international website. Website engagement metrics were calculated for the periods before (September to December 2019) and during COVID-19 (January to May 2020); Poisson regression analyses were used to assess changes over time before and after, while a content analysis was undertaken to identify modes of engagement with the virus.
RESULTS: Data were collected from 78 399 profiles representing 19 388 individuals. In the ‘before’ period, the number of active profiles was stable (inter-rate ratio (IRR)=1.01, 95% CI 0.99 to 1.01, p=0.339) but during COVID-19 decreased by 26.3% (IRR=0.90, 95% CI 0.89 to 0.91, p<0.001). Newly created profiles also decreased during COVID-19 (59.4%; IRR=0.71, 95% CI 0.69 to 0.74, p<0.001) after a period of stability. In total, 211 unique profiles explicitly referenced COVID-19; 185 (85.8%) evoked risk reduction strategies, including discontinuation of in-person services (41.2%), pivoting to virtual services (38.9%), COVID-19 status disclosure (20.9%), enhanced sanitary and screening requirements (12.3%) and restricted travel (5.2%). Some profiles, however, seemed to downplay the seriousness of COVID-19 or resist protective measures (14.7%).
CONCLUSIONS: These findings support the contention that COVID-19 has dramatically impacted the sex industry; globally, male sex workers may be facing considerable economic strain. Targeted education and outreach are needed to support male sex workers grappling with COVID-19, including around the most effective risk reduction strategies. Those involved with the sex industry must have access to state-sponsored COVID-19 financial and other aid programmes to support individual and public health.
Investigating the effects of COVID-19 on global male sex work populations: A longitudinal study of digital data
Sexually Transmitted Infections [Epub 2020 Jun 26]. doi: 10.1136/sextrans-2020-054550. PMCID: PMC7371479.