Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Darnell, Regna


Compared to women, there is limited knowledge concerning men working in the sex trade in Canada. London (Ontario) in particular has been the epicentre of campaigns and lobbying against the sex industry for its alleged exploitation of women. In this environment, most policymakers and service providers argue that men-who-sell-sex are non-existent or are so rare that they are not worth consideration, if they are acknowledged in the first place. Yet other gendered configurations of the sex industry do exist. Given the city’s lack of comprehensive inquiry, this dissertation sets about finding these men and documenting their life histories. This allows for the differentiation of what may be integral to the industry from what is specifically gendered.

From 2015 through 2017, semi-structured and online interviews with 43 men were recorded. The life histories and accounts produced followed linear plots, separated into phases; these offered insight into their childhoods, entrance-into-the-trade, and the fundamentals of sex work. Various details of family life, issues of class, coming-out, sexual abuse, mental health, disability, homelessness, criminality, and addiction weaved throughout different stories. Accounts of choice, female clients, intimacy, friendship, and the non-sexual contradicted archetypes and popular discourse on the nature of the industry.

Mapping the complex relationships men had with social classifications confirms that those in the sex trade face a multitude of stigmas. The subjugation of certain masculinities by hegemonic norms was a major component of this. Accounting for this vulnerability thus challenges assumptions that men are automatically in positions of power based on their gender. While being a man in any one social context made certain things more or less likely to happen, gender affected the interpretations men and others had for their actions. Feelings of oppression were ambiguous; structural vulnerabilities, choice, and need influenced the ways a man felt empowered or powerless.

Regardless of sexuality, hegemonic norms of masculinity also served as tools to counter feminized tropes of helplessness and maintain a sense of dignity. Instead of compartmentalizing the identities and roles of sex workers and dehumanizing them, privileging their stories gave rare insight into their lives and the lives of their clients, proving that seamless and simplistic visions of harm and privilege have been inadequate, where one-size does not fit all.