CUNY School of Public Health professor Christian Grov and his colleagues recently had their manuscript, “How do male sex workers on Craigslist differ from those on Rentboy? A comparison of two samples” accepted for publication in the journal Culture Health and Sexuality. The study compared men who were advertising for paid sexual encounters in two online environments (Rentboy—formerly one of the largest male for male escort websites in the world, and in the male-for-male casual sexual encounter section on Craigslist). “We’ve known for the last two decades that sex work has made a transition to the Internet, but a lot of this work has focused on people who advertise for sex on profile-based websites,” said Grov. Profile based websites, like Rentboy (which was shut down by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2015 after operating in the open for more than a decade), are places where a would-be escort advertises himself, often paying a monthly fee. His profile would include a description of who he is, what he likes, the services he provides, his availability, prices, and even past client reviews. Grov and his colleagues (including Dr. Juline Koken from LaGuardia Community College and Dr. Jeffrey Parsons at Hunter College) were interested in how men who advertise on profile-based escorting websites and more transitory markets like Craigslist compared with each other. Craigslist is free for users to post and view ads, and a person can take down their ad the moment they found what they were looking for. Most people use Craigslist to do things like sell used furniture or see apartments for rent, but it is also a place where people arrange casual sexual encounters, including encounters that may involve the exchange of money. The investigators hypothesized that men advertising for compensated encounters on Craigslist would be different from those who maintained profiles on websites like Rentboy.
Indeed, that is what they found. Grov and his colleagues surveyed 95 men from Craigslist and more than 400 from Rentboy. By and large, the Craigslist participants tended to be what could best be described as at a greater social and economic disadvantage than the Rentboy participants. They were less likely to say they escorted full time, made less money annually overall, less money from their clients, spent less time with their clients, and reported having fewer clients. Although their survey did not ask Rentboy participants if they identified as an escort, only 18.9% of men from Craigslist said they considered themselves to be an escort. Men from Craigslist also tended to engage in a more limited range of sexual behaviors with their clients compared to men from Rentboy. Grov indicated that, “On one hand, men from Craigslist were providing a reduced range of services to their clients, but on the other, it also meant they were likely to engage in behaviors that could put them or their clients at risk of transmitting HIV such as anal sex without a condom. All told, our study highlights that although a lot of sex work happens across the Internet, not all avenues for sex work are the same.”
The full results from this study will be published next month in Culture Health and Sexuality. The Craigslist study was funded by the Hunter College Presidential Fund for Faculty Advancement and research activities for both studies took place at the Hunter College Center for HIV/AIDS Educational studies and training.
Grov, C., Koken, J., Smith, M., & Parsons, J. T. (in press ). How do make sex workers on Craigslist differ from those on Rentboy? A comparison of two samples. Culture Health and Sexuality.