The article on prostitution being examined is “Personal Characteristics, Sexual Behaviors, and Male Sex Work: A Quantitative Approach” from 2010 by T.D. Logan. In this article, the author examines male sex work through the largest online male sex worker website. The author sought to determine correlations of geographic distribution relative to gay male or general population. The author also wanted to determine the economic value of sexual behaviors and personal characteristics – such as body weight and race – in order to examine sociological theories of gender and masculinity, namely hegemonic masculinity and intersectionality. By way of confirming notions of hegemonic masculinity, the author determined, using quantitative data based on prices charged, that male escorts who emphasize masculinity charged up to 17% more for their services as compared to escorts who emphasize less masculine attributes. By way of confirming notions of intersectionality, the author determined that race and sexual behavior interactions (that is, the types of sexual services offered) had significant bearing on the prices the workers charged. In exploring this article, this paper will examine the two theories used by Logan (hegemonic masculinity and intersectionality); two strengths of the article; and two weaknesses of the article.
Logan (2010) deliberately structured his quantitative study in order to examine two particular social science theories, namely hegemonic masculinity and intersectionality. Logan (2010) uses hegemonic masculinity as a means of determining the influence of degrees of masculinity on the prices charged by male sex workers. In other words, the more overtly masculine a sex worker is (or, at least, portrays himself and his services), the more he can charge. If he is more feminized – such as through being overweight or thinner (Logan, 2010) – he cannot charge as much. The notion of hegemonic masculinity is now more than two decades old (Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005) and emerged from studies conducted in Australia across several different settings (Connell, 1983; Connell 1982; Kessler, Ashenden, Connell, & Dowsett, 1982). While Logan (2010) does not necessarily argue about what exactly qualifies as masculine beyond certain physical characteristics – “physical appearance (e.g., muscularity, body size, body hair [presence of], and height) and sexual behaviors (e.g., sexual dominance, sexual aggressiveness, and penetrative sexual position)” (p. 684) – Connell & Messerschmidt (2005) argue that the definition of masculine and the concept of hegemonic masculinity are contentious. They argue that instead of being composed of physical elements, “masculinities are configurations of practice that are accomplished in social action and, therefore, can differ according to the gender relations in a particular social setting” (Connell & Msserschmidt, 2005, p. 836). In reference to practice rather than characteristics, Logan’s (2010) article highlights the fact that notions of hegemonic masculinity do not generally address how gay men “can conform to and inform hegemonic masculinity” (p. 685). In adding intersectionality to the mix, Logan (2010) attempts to explore how race affects the prices and practices charged by the male escorts. Logan (2010) describes intersectionality as the place where race and gender – in this case, masculinity – intersect, the effect of which is “neither cumulative nor additive but rather independent” (p. 685). This description does not effectively define the theory. A better definition is the way in which “social categories depend on one another for meaning, despite the obvious fact that every individual necessarily occupies multiple categories (i.e., gender, race, class, etc.) simultaneously” (Cole, 2009, p. 170). Strangely enough, most scholars who employ intersectionality focus on its usefulness in terms of feminist theory (Cole, 2009; Shields, 2008). However, when one realizes that the notion emerged from the second wave of feminism in the 1970s, when feminists began asking “Which women’s experiences?” (Shields, 2008, p. 302), it becomes clear why the theory had relevance in Logan’s work – it raises the question of “which men’s experiences?” In this way, Logan’s application of intersectionality to male sex workers is appropriate and enlightening, especially since the article seeks to determine the relationship between masculinity, race, and the cost of services.
In fact, Logan’s (2010) application of intersectionality to the work serves as one of the strengths of the article. Since one of the approaches Logan takes is the economic value of masculinity – that is, masculinity as a commodity – it only makes sense to determine how other concurrent factors such as race might influence that commodity. After all, it is not as though the male escorts can divorce themselves from their race. While they may be able to vary prices based on their physical characteristics – such as weight and presence of body hair – they cannot, in some cases, lie about their race. Since the male escorts in Logan’s (2010) study were advertising on the Internet, they have the ability to ‘market’ (and protect) themselves in a way that street prostitutes don’t (McCabe et al., 2011; Parsons, Koken, & Bimbi, 2004). Another strength is the article’s quantitative approach; Logan (2010) reports that much research on male sex workers is qualitative, focusing on the prostitutes’ experiences, public perceptions about prostitution in general (Limoncelli, 2006) or of sex workers (Weitzer, 2005). Logan’s work adds to the body of literature by adding hard data to the mix.
Despite these strengths, there are two weaknesses to the article. The first is that Logan does not clearly state how the website was chosen or how it was determined objectively that it was the largest online website of its kind. Since this was the source of Logan’s data, being able to objectively determine that the source of Logan’s data is as Logan says it is – the largest site of its kind – would give the data more credence. Secondly, certain aspects of the data – such as the race of an escort – were not clearly verified. Therefore, an escort could list themselves as black or Hispanic but in reality be biracial or an entirely different race but able to ‘pass’ for other races. This also calls into question the reliability of Logan’s data and could affect the impact of prices and Logan’s assumptions regarding intersectionality. Admittedly, the verification of the site’s status as the largest of its kind and to verify the legal racial identification of the escorts would be difficult, so these weaknesses, while problematic, are understandable.
In examining this article, it becomes clear that the process of social research and social theory are not cut and dried or black and white, as evidenced by the difficulties with Logan’s data. This article also demonstrates that theories are not above being challenged or morphing over time, as was seen with both theories, but particularly hegemonic masculinity. It was also interesting that Logan used intersectionality, which seems to be favored by feminist approaches, in a study of masculinity. It is also clear that because of the complexity of constructs such as society and identity, a research endeavor such as Logan’s may benefit from multiple theoretical frameworks. Logan’s use of intersectionality, which at first seemed a strange choice, quickly became a great selection for understanding the phenomenon which Logan was studying. This suggests that sometimes thinking outside the theoretical box can enhance one’s understanding of a phenomenon as well as highlighting weaknesses within the theory itself. It is important to understand the limitations of theories; these limitations demonstrate weaknesses which need addressing, as well as opportunities for research. Logan’s research also highlighted weaknesses within a particular research area which needed addressing. It is often said that there’s nothing new under the sun, but as Logan’s research demonstrates, it is unsafe to assume that everything that can be researched has been researched. One should always check the literature to identify gaps that demand study and clarification.
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- Parsons, J. T., Koken, J. A., & Bimbi, D. S. (2004). The use of the Internet by gay and bisexual male escorts: Sex workers as sex educators. AIDS care, 16(8), 1021-1035.
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- Weitzer, R. (2005). New directions in research on prostitution. Crime, Law and Social Change, 43(4-5), 211-235.