Brazilian Male Sex Workers in Termas: In and Out of Sex Work

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Book Chapter

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Male sex workers in Brazil often work in termas, which are bathhouses that provide strategic environments for social interactions and the provision of sexual services. The author notes that Brazilian male sex workers have begun to see their trade as a viable career from which they can exit and re-enter at will. This idea runs counter to a common generalization in other cultures that male sex workers are “trapped” in their chosen vocation. In fact, the Brazilian garotos are similar to independent male escorts and, like many of them, are often quite entrepreneurial. In the termas, the author notes, garotos establish friendships and social networks with one another and with clients. These networks, which are useful in the long run, are at the center of a potential occupational model suggesting the viability of male sex work as a long-term career in Brazil. Legalizing and legitimizing sex work in Brazil might provide male sex workers with more legal protections, more structured benefits, and greater social acceptance. Based on interviews conducted over ten years, this longitudinal study demonstrates that garotos are more diverse than is sometimes assumed. The author also emphasizes how they enter and exit the male sex trade with different motivations, ambitions, and options. Ultimately, the garotos’ experiences push against the assumption that male sex work is necessarily oppressive and that all male sex workers are forced into a victim-like occupational role. Without denying the challenges faced by all sex workers, including susceptibility to sexually transmitted diseases, increased alcohol and drug use, and violence, this study forcefully counters a tendency among researchers to downplay potentially positive aspects of male sex work. In doing so, it reaches a conclusion that many will find just surprising: For some men, selling sex is not just an occupational choice. Rather, it is their best (and most rational) occupational choice.


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