The commercial sex industry has been overwhelmingly dominated by men paying for sex with women. But here in the 21st century, will we finally see the reverse: women paying for sex with men? And if so, will the male brothel be a step towards equality, or be subject to the same types of exploitation as female brothels? Is the male brothel fact or faction? New Zealand (where prostitution is legal and regulated) announced recently it would be opening up its first all-male brothel targeted to female customers. It would be a first not only for New Zealand, but possibly for the world. Men in prostitution and brothels have certainly existed, but the vast majority of them sell sex to other men. Women buying sex from men has been exceedingly rare. But could a men-for-women brothel work? And if so, would it end the exploitation, sex trafficking, and abuses often found in women-for-men brothels?
A handful of women who buy sex in New Zealand and Pam Corkery, the former politician behind the idea, are hopeful that an all-male brothel will appeal to women looking to buy sex. However, critics claim that women won't feel comfortable in a brothel setting with other women, picking men out of a line up for sex. And many have doubted that the female demand for male prostitution will be large enough to support a brothel. Out of the very few men in prostitution in New Zealand, most of them sell to both men and women. While some women do pay for sex, they remain a tiny minority in New Zealand and around the world.
Female buyers can also exploit young men just like male buyers can exploit young women. This phenomenon is most apparent in Jamaica, where many wealthy, older Western women have sex with young Jamaican men and boys in exchange for money, school tuition, shelter, and food. Some of these young men are exploited just as young women women in Thailand are exploited by male sex tourists. Others are trafficked for sex. Changing the gender of the vulnerable teens or the people with financial power doesn't end exploitation, it just shifts it to another group of victims.
The fact is that one male brothel aside, men are still the vast, vast majority of buyers of the commercial sex industry. And while some men and boys are victims of human trafficking and exploitation in that industry, women and girls still are most of the victims. The fiction is that when women buy sex from men, the opportunity for exploitation and abuse ends, and equality is somehow achieved. And the truth is that male brothels aren't the answer to human trafficking.