Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Rentboys in Gay Culture

In the straight world, there’s a stigma attached to prostitution — regardless of whether the sex worker is female or male. (A lot of that is due to embedded sexism in our culture, but that’s a discussion for another day.) But when you remove women and have men buying sex from men, it suddenly becomes a lot less stigmatized and a lot more sexualized.

Hiring a rentboy to keep you company for the night is something shared among men with little shame. It’s the same with offering one’s services — there’s little shame involved. I’ve seen on Grindr and Craigslist the men looking for “generous” guys or men who are looking to be “generous” to a younger guy. (It’s quite obvious code, as it’s usually typed as “generou$”.) Until last year, there was a website — rentboy.com — where one could offer their services or purchase someone else’s. The prices were steep.

I have a straight friend who has confided in me that he’s hired women for sex before. He told me this with shame in his eyes and I got the impression it was quick and cheap.

And while I personally don’t know anyone that’s hired a rentboy or participated in a “generou$” encounter, my impression is that the experience is longer and less shameful, given the amount of money that changes hands. (Wait, I remember chatting with a guy online once and someone offered to pay him for sex. He took the offer, had a hot fuck, and ended up with $500. He was not a professional rentboy.)

Perhaps it comes down to a supply and demand issue. I live in a fairly major urban centre. I know exactly where to find women who are selling sex — in fact, I know of at least three locations. But I have no idea where to find men who are selling sex. The only way I know to find a rentboy would be online. And as soon as you move online to sell sex, you’re competing with everyone else doing the same. If you’re selling on the street, you’re competing with those within visual range, which is likely to only be a few other competitors — I’ve never seen more than three women in close range. A quick search online, though, would bring up at least a dozen men in this city who are actively selling their services. I would imagine the numbers to be much higher in a larger city than mine.

And I find the exploration of rentboys in erotic fiction to be intriguing. They’re often depicted as fit, educated, healthy, drug-free, and reasonably wealthy (from selling their services). And they’re often depicted as a lost soul in need of saving from a lonely client — and if it’s an erotic romance book, that client gets the rentboy to leave his profession and become his lover. In the case of erotica stories, rentboys are often depicted as an outlet for closeted men who are in need of some man-on-man sex, as if rentboys are offering a public service.

(For reference, I recently hosted RP Andrews over on my blog to promote his new book, Buy Guys, which is about two young men who go into the rentboy business to make money and live the free and easy life in Florida… until they fall in love with each other. No shame in any of this — just a celebration of sex and sex workers, along with some dramatic plot to hook the reader.)

I think it’s shameful that gay culture idolizes the rentboy, but straight culture disregards and disposes of sex workers. They’re doing the same work and for the same reasons, but one is treated as disposable and the other is almost put on a pedestal. However, perhaps part of it is due to the lived experiences of many gay men — men who have come out later in life, who have had illicit sexual encounters with other men while they were dating or married to a woman. Some men are married to women but spend time at the bathhouse, expressing their gay side. These men see extra-marital gay sex as a fact of life, thus purchasing sex from a man is also a fact of life, and not something to be looked down upon with disdain. However, even men who have not been in such a position personally often see little wrong with rentboys — so my only conclusion is that the over-sexualization of gay culture (which I’ve written about before) is responsible. Gay culture throbs with sex and idolizes icons of sex — and there’s no one more iconic in gay sex than the young, fit rentboy who can make a living selling his ass.

Cameron D. James is a writer of gay erotica and M/M erotic romance; his latest release is Seduced by My Best Friend’s Dad (co-written with Sandra Claire). He lives in Canada, is always crushing on Starbucks baristas, and has two rescue cats. To learn more about Cameron, visit http://www.camerondjames.com.


  1. Interesting look at this topic, Cameron. Of course, I'm not exactly in gay-male culture, but I live in a small Canadian city and my female spouse and I clean the one local gay bar/community centre (for pay - at our ages, no one would hire us for anything else!)where we meet the regulars. The more conservative, long-term male couples seem to look down on rentboy culture, but quite a few of the men we know have talked openly about being rentboys in their youth, or hiring rentboys, and it doesn't seem to be stigmatized. (If anything, growing older seems to be stigmatized in the men's community, much more so than among lesbians -- and that seems grossly unfair, but it's a rant for another time.) Realistically, though, I suspect that a youngish, fit, attractive, educated brain surgeon or rocket scientist would have more status in the gay-male community than a rentboy, probably in every city and region. Just saying.

  2. I knew guys who would "hustle queers" as teenagers. None of them admitted to be gay, of course. Just looking for 'easy' money.

    Am currently reading biography of William Burroughs, whose crowd always involved a stream of young boys hanging around. Some funny situations occurred. Some sad too.

  3. I wonder if this double standard is just another expression of the sexism that pervades our culture. But that's probably too easy an explanation. I can imagine that for men, hiring a woman for sex might feel more shameful than hiring a man, because it could imply the guy couldn't get a woman to "put out" without paying her. This would feel like an affront to his masculinity, which he'd displace onto the "dirty whore" he'd engaged for the purpose. Just speculation.

    Romanticism may also play a role. "Rentboy", with the emphasis on "boy", implies youth, vigor, and beauty. The Greek ideal. Are there any older men offering gay sex for pay?

  4. Good for rentboys for managing to hold on to some degree of male privilege. Maybe men don't feel as justified in despising paid sex workers of their own gender as they do when the workers are women. After all, some day those boys will be men (if they survive,) and the men can remember being boys themselves. Sure, I think it sucks that women are treated badly, but that doesn't meant that I begrudge the rent boys whatever respect they can get.