"For that hour he is Mr Hunk himself" : men's narratives of buying sex

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Despite sex work and its related activities being a criminal offence, it is an ingrained part of South African society. Street based sex workers can be found working on the streets of every city in the country; mainstream magazines feature articles about the sex work industry; newspapers generate an income through advertising sexual services; and there are a number of South African websites aimed exclusively at patrons of the sex work industry (Gardner, 2009). This project, guided by the principles of a narrative research approach, endeavoured to gain insight into the demand side of the sex work industry in South Africa. The project was based on in-depth interviews conducted with 14 male clients of female sex workers, recruited through advertisements placed on online classifieds websites. The study explored the meaning that men make of paying for sex and how being a client both influenced and was influenced by their broader social identities as men, husbands and fathers. The findings of this project repeatedly highlighted the striking connection between dominant discourses of femininity, masculinity and heterosexuality and participants’ explanations, motivations and experiences of paying sex workers for sex. These discourses provide men with a vocabulary to talk about paying for sex as acceptable and also allow for a social context where paying for sex becomes not only justifiable but also a desirable option for men. Through recognizing these discourses at work in our daily lives and through destabilising the notion of an idealized masculinity we can begin to better understand the demand side of the sex work industry in South Africa.

Includes bibliographical references.