The rentboy name is derived either from the fact that the boys were renting themselves out, or that they paid their rent with their earnings. An escort who does not identify as gay, but who has sex with male clients, is sometimes called "gay for pay" or "rough trade". Male prostitutes offering services to female customers are sometimes known as "gigolos".
Clients, especially ones who pick up escorts on the street or in bars, are sometimes called "johns" or "tricks". Those working in prostitution sometimes refer to their trade as "turning tricks".
People who prostitute themselves with others while in an amorous/sexual relationship are sometimes said to hustle "on the side".
Historical evidence from court records and vice investigations shows male prostitution in what is now the United States as early as the late 1600s. With the expansion of urban areas and aggregation of gay communities toward the end of the nineteenth century male/male prostitution became more apparent, and included baths, brothels such as the Paresis Hall in the Bowery district of New York, and prostitution bars in which so-called "fairies" solicited other men for sex and received a commission for selling drinks.
Some young men come to hustling only once; some engage briefly while others work as hustlers for an extended length of time. Financial incentives may be the primary reason that prostitutes engage in this work, but they are by no means the only reasons. Hustling may also confer on the hustler a sense of self-worth (when he feels desired by the client), or of social status (when treated to expensive restaurants, high-end designer clothes, or travel destinations), or in some cases erotic gratification, or of societal rebellion (breaking social conventions) or mystery. Conversely, some prostitutes may also experience a sense of self-destructiveness or exploitation, or difficulty in distancing private sex from commercial sex, or suffer from the social stigma (see below) of hustling. The reasons for hustling are thus extremely personal and may involve a mixture of positive and negative justifications.
Few prostitutes in the West rely exclusively on sex for their income. Some prostitutes supplement their income by work as a pornographic actor or model (and vice-versa), nude model, massage therapist, burlesque dancer (a "go-go boy", "erotic dancer" or, in the Philippines, "macho dancer"), by performing in sex shows or by running a personal website (with, for example, pictures and erotic webcam shows available for subscribers). Other prostitutes have jobs entirely unrelated to the sex industry.
The same complexity of motives may underlie the justifications of the prostitutes's client: although sexual gratification is often a primary motive, the client may also be moved by many emotional concerns (including issues related to sexual orientation, power and emotional attachment, their own age and attractiveness), as well as needs for special treatment (i.e. fetishes, sadism, humiliation, etc.). The clients in male prostitution are not exclusively older gay men. Typical clients include married men, business men, inexperienced gay men, gay men looking for sex, and gay and straight couples.
Male prostitution with male clients is more or less tolerated in a number of Western and non-Western countries. This kind of sexual relationship may be a transitory practice with financial benefits for a young man on the road to adulthood which he will subsequently abandon once he is married. This can be especially true in societies in which a young man's access to women is strictly prohibited before marriage. The tolerance, reduced price and exoticism of male prostitution in other countries leads some clients to engage in sexual tourism.
Male prostitution in urban centers is also an outlet for economically and socially disadvantaged individuals, including immigrants. In recent years, Western Europe has seen an increase in prostitution by young men from Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Balkans and the Middle East.
The following categorization of the male prostitute is not exhaustive:
Occasional, infrequent, or one-time escorts tend to find clients through "m4m" (male for male) message boards or online chat rooms. Not knowing the market or because of an immediate need for cash, they tend to charge below the market price. They also tend to be less willing to show pictures of themselves online, and tend to be more restrictive in the services offered (many will not kiss, or not engage in anal sex). They will frequently use barely concealed code phrases like "looking for generous" or "$eeks help".
Most big cities have an area where hustlers regularly make themselves available to potential clients cruising by in cars. The informal name of such an area varies by the city, but it can be known as "the block" or "the hill." These areas are dangerous for both the client and the hustler, since local residents quickly figure out what is happening and report it to the police. Homophobic gangs can prey on individuals in these areas. However, the element of danger may be part of the appeal of a cruisy area.
The line between escort services and other services can sometimes be complicated: although the men working at a Host club (initially found in Japan, but expanding worldwide), are paid to offer conversation and companionship to female clients, the encounters may also involve prostitution.
In November 2005, Heidi Fleiss announced that she had partnered with brothel owner Joe Richards to turn Richards' existing Cherry Patch Ranch brothel in Crystal, Nevada into an establishment that would employ male prostitutes and cater exclusively to female customers, a first in Nevada (see Prostitution in Nevada).
It should be pointed out that "high end" escorts or prostitutes are not the norm or the bulk of male prostitutes, even in the United States. As pointed out in the Journal of Homosexuality, it is believed that less than five percent of the active male prostitutes in the U.S. would fall into the "escort" category. Many more are "rentboys", young men who have varying degrees of financial stability and use prostitution as a method of supplementing their income. In these situations, charging US$100 or more an hour, even charging by the hour, is rare.
Full-time or professional escorts tend to charge more than newcomers or people who only occasionally work. This may be because they know better where to advertise and what the market price is.
As a benchmark, a young, very attractive, full-service professional escort in a major U.S. city typically charges between US$200 and US$250 per hour, although the bulk of less high-end escorts in the same cities charge a maximum of US$150 per hour. Similar high-end escorts in major cities in the United Kingdom typically charge between GB£80 and GB£120 per hour. The highest average prices for top-tier escorts are in Manhattan, Los Angeles and London. High-end male escorts typically charge less than high-end female escorts, who can bill over US$2,000 per hour, often with a multi-hour minimum.
When male prostitutes steal from their male clients or take money without "putting out" sexual services, it is sometimes referred to as "rolling a john".
Research suggests that the degree of violence against male prostitutes is somewhat lower than for female sex workers. Men working on the street (hustlers) and younger escorts (especially teens) appear to be at greatest risk of being victimized by clients. Conversely, the risk posed to clients of male sex workers (in terms of being "rolled") seems to be less than many imagine. This is especially true when clients hire male sex workers from an established agency or when they hire men who have been consistently well reviewed by previous clients.
With regards to the age difference between a hustler and his client, there appears to be a societal double standard concerning gender: whereas the age difference between a gigolo and a female client may be a mark of the hustler's sexual prowess, a similar age difference between a young male hustler and an older male client (frequently denigrated as a "troll" in the gay community) is seen as exploitative. See also: Age disparity in sexual relationships.
For more on the topics of age, exploitation, health risks and the legality of prostitution, see the article prostitution.
The male prostitute or hustler is a frequent literary and cinematic stereotype in the West from the 1960s onwards, and especially in movies and books with a gay perspective, in which he may be a stock character, often portrayed either as a tragic figure (as in the film Mysterious Skin in which a male prostitute has a history of molestation) or as an impossible object of love or an idealized rebel. Though less frequent in the cinema and in novels, the male prostitute with an exclusively female clientele (the "gigolo" or "escort") is generally depicted as less tragic than the gay hustler; films such as American Gigolo have done much to portray the character as a sophisticated lover and seducer (a portrayal also satirised cinematically in the Deuce Bigalow films).. Yet the film My Own Private Idaho, starring Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix, focuses upon the friendship between two male hustlers. Currently, the male prostitute also appears occasionally in popular music (i.e. the photographic spread for The Bravery, and Fall Out Boy), and contemporary fashion advertising and visual art.
The topic of male prostitution has not been overlooked in academic studies by feminist theorists. In a study by feminist theorists Justin Gaffney and Kate Beverley, the insights gained from research on male sex workers in central London allows comparison between the experiences of the 'hidden' population of male prostitutes and the traditionally subordinate position of women in a patriarchal society. Gaffney and Beverley argue that like women, for male sex workers, hegemonic and patriarchal constructs ensure that they also occupy a subordinated position within society.
In contrast, social theorists writing from a poststructural critical theory perspective have concluded that unlike women, for male sex workers, hegemonic misogynistic social constructs ensure that they are seen by "johns" as less likely to take on submissive roles. Based on a series of interviews, Douglas Langston finds the attitude of "johns" and underground male sex workers on gender relations 'remarkably misogynistic,' and compares their attitude to that of the fiction and Christian apologetics of C.S. Lewis. Langston argues that both express a remarkably similar misogyny to the point of male homoerotism, and fetishization of patriarchal domination, especially over subjects seen by other members of society as less likely to take on submissive roles.