Gym instructors, call centre workers and direct sales agents are among thousands of professional men moonlighting as sex workers in the city to supplement incomes they feel are too meagre to give them a decent life in Mumbai.
Unlike female sex workers, these men do not walk the streets but operate entirely through social networking websites, according a study funded by the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation, dedicated to AIDS research, and executed by the Humsafar Trust, a non-profit focusing on gay and transgender sexual health.
“I cannot afford to live in the city if I don’t double up as a sex worker,” said Sujit, 28, who works as a gym instructor in Vakola and was part of the study, but did not want Hindustan Times to use his last name.
The six-year study, which will be completed in March, estimates that Mumbai has 6,000 male sex workers. This is a fairly significant number as it is almost a third of the 20,000 female sex workers that civic body’s Mumbai District AIDS Control Society estimate operate in the city.
The study found that most of the men, like Sujit, became sex workers for economic reasons: three-fourths came from lower middle class and working class backgrounds.
About 60 per cent of their encounters were with gay men, 20 per cent with women and the remaining 20 per cent with couples.
“Most of the women and couples who are clients are from the upper middle class,” said Shantaram Kudalkar, project director of the Mumbai District AIDS Control Society, a civic initiative. “Because male sex workers use social networking sites, this class of clients finds it easy to avail of their services.”
But for the same reason, estimating the number of sex workers was more difficult than if they had used more overt methods of soliciting, said Vivek Anand, Humsafar's chief executive who headed the study.
“Moreover, once we tracked them down, many of them would first deny that they were sex workers,” he said. “But with counselling, they admitted to it.” What helped in tracking them down was the fact that most of the male sex workers met their clients in public places before proceeding elsewhere.
The study’s field workers thus managed to track down 2,600 male sex workers in Mumbai over the past six years, all of who eventually admitted that they charged for sex. Like Sujit, all of them are now registered with Humsafar and regularly visit non-profit’s clinic for health check-ups.
Based on interviews with these 2,600 men, who told field workers about others they knew who were also sex workers, the study’s statisticians arrived at a final estimate of 6,000. About a third of these are probably HIV-positive because that was also the percentage of the 2,600 registered men who tested positive.