Sex, hugs, and baring soul

Men's health isn't just a magazine

Art: Maxim Adams

Roughly one in six Australian men (15.6%) have sought out the services of a sex worker. Naturally, it means I see a lot of men in my day job. The majority of what I do is a mutually agreed upon exchange of money in return for a service — this is usually a sexual service of some kind, but clients are often seeking other things as well, like the feeling of intimacy, and conversation that makes them feel heard.

Almost every client I have is kind, considerate, and has an interesting story. Their reasons for seeking out my time are varied, but I am often struck by the thought that they might benefit from therapy. This has nothing to do with the fact that they seek out paid sex; in a perfect world, paid sexual services would be available to anyone of any gender or ability, and without any shame or judgement. However, it has everything to do with the way my clients interact with other people, and how they’ve been socialised to show emotion. This is the consequence of toxic masculinity: men feel unable to express their sexual desires to their partner out of shame or embarrassment, and as a result, seek out sexual or emotional release in secret. The inability to communicate what they’re feeling to the people in their lives takes a severe emotional toll, and some men develop an unhealthy habit of seeking out services to escape from the real world.

Women are much more likely than men to utilise services for mental illness (41% and 28% respectively) because society treats women’s emotions differently to men. Commonly, men feel that they will be judged as weak for seeking help with their mental health. Women are also more likely to seek social support, employ more effective coping strategies, and are less likely to engage in high risk practices than men. Men who feel like they have to hide away their emotions, on the other hand, often turn to high risk behaviours as a coping mechanism and an escape. In particular, men who have paid for sex are more likely than other men to smoke, to drink more alcohol and to engage in unsafe sexual practices, like not using protection, that have resulted in an STI. This is not a suggestion that sex work is similarly high risk, but rather an indication that all of these things are symptomatic of men who have been discouraged from dealing with their emotions in healthy or productive ways.

The problem is not that people are paying for sex; the problem is that my clients will happily pay $600 an hour for me to listen to them cry about how their wife doesn’t listen to them, but will baulk at the cost of an hour in therapy working on proactive ways to deal with that issue. For comparatively much less, they could be working on self-development strategies that will likely lead to a better relationship with sex and better mental health in general.

It isn’t hard to tell the difference between the clients who are healthily obtaining my services and the ones who are too ashamed or afraid to talk about their issues to anyone except a sex worker. The culture that has built up around shaming sex and emotional vulnerability has trapped men into feeling incapable of communicating their needs and desires to their partners and friends, or knowing where and when to seek professional help. While it might eat into my current clientele, reducing the stigma around mental health can only lead to an improvement in the health of men.