Investigating the effects of COVID-19 on global male sex work populations: A longitudinal study of digital data

Denton Callander, Étienne Meunier, Ryan Deveau, Christian Grov, Basil Donovan, Victor Minichiello, Jules Kim, Dustin Duncan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


OBJECTIVES: Recommendations of 'social distancing' and home quarantines to combat the global COVID-19 pandemic have implications for sex and intimacy, including sex work. This study examined the effects of COVID-19 on male sex work globally and investigated how men who sold sex responded to and engaged with the virus in the context of work.

METHODS: This study made use of an existing database of deidentified data extracted from the online profiles maintained by male sex workers on a large, international website. Website engagement metrics were calculated for the periods before (September to December 2019) and during COVID-19 (January to May 2020); Poisson regression analyses were used to assess changes over time before and after, while a content analysis was undertaken to identify modes of engagement with the virus.

RESULTS: Data were collected from 78 399 profiles representing 19 388 individuals. In the 'before' period, the number of active profiles was stable (inter-rate ratio (IRR)=1.01, 95% CI 0.99 to 1.01, p=0.339) but during COVID-19 decreased by 26.3% (IRR=0.90, 95% CI 0.89 to 0.91, p<0.001). Newly created profiles also decreased during COVID-19 (59.4%; IRR=0.71, 95% CI 0.69 to 0.74, p<0.001) after a period of stability. In total, 211 unique profiles explicitly referenced COVID-19; 185 (85.8%) evoked risk reduction strategies, including discontinuation of in-person services (41.2%), pivoting to virtual services (38.9%), COVID-19 status disclosure (20.9%), enhanced sanitary and screening requirements (12.3%) and restricted travel (5.2%). Some profiles, however, seemed to downplay the seriousness of COVID-19 or resist protective measures (14.7%).

CONCLUSIONS: These findings support the contention that COVID-19 has dramatically impacted the sex industry; globally, male sex workers may be facing considerable economic strain. Targeted education and outreach are needed to support male sex workers grappling with COVID-19, including around the most effective risk reduction strategies. Those involved with the sex industry must have access to state-sponsored COVID-19 financial and other aid programmes to support individual and public health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)93-98
Number of pages6
JournalSexually transmitted infections
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2021


  • commercial sex
  • public health
  • sexual health
  • social science
  • Telephone
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Male
  • Physical Distancing
  • COVID-19
  • Young Adult
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Sex Workers/statistics & numerical data
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Adult
  • Sex Work/statistics & numerical data
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Disclosure
  • Communicable Disease Control
  • Travel
  • Internationality
  • Adolescent
  • Videoconferencing
  • Aged
  • Internet
  • Longitudinal Studies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Infectious Diseases
  • Dermatology


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