Male and Transgender Sex Work in the UK and Netherlands (2011 - 12)


Nicola Smith and Katy Pilcher


£36,743 (Leverhulme Trust)

Project overview

This project is funded by the Leverhulme Trust and will last from 01 October 2011 to 31 July 2012. The researchers on the project are Dr Nicola Smith (as Principal Investigator) and Katy Pilcher (as Research Associate), both of whom are based at the Department of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Birmingham.

The expansion of the global sex industry in recent years has emerged as an important national and international policy concern and has also become the subject of considerable academic interest. Yet, as valuable as academic, policy and legal debates about commercial sex have been, it is striking how they remain preoccupied with the experiences and status of female sex workers, despite the significant number of male and transgender people working in the industry today. 

The almost exclusive focus on women and girls means not only that the voices of male and transgender sex workers are rarely heard in academic and policy debates about commercial sex but also that commercial sex itself tends to be understood in profoundly gendered and heterosexist terms, with women assumed to provide the supply for sex and men the demand for it. Such gender binaries currently frame policy and legal discussions in many national and international contexts, including debates about how to regulate the sale and purchase of sex in the UK. As such, the analysis of male and transgender sex work is important both in its own terms and in terms of understanding the meanings, practices and policies of commercial sex more broadly.

Aims and objectives

The project aims to advance empirical and theoretical knowledge in the under-explored area of male and transgender sex work. More specifically, it will: gather and analyse empirical data on male and transgender sex workers’ diverse experiences and understandings of commercial sex; interrogate the political, economic and cultural context of male and transgender sex work; and, in so doing, consider how existing academic and policy paradigms might be reframed to take more account of male and transgender sex work. The project aims not only to contribute to academic scholarship on the sex trade and political economy more broadly, but also to facilitate evidence-based policy by gathering data on male and transgender sex workers’ own experiences and views, not least with respect to the appropriateness of current policies and services to their needs.  


The research will take the form of a series of in-depth interviews with male and transgender sex workers from the UK and the Netherlands, together with the analysis of academic, policy and other materials in order to compare and contrast the political, economic and cultural context of the sex industry in the UK and the Netherlands. 

The research has received full ethical approval from The University of Birmingham’s Ethics Committee. All participants’ views will be treated in confidence, with pseudonyms being used in any subsequent publications resulting from the research. The researchers will travel to meet participants in a mutually convenient location, and reasonable travel expenses will be reimbursed. It will also be possible for interviews to take place via Skype or other forms of communication should participants not be able to meet face-to-face.

About us

Nicola Smith is a political economist whose key publications include Showcasing Globalisation? The Political Economy of the Irish Republic (Manchester University Press, 2005), Global Social Justice (Routledge, 2011), co-edited with Heather Widdows) and Body and State (Ashgate, forthcoming, co-edited with Angus Cameron and Jen Dickinson).

Katy Pilcher's research focuses on erotic labour and women as consumers of sexualised entertainment, with recent and forthcoming publications including pieces in Sexualities, Leisure Studies, Sociological Research Online, Journal of International Women's Studies, and Reinvention. Among other roles, Katy is an executive committee member of the Feminist and Women's Studies Association UK and Ireland (FWSA).