By Joan Thatiah (Nation Media Group)
What you need to know:
Male prostitution is an age-old trade dating back to the early 17th Century in the US.
Women are doing away with the whole pretend dating process and seeking out men purely for physical gratification in contractual no-strings-attached arrangements.
According to UNAIDS, sex workers are 13 times more at risk of HIV compared with the general population.
This story starts with a video on Facebook of a middle-aged man soliciting for sex in broad day light along what looked like a busy Nairobi street.
So I set out for downtown Nairobi to find out whether there truly are male prostitutes on our streets.
Even after numerous trips, I did not spot any men. Just women, young, old and even heavily pregnant ones, but no males on the streets in downtown, Nairobi.
This would be hardly surprisingly. After all, reports say prostitution has moved from the streets to the internet through social media and dating apps like Tinder.
So I went online in search of the Kenyan male prostitute. Soon enough, a simple Google search exposed various adverts promising ‘a good time’ from agile, handsome, young men. I sent WhatsApp messages as instructed.
All of them needed a photo of me, a list of qualities specifying what I am looking for, and lastly a membership fee which varied from Sh350(10,000,ugx) to Sh2,000.(60,000ugx)
I moved on to Facebook, where I joined Nairobi Cougar Lounge, a Facebook group with over 3,900 members. Here, young men looking for women who can pay them for sex and sex agencies linking these men with women mingle freely.
There are no hard statistics, but if news clipping and the buzz on social media are anything to go by, cross generational sex may be at an all-time high.
The sugar baby phenomenon where young men known by the street lingua as Ben 10’s get into transactional, drawn out relationships with older women in exchange for a lifestyle upgrade have become common place and even mildly socially acceptable.
Apparently, women are doing away with the whole pretend dating process and seeking out men purely for physical gratification in contractual no-strings-attached arrangements.
Nelson, 27, who likes to go by Nelly, is one of these men trading his body for cash. His Facebook post says that he is looking for ‘stable’ women.
He responds to messages very promptly but seems to lose interest when he realises that I am not a paying client.
UNAIDS estimates that there are 133,675 sexual workers in the country. Nelly has been one for three years now.
He is of medium height, dark-skinned and his bulging biceps is a sharp contrast to his face, which looks much younger than 27. He weightlifts.
He has surprisingly well-kept dreadlocks that flow past his shoulders. “I do my locks. I’m a hair and beauty technician,” he tells me later.
Nelly speaks little English and a few minutes into the interview, we switch to sheng. He is the first born of 10 siblings.
Both his parents are casual labourers in one of the lower incomes estates in Nairobi. For as long as he can remember, there was never much money to go around. So when he got to Standard Seven, he dropped out to work to help support his siblings.
Then a well-wisher came along and paid for his beauty college fees. On his first day of beauty school, he thought all his family’s problems were over.
He graduated on schedule and he soon after landed a job easily at a beauty spa. “Situation kwa ground ilikuwa different (When I began working, the financial situation wasn’t quite like I had imagined),” he jokes.
He was grateful for the job. He had expected a salary but was offered pay on a commission basis instead.
He wasn’t making much so when a client asked if she could see him outside the spa, he did not hesitate.
What does a 27-year-old know about intimacy or a woman’s body that a much experienced woman would pay him for intimacy? I want to know.
Sexual intimacy, he reveals, is hardly ever a priority in the average Kenyan marriage, especially after the first two or so years.
Also, while the most common requests from him on his side job is sexual intimacy, his average client isn’t looking for years of sexual experience.
According to him, she is looking for someone she can have an exciting sexual experience with. “Mwanamke anataka tu kufeel special, kufeel tu yeye ndiye focus yako (Usually, a woman is just looking to spend time with a man whose only focus is making her feel good),” he says.
Maurice Matheka, a relationship and sexual psychology expert, is hardly surprised that men like Nelly have a constant trickle of clients, some of them married women.
He explains that there exists two types of sex: recreational and procreation. “Most of the sex happening in our homes is for procreation purposes, which is usually boring and obligatory. Women who pay for sex are not trying to leave their husbands, they are just looking for stimulus that they are not getting at home,” he says.
But isn’t it possible to have both kinds at home? “It is. Same way it’s possible to cook very good food at home but still want to go to a restaurant once in a while.”
So, do Nelly’s clients at least wine and dine him before they bed him? He shakes his head. No, they don’t.
He meets most of them in city hotel rooms and a few of them in their homes. He admits that he is under no illusions about the contract nature of these arrangements.
The money isn’t top dollar but it’s enough to help feed, clothe and send his siblings to school. His parents are unaware of his side hustle.
They are grateful that his job at the spa is going well. Nelly has a girlfriend he sees himself marrying someday. She also has no clue about his side job.
He tries not to see her on days that he has seen a client, and he admits that the juggling can be draining.
He shares that this is temporary for him and speaks about perfecting his hair art skill and going back to school to study trichology.
Male prostitution is an age-old trade dating back to the early 17th Century in the US. Closer home, it has likely gone on in private for years.
When I ask around, I am referred to James. He is a dancer and a stripper, I am told. But he will offer any other services I please, as long as I pay for them.
After a long back and forth on the phone, James finally agrees to meet me in a restaurant close to our offices. Is he going to get paid for his time? I say no.
Our meeting is going to be a very short one then. He is punctual. He doesn’t look anything like what pops into one’s mind at the mention of the term male prostitute. “I hate that name,” he says later.
He prefers to be referred to as a dancer or a model.
James is 29, though his profile reads that he is 25 because his clients like younger men. He is about 5 foot 7, chocolate skinned, has a medium build, an open smile and a surprisingly open demeanour like one would expect of a more forward man.
He is not strikingly good looking but he is easy on the eye. He also speaks good English.
James wanted to do music and dance professionally. Fate however had a totally different plan for him, and he found himself studying hotel management at a city college.
Because no job was forthcoming after graduation, he took up small waiter jobs in clubs over the weekend.
It was while there that a colleague told him of an outfit that recruited young men for stripper gigs. He could earn as much as Ksh5,000 for a few hours.
That’s how he started dancing and stripping. “I dance at private parties mostly bridal showers not strip clubs,’ he offers.
What has stripping and dancing taught him about life? “We think that men and women are very different. When you go to those bridal showers where there are strippers, women behave just like men. They grab, spank, and they ask dancers for extras. We are all not that different,” he says.
Most of his clients are women he meets from these events. What is the profile of the average Kenyan woman who pays a prostitute?
“They are married, young, mostly in their 30’s. Some of them are even attractive,” he says.
Why do young attractive women need to pay for sex? “Women are dating or married to men who are not very creative in bed. Men who spend their weekends drinking or going out of town to look for plots to buy,” he says.
He’s got a request once or twice from a woman to impregnate her because her husband can’t, but he turns them down.
“A child is a commitment for life. It’s not something you do with someone you do not know,” he says.
His clients are repeat clients but they will not call him every week. She will call him and disappear for weeks or sometimes months, then something will happen in her life that will make her feel sad or lonely and she will call him again.
He charges anything from Ksh3,000(100,000ugx) for time with him. Charges vary from woman to woman.
If the statistics are anything to go by, prostitution is a dangerous profession. According to UNAIDS, sex workers are 13 times more at risk of HIV compared with the general population due to violence and inability to negotiate for consistent condom use. Is this the same case for a male prostitute?
“I haven’t encountered a female client who was forceful. There are those that invite me to have a drink with them but I refuse. A lot of things can happen when people are drunk,” he says.
He tries to have safe sex every time. James sees children and a wife in his future. While his plans are not yet concrete, he also wants to start a business and go to a deejaying school so that he can finally have a career in music.
At the moment though, he is happy serving drinks most evenings and trying to catch the eye of the lonely married woman at the bridal shower on rarer evenings.