Unstably housed and unemployed men sometimes used sex to
satisfy material needs. They described exchanging sex for food, shelter,
alcohol, drugs, clothing, and the payment of phone bills and taxis. Some men
used profiles on dating apps to sell sex.
Economic insecurity and housing instability constrained
these men’s ability to negotiate condoms, as one man explained:
“Okay. If you are
eating and you have clothing, you have shelter, you’re probably going to resist
it and a very blatant resistance. But if you are hungry, that’s a different
ballgame. I can sit here and tell you I’m a very proud person but you let my
stomach rumble for more than three days, okay, you can call me.”
While sex without a condom put men at risk of HIV, a lack of
food or shelter might have a more immediate impact. Men made choices which made
sense to them in their current circumstances (for example, having multiple
partners to access temporary housing and other resources).
Interviewees with fewer economic problems had different
approaches to sexual relationships which did not reflect these pressing
The researchers paid particular attention to the way in
which different places and environments shaped men’s sexual relationships.
Family homes were places in which many men had experienced
disapproval or homophobia, with four men being made homeless as a direct
result. Many men avoided introducing male sexual partners to family members;
sex was more likely to happen at a partner’s home or in a public space. One man
“I was a gay man and
figuring out that my mum wasn’t too happy about it…. I couldn’t bring any
company over or they couldn’t stay overnight or whatever, [but my brother]
could bring girls over and there was discrimination towards me with my mum.”
Some men who lived independently also avoided bringing male
partners home because of homophobic reactions from landlords or neighbours. Men
sometimes felt unsafe in their own homes.
Many respondents met partners and had sex with them in
parks, streets, sports clubs, trains, supermarkets and restaurants. This was
particularly the case for men with unstable or no housing, and for men who
identified as straight or discreet. These meetings might be arranged on apps like
Jack’d and Grindr.
These interactions were usually rushed – men were afraid of
being observed by other people, being assaulted or being arrested. The rush
meant that condoms were less likely to be used.
In addition, several men thought that carrying condoms was
dangerous as police might consider condoms to be evidence of sex work (this was
New York police practice until 2014). Police are more likely to stop and search
black men than other people and interviewees expressed considerable mistrust
and fear of the police.
Respondents also went to gay bars and nightclubs,
particularly those which were predominantly used by black and Latino men. These
spaces were often felt to be safer places to socialise with and meet other men
who have sex with men.
For men who sold sex, bars provided some protection against
the police. Men with housing difficulties sometimes went to clubs to find ‘a
generous friend’ with a place to stay. However commercial venues did not always
feel welcoming to men who did not have money for drinks or the right clothes to
And men who did not present themselves in a conventionally
masculine way could experience insults, violence and ‘drama’. One interviewee was assaulted outside a club for being ‘faggoty’.
One community advocate felt this hostility could have an impact on sexual risk
“It’s really bad at
times. I see it all the time, the fighting, the arguments and the putdowns and
yeah, so if you feel like you’re being put down all the time about your weight
or about your financial situation or housing situation, sometimes you submit to
someone who’s waving $10 to $20 and have their own place.”
“Among most of the men in this sample, the pursuit of
same-sex relationships took place in a social context characterised by economic
insecurity, housing instability, and widespread stigma and discrimination,” the
researchers conclude. “We draw attention to how men’s position in a social
structure configures their opportunities, restrictions and priorities in sexual
relationships and how these shape their choices and behaviours in