Pito, a tall and strong 24-yeald-old guy, has been working as a male prostitute for four years in a massage parlour in Phnom Penh.
“Working as a sex worker is like being a slave. It is not like everyone thinks,” he says.
“I have to be good at multiple sex services in order to serve my clients otherwise they will not use me again. I need money to support my daily living and my family in the provinces,” he says.
Pito is one of Phnom Penh’s many male sex workers, or MSMs – a term used by the World Health Organisation to refer to biological males who have sex with other biological males, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
The term MSM includes every man (homosexual, bisexual or heterosexual) who has sex with other men, as well as male sex workers who have male clients.
A 49-year old man who works for an NGO says he buys sex from male prostitutes because he is not good looking and struggles to find partners.
“I spend from $15 to $30 to have sex with the guys I want,” he said.
He was forced to marry under the Khmer Rouge’s forced marriage program. The marriage was an unhappy one and he is now divorced, and has a 19 year-old daughter.
In Cambodia, many MSMs have been ousted from their families who disapprove their sexuality and ended up selling their bodies to earn money to support themselves.
A 18 year old man who sells sex in Preah Sihanouk province, or Kampong Som, said that he was forced out of his home when his family discovered he was gay, and had to sell sex to survive.
“I have many sexual partners including my boyfriends and my clients, so I have to be careful,” he says.
“Everyone looks down on gay people and sex workers already, and if we have HIV/AIDS, we will be subject to serious discrimination.”
Ben Roth, a wide commissioner for Phnom Penh Municipality military police says “Sex trade among men who have sex with men is not illegal if they prefers.”
A national anti-trafficking law was established in 2008, criminalizing sex work and adopting the broad definition of ‘trafficking’.
This led to the closure of many brothels, and now thousands of sex workers work in underground massage parlous and karaoke bars.
Those men who sell sex in secret are harder to reach out and educate about HIV/AIDS, according to Kim Poly, a MSM peer educator of Men’s Health Cambodia.
“We have much concern among male sex workers in particularly hidden male sex workers,” said Poly.
“As it is hard to raise awareness and educate them with condom use and blood testing service, they are more likely to contract HIV/AIDS infection.”
A government report from 2009 estimated that there are 21, 000 gay men in the country and 8, 300 in Phnom Penh. A total of 8.7 per cent of gay men in Cambodia are estimated to suffer from sexually transmitted diseases.
Srun Srorn, who works at Rainbow Community Kumpuchea (RoCK) says that discrimination from families as well as, to a lesser extent, the work place, is the main reason why male sex workers turn to sex work.
“We try to advocate for the rights of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender)," he said.
''They should be able to live as normal people and enjoy their full rights and choose who they will love."