The number of male sex workers in HCM City has been on the increase, with an approximate number now around 8,000.
Most of the men work in massage parlours or 'man brothels', while some have even taken to working outside in parks.
A recent national health survey the found that 40% of admittedly-gay men in Vietnam work in the sex industry.
Taken from the point of view of the health sector, lacking efficient safety and awareness programmes, this issue could cause a problem by contributing to the rise of HIV/AIDS in Vietnam.
According to the latest report by the municipal Department of Labour, Invalid and Social Affairs, an increasing amount of male students are becoming involved in the sex industry.
Hidden in plain sight
Most of male sex workers in the city operate out of massage parlours and 'dens', but some others have begun to use internet chat rooms to find potential clients. Others who are experienced, or a bit past their prime, wander parks.
An anonymous employee of one health care centre in HCM City that services male sex workers said, as far as he is aware, the city currently is home to around 15 'man brothels' and 20 massage parlours which provide sex services. These, he said, are usually situated in densely-populated areas like districts of Binh Thanh, Tan Binh, 6, 8, and 12.
Many of these establishments provide their clients with a 'menu' including provocative pictures of their workers to choose from. Most of the workers are young, aged between 16 and 27.
Clients are both male and female. And often the services involve a third party, either the client's lover or another sex worker, increasing the risk of spreading sexually transmitted diseases.
Recent reports on HIV infection among gay men in HCM City showed that an increasing number of people in this group are becoming infected due to unsafe practices.
Out of fear of being ostracised, many gay men prefer not to get regular, thorough medical checks, adding to the risk of transmission.
According to current statistics, the rate of HIV infection among homosexual men climbed from 5.3% in the period between 2005 and 2006 to 14% in 2011.
City-wide surveys conducted in 2009 showed that 21% of gay men were infected with some form of sexually-transmitted diseases, including gonorrhoea, syphilis, rectal chlamydia and others.
Confused legal framework
Strangely, under current law, paid sexual relations between people of the same gender are not considered prostitution, causing a problem for the enforcement agencies.
Some agencies operating in the field of HIV/AIDS prevention suggested that, in order to effectively deal with the problem, new regulations involving criminal penalties should be applied to both facilitators and clients throughout the sex industry, including homosexual services, while the homosexual workers themselves should only be subject to administrative punishments.
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