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Touching intimacy: Bodywork, affect and the caring ethic in erotic gay massage in Taiwan

This paper explores the relatively unexamined topic of interactions between corporeal and affective dimensions in male sexual labour, focusing on the role of intimacy in the bodywork of erotic gay massage in Taiwan. Feminist perspectives on bodywork and affective embodiment are used to analyse how intimacy is lived out during commodified same‐sex engagements. Drawing upon in‐depth interviews with 34 self‐identified gay masseurs, I examine two prominent servicing features of male‐for‐male massage: crafted intimacy and unscripted care. Whereas the former refers to the ‘boyfriend experience’ built up through tactile encounters, the latter regards erotic services as caring practices for the socially vulnerable, adding a moral dimension to the cultural significance of gay sexual commerce in Taiwan. This paper concludes that corporeal and affective dimensions are inseparable in understanding gay massage. Further research can benefit from more attention to somatic affection in the interplay between bodywork and intimacy in male sexual labour.

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