We investigated attitudes and behaviors associated with prostitution and sexual
aggression among 101 men who buy sex and 101 age-, education-, and ethnicity-matched
men who did not buy sex. Both groups tended to accept rape myths, be aware of harms of
prostitution and trafficking, express ambivalence about the nature of prostitution, and
believe that jail time and public exposure are the most effective deterrents to buying sex.
Sex buyers were more likely than men who did not buy sex to report sexual aggression
and likelihood to rape. Men who bought sex scored higher on measures of impersonal sex
and hostile masculinity and had less empathy for prostituted women, viewing them as
intrinsically different from other women. When compared with non-sex-buyers, these
sefindings indicate that men who buy sex share certain key characteristics with men at
risk for committing sexual aggression as documented by research based on the leading
scientific model of the characteristics of non-criminal sexually aggressive men, the
Confluence Model of sexual aggression.
Comparing Sex Buyers with Men Who Do Not Buy Sex:
New Data on Prostitution and Trafficking
Researchers of prostitution have been largely polarized into two camps based on
whether they understand prostitution to be primarily sexual labor (Jenness, 1990; Leigh,
1997; Milrod & Weitzer, 2012) or primarily sexual abuse (Deer, 2010; Dworkin, 2000;
Leidholdt, 1993). Differences in perspective can be discerned in differing perceptions of
power relations, for example, whether or not payment for sex acts in a context of poverty,
sexism, and racism constitutes empowerment/agency or exploitation/abuse. The present
study offers data relevant to these disparate models by investigating the characteristics of
men who buy sex.
Although most research on prostitution – perhaps as much as 99% (Perkins, 1991)
– focuses on women who sell/are sold as sex, men who buy sex are increasingly
recognized as drivers of the sex trafficking1
industry (Anderson & O’Connell-Davidson,
2003; Di Nicola, Cuaduro, Lombardi, & Ruspini, 2009; Shively, Kliorys, Wheeler, &
Hunt, 2012). We examined whether men who buy sex differ from men who do not buy
sex on some of the same factors as those distinguishing men at higher risk for sexual
aggression from those at lower risk for such aggression. We assumed that work is not
abuse from the client’s standpoint and that the client would not be motivated by
aggression toward the service provider. Is a sex buyer’s use of a woman in prostitution
motivated by the same dynamics that lead a person with resources to seek a service
provider to clean their house or shine their shoes, or is the use of a woman in prostitution
more akin to the dynamics seen in perpetrators of sexual violence? If parallels to the
latter are found, this would more systematically address the question of whether sexual
aggression and prostitution may have some common origins, such as a cultural climate
that may breed an ideology that supports treating women as objects to be used in ways
that differ from egalitarian social interactions. If buyers of sex, compared to those who do
not buy sex, score higher on attitudes and behaviors of sexual aggression, given that
prostitution is also a sexual practice, that result would empirically suggest that, for the
consumer population, prostitution is a practice that is consistent with those attitudes and
behaviors, making it more similar to a practice of sexual aggression than to the purchase
of other services.
We investigated sex buyers’ sexual aggression because that is how prostitution is
frequently described by those who have been in it and have exited: as an act of sexual
aggression (Abramovich, 2005; Farley et al., 2003; Miller & Schwartz, 1995; Silbert &
Pines, 1982, 1983). The question of whether prostitution is more like a job or whether it
is more like abuse/sexual aggression is an important question on a societal level as well
because it leads to very different policies. If prostitution is understood primarily as labor,
then it needs to be legalized and regulated (as in the Netherlands, Germany, and
Australia). If prostitution is understood primarily as abuse/sexual aggression, it needs to
be abolished (as in Sweden, Norway, and Iceland).
Can’t say that I’m convinced.
We seem to be back to that same question we have about child and adult pornography. Are they complements to the activity or substitutes? With pornography the answer is well known: substitutes. Someone wanking themselves into a stupor over pictures doesn’t go out and do the deed itself. Thus the reduction in child abuse where child pornography has been legal and the general decline in sexual violence in recent decades as the internet rolls out.
The conclusion of this paper (given its source, not a surprising one) is that prostitution and sexual violence are substitutes, therefore we must ban prostitution. But that’s to get the logic wrong, entirely arse over tit. What do we think is worse, sexual violence or prostitution? Volunteers or not-volunteers?
Quite: if the demand for prostitution does indeed come from those same urges to sexual violence then that’s the proof that we require that prostitution should be legal. Because we would far prefer that those urges work themselves out with prostitutes than with violent attacks, yes?