This study compared 101 men who buy sex with 100 men who did not buy sex. The men who participated in this study were matched in terms of age, ethnicity, and education level. Most had a wife or girlfriend at the time of the study. Sex buyers had many more sex partners in their lifetime (prostituted as well as non-prostituted) than non-sex buyers.

Each interviewee participated in a structured interview that included extended queries about the men‘s history of using women in prostitution, what they looked for when they bought sex, their evaluations and perceptions of women in prostitution and pimp-prostitute relationships, awareness of coercion and trafficking, likelihood to rape, pornography use, hostile masculine identification, first use of women in prostitution, criminal history, how they discussed prostitution with their friends, deterrents to prostitution, sex education, and others.

The common myth that ―any man‖ might buy sex (i.e., that a sex buyer is a random everyman, an anonymous male who deserves the common name, john) was not supported. Sex buyers shared certain attitudes, life experiences, and behavioral tendencies that distinguish them from their non-buying peers in socially and statistically significant ways.

Sex buyers engaged in significantly more criminal activity than non-sex buyers. They were far more likely than non-sex buyers to commit felonies, misdemeanors, crimes related to violence against women, substance abuse-related crimes, assaults, crimes with weapons, and crimes against authority. All of the crimes known to be associated with violence against women were reported by sex buyers; none were reported by non-sex buyers.

The sex buyers and non-sex buyers differed in their self-reported likelihood to rape. Sex buyers acknowledged having committed significantly more sexually coercive acts against women (non-prostituting as well as prostituting women) than non-sex buyers.

The two groups differed in their attitudes regarding prostitution as consenting sex or sexual exploitation. Sex buyers had significantly less empathy for prostituted women than did non-sex buyers. Sex buyers acknowledged fewer harmful effects of prostitution on the women in it and on the community. Nonsex buyers more often saw prostitution as harmful to both the woman herself and to the community as a whole.

As in other studies of sex buyers, sex buyers expressed ambivalence, guilt and negative thinking about buying sex. They felt just as many negative feelings after buying sex as they did before. Many sex buyers sought sex that lacked emotional connection. They had little objection if the woman they purchased pretended to like them or actively disliked performing the act of prostitution. Sex buyers repeatedly commented that they liked the power relationship in prostitution and that they liked the freedom from any relationship obligation.

The sex buyers masturbated to pornography more often than non-sex buyers, imitated it with partners more often, and had more often received their sex education from pornography than the non-sex buyers. Over time, as a result of their prostitution and pornography use, sex buyers reported that their sexual preferences changed such that they sought more sadomasochistic and anal sex. Significantly more of the sex buyers compared learned about sex from pornography compared to the non-sex buyers.

When asked how much they agreed with the statement, “Most men go to prostitutes once in a while,” we found that about half the sex buyers normalized their use of prostitution by suggesting that most men do it, whereas the non-sex buyers did not tend to make that assumption. 5

Both sex buyers and non-sex buyers evidenced extensive knowledge of the physical and psychological harms of prostitution. Two thirds of both the sex buyers and the non-sex buyers observed that a majority of women are lured, tricked, or trafficked into prostitution. Many of the men had an awareness of the economic coercion and the lack of alternatives in women’s entry into prostitution. Almost all of the sex buyers and non-sex buyers shared the opinion that minor children are almost always available for prostitution in bars, massage parlors, escort and other prostitution in Boston.

The knowledge that the women have been exploited, coerced, pimped, or trafficked failed to deter sex buyers from buying sex. Many of the sex buyers had used women who were controlled by pimps at the time they used her for sex. Sex buyers in this study seemed to justify their involvement in the sex industry by stating their belief that women in prostitution are essentially different from non-prostituting women.

Both sex buyers and non-sex buyers subscribed to the theory that prostitution reduces the likelihood of rape. Although half of the study‘s sample did not buy sex, many of them were tolerant of prostitution for men who did. These findings suggest that efforts to deter sex buyers should expand their focus from men who buy sex to the general public’s attitudes that support prostitution.

Both sex buyers and non-sex buyers agreed that the most effective deterrent to buying sex would be to be placed on a registry of sex offenders. Other effective deterrents included public exposure techniques such as having their name or photo publicized on a billboard, newspaper, or the Internet. Spending time in jail was considered an effective deterrent by 80% of sex buyers and 83% of non-sex buyers. Educational programs were considered the least effective deterrent by both groups of men.

Taken together, these findings – a range of criminal activity in addition to prostitution, nonrelational sexual preference, a high number of sex partners, extensive pornography use – interact and increase the likelihood of future violence against women, according to other studies cited in this report.

Our finding that the sex buyers are involved in these criminal activities suggests that sex buying should be considered in that context. State and federal laws against prostitution and trafficking should be enforced against johns. Sex buyers hold extensive information about pimps, coercion, trafficking, and the harms of prostitution to the women in it. This information is not yet fully used by law enforcement and could be useful.

This study strengthens proposals that educational programs aimed at sex buyers should be implemented subsequent to sentencing, not in lieu of it. The crimes sex buyers commit suggest that existing intervention strategies for batterers and sex offenders are resources for development of interventions for arrested johns. Their crimes also justify mandatory DNA testing.


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