ADVERTISEMENT
See Inside His Brain, Her Brain

Why Do Men Buy Sex? [Preview]

Some researchers say johns seek intimacy on demand. Others believe that these men typically want to use and dominate women

Arthur is an alleged john, a man who patronizes prostitutes. After his arrest on September 5, 2008, a photograph of this 41-year-old appeared on the Web site of the Chicago Police Department. Arthur (not his real name) was far from the only person so branded on this Internet portal. Samuel, 59, and José, 34 (whose names were also changed to protect their privacy), were on this online pillory for a month after their September 5 arrests.

The apprehensions of Arthur, Samuel, José and many others represent the huge demand among males for prostitutes. In the U.S., police officers detained about 75,000 people in 2008 for prostitution-related crimes, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Experts believe that about 10 percent of these arrests are of the sex patrons, almost all of whom are men.

Overall, an estimated 16 percent of men pay for sex in the U.S., according to a 2005 report by social work professor Sven-Axel Månsson of Malmö University in Sweden. And a study published in 2000 of 998 street prostitutes and 83 call girls in Los Angeles led by sociologist Janet Lever of California State University, Los Angeles, suggests that 28 percent of men who patronize prostitutes and nearly half of those who employ call girls buy sex regularly, with the rest being occasional customers.

The proportion of patrons seems to vary considerably by country and by study. Månsson reported that 14 percent of Dutch men have bought sex as compared with nearly 40 percent of men in Spain. (Prostitution is legal in both countries.)

And according to HYDRA, a Berlin-based organization that provides legal advice and other aid to prostitutes, up to three quarters of men in Germany, which also has legalized prostitution, have paid for sexual services. Meanwhile other estimates for Germany put the proportion far lower, at about one fifth. In Thailand, where prostitution is illegal but socially accepted, one study suggested that a whopping 95 percent of men have slept with a prostitute.

Whatever the numbers, the behavior is prevalent enough that psychologists cannot easily write it off as pathological. Rather men's motives for buying sex are hotly contested among researchers. Some believe the practice serves as a salve for common psychological afflictions, such as an unfulfilled appetite for sex, love or romance. Others paint a dimmer portrait of johns, believing they are typically driven by chauvinistic motives, such as a desire to dominate and control women. A similar debate rages among experts about the morality of prostitution itself [see box on page 63].

Share this Article:

Comments

You must sign in or register as a ScientificAmerican.com member to submit a comment.
Scientific American Dinosaurs

Get Total Access to our Digital Anthology

1,200 Articles

Order Now - Just $39! >

X

Email this Article

X