The enormity of the sex trade economy and the conservative estimate of forty million prostitutes worldwide that service it pales in comparison to the tens of millions of faceless ‘johns’ who fuel it. Who are all these men that create an endless demand for sexual services that most of us cannot even imagine. Sex for money has come a long way since men have had to frequent back alleys in dark corners of the city. Today, sex for money is so readily available and increasingly anonymous that the stigma of purchasing sex has almost vanished. The modern day ‘john’ no longer fits the outdated idea that only lonely, desperate or ugly men would do it.
In today’s sex market, a john could be your neighbor, boss, co-worker or parent of a kid at your child’s school. There are no qualifying demographics that distinguish men who purchase sex from men who don’t. Statistics on the percentage of men buying sex is sketchy and largely underestimated. Even in places where paying for sex is illegal, it has been the prostitutes who are prosecuted, not the johns. Depending on the study and the geographic location, estimates of between 10 and 40% of men purchase sex regularly. In countries like Thailand, that statistic is 95%, which is not surprising given that many men travel there strictly for that purpose.
Whether sex is purchased online, over the phone, at a club, with an escort service or on the street, the question of what motivates so many men to pay for sex is still hotly contested. The truth is that men buy sex for all kinds of reasons. Their sexual appetite is often cited as a primary motivator and given the number of married couples who frequently struggle with sexual compatibility, the number of married johns shouldn’t surprise. Many men resort to the sex trade when they cannot meet their sexual needs in their primary relationships. Sexual betrayals whether through prostitution, expensive call girls or affairs are one of the most commonly cited reasons for divorce and have cost many a politician their career.
Many men who have been burned in relationships or are otherwise relationship phobic prefer the easy and direct cash exchange to meet their sexual needs. When men are unable and/or uninterested in the complexity of an intimate relationship, they are more than satisfied with sex on demand and the unconditional acceptance that sex workers give to their clients. They believe it is good fiscal policy to get what you pay for and are undisturbed by the lack of mutuality that the purchase confers.
Some men have emotionally charged relationships with prostitutes that they can’t seem to manage with partners. According to one study, more than two thirds of men returned to the same prostitute over fifty times, over 25% used the same prostitute over 100 times. The payment of cash takes the risk and complication out of the relationship for many men. For many men, maintaining a regular payment plan with the same prostitute meets their psychological needs as well. The payment ensures that the sex worker brings none of her feelings or needs to bed and offers her regular the emotional stability and empathy to deal with their own insecurities. In some brothels, the emotional/psychological relationship can end up costing thousands more than the sex.
The most disturbing reasoning behind all this purchased sex is the violent and aggressive nature of male dominance over powerless females. Many ‘johns’ online call women ‘material’ and think of them as a commodity. Many pimps and clubs sell women the same way. Additionally, misogynistic submission/aggression is some of the most sought after sex acts requested. The vast child sex trade is both toxic and rampant, destroying lives that have barely begun.
The tide is turning on men buying sex. Beginning with Sweden criminalizing the purchasing of sex, instead of the provider, it could be that many more men who are just looking for a casual hook up will get more than they bargained for. A new educational model called the John School is growing in the US, requiring men caught buying sex to take a weekend class on the ramifications of the sex trade. While some see this as a light slap on the wrist, some men walk away realizing the girls they purchase are someone’s daughter, not unlike their own.