Why Buy Sex?

Conscientious clients


As Northern Ireland prepared to pass a ban on buying sex last year, crusaders for the measure called on familiar stereotypes about prostitution clients, portraying them as self-centered misogynists and deviants. But new research suggests the opposite is true.

"The desire to find sexual pleasure does not automatically mean that men who pay for sex are simply looking for a receptive, passive female body," the anthropologist Susann Huschke and the sociologist Dirk Schubotz write in the June issue of Sexualities. Rather, "commercial sex involves social interactions and emotional aspects, which play an important role for many clients."

For their study, Huschke and Schubotz surveyed 446 clients from Ireland and the U.K. online and conducted in-person follow-ups with 10 of them. Ninety-seven percent of the respondents were male, largely between the ages of 31 and 50, and most (85 percent) saw female sex workers. Forty-eight percent were currently in relationships. Most said they paid for sex a few times per year, with only 4 percent going at least once a week.

Asked what would get them to stop, the most common responses were entering into an exclusive relationship (35 percent) or finding a way to have sex regularly without paying for it (27 percent). Only 7 percent said they would stop paying for sex entirely if it were criminalized, with 13 percent saying they wouldn't do anything differently. Most said they would simply "be more careful" or see only sex workers they already trusted.

"The results suggest that criminalizing paying for sex would be a very ineffective policy measure," the researchers conclude.