Every Friday on the blog, I answer people’s questions about sex, love, and relationships. This week’s question comes from a reader who wanted to know the following:
“How many men have paid for sex with a prostitute before? Is this becoming more or less common?”
Buying sex is a behavior that appears to have decreased among men in recent years. Just how much have things changed? As a starting point, consider this: in Alfred Kinsey’s classic study of sexual behavior in the human male, he found that 69% of the men he surveyed had bought sex at least once in their lives ! This statistic was shocking to many people at the time it was released (in fact, many people still find it shocking today). However, we do not know how accurate this figure is because Kinsey did not recruit a sample that was representative of the population. What it does tell us is that, at least among men who were willing to participate in sex research in Kinsey’s era, buying sex was very common. In some ways, this isn’t particularly surprising, given that sex was not easy to come by in those days due to social, moral, and legal prohibitions that largely confined sexual activity to heterosexual intercourse within marriage.
However, as restrictions on sexual activity loosened and attitudes toward sex outside of marriage liberalized, the number of men who say they have paid for sex appears to have dropped. For example, a nationally representative U.S. sex survey from the early 1990s found that 16% of men reported having paid for sex at least once in their lifetime . A number of other sex surveys in the 90s yielded similar statistics.
In the past decade, results from the General Social Survey suggest that the numbers have declined even further, to 13.2% in 2006 and to 9.1% in 2012 . Thus, the most recent results suggest that about 1 in 10 guys today have paid for sex before. However, it is important to note that the odds of purchasing sex seem to be decreasing in each successive generation because the number of people who reported having ever paid for sex is even lower among younger guys than it is among older guys.
How do we explain these shifts? Part of the story is likely attributable to changing social norms, not to mention the repeal of laws that criminalized premarital sex and cohabitation (yes, those things used to be against the law just a few decades ago—in fact, although rarely enforced, such laws are technically still on the books in some states to this day!). However, another part of the story likely has to do with the ease with which we can now facilitate casual sexual encounters. With the click of a button on our computers or smartphones, we can easily find nearby people who are ready to have sex without necessitating an exchange of money. Thus, there may not be as much need for purchasing sex now that it has become easier to find for free.
That said, it is unclear how much further the numbers will drop. Even though sex today is more freely available than it was in the past, there are some folks who prefer paying for sex to traditional relationships. For example, some may enjoy the lack of commitment and the fact that there are no expectations afterward. Thus, while the sale of sex appears to be on the decline, the world’s oldest profession will probably never become obsolete.
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 Kinsey, A., Pomeroy, W.B., & Martin, C.E. (1948). Sexual behavior in the human male. Philadelphia: Saunders.
 Laumann, E.O., Gagnon, J., Michael, R., & Michaels, S. (1994). The social organization of sexuality: Sexual practices in the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
 Reyes, E.A. (2013). Fewer men are paying for sex, survey suggests. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from: http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-paying-for-sex-20131102,0,796675.story#axzz2jb2YDmcA
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