Conventional wisdom holds that men who visit prostitutes are lonely losers who can't find sex any other way. But the vast majority of johns are ordinary guys—and most are married or in committed relationships.
In fact, men who go to prostitutes often have more sexual partners than those who don't, says Donna Hughes, a professor of women's studies at the University of Rhode Island. "It's a real cross section," says a Toronto vice cop who asked to remain anonymous. "A lot of them are homeowners, good guys with good jobs. Of the guys I've dealt with, there's nothing that puts anybody in a category different from any other guy."
Men have different motives for paying for sex. Many crave variety and use prostitutes to supplement their sex lives, or to act out fantasies they couldn't with their wives or girlfriends. Some like the adventure and the thrill of the hunt; others get a rush from the illicit, secret nature of it.
Some men seek out prostitutes because they're too busy for a relationship—they want to avoid drama and they like the convenience of shopping for sex whenever they want it. Others are in search of the "girlfriend experience"—seeking not just sex but pseudointimacy.
What johns have in common, says Victor Malarek, author of The Johns: Sex for Sale and the Men Who Buy It, is that they don't think about the women they use and how they came to be there. Prostitution requires the creation and maintenance of a comfortable illusion—that prostitutes actually like the men who pay them for sex, that they're attracted to them, and that they enjoy the sex, explains Martin Monto, a sociologist at the University of Portland in Oregon.
Of course, that fantasy is a delusion. "A man can fool himself into thinking every moan that emanates from her lips is because of his magnetic masculinity," says Malarek, "but the truth is, these women know how to act." Once that illusion is gone, many men are deterred.
Prostitution harms both women and men, says Melissa Farley, a psychologist who runs prostitutionresearch.com. Men who come to view women as objects may have difficulty sustaining interest in normal relationships, argues Doug Weiss, the Webmaster of sexaddict.com. "This is not healthy sexuality for men either," says Farley. "It's damaging to them too."
Three men who've paid for sex explain their motivations.
"I wanted to get laid. It was less hassle than trying for a one-night stand, spending $200 in a smoke-filled bar with no guarantees. It fulfilled what I was looking for."
"I was trying to prove I wasn't a homosexual and prove my manhood by being with as many women as I could. I'd call and ask her what she looked like, then I'd decide based on how she talked to me, if she were reassuring and nice, comforting, easy to talk to."
"I went out of curiosity. It seemed like a normal, interesting thing to do in Amsterdam. In the end, it was lame, very clinical. I tried to be warm with her and she treated me like a nurse would, wouldn't let me caress her back. Her coldness made staying hard a challenge."