Frequency of sexual activity among men who visit prostitutes.

Author:Tewksbury, Richard


Understandings of commercialized forms of sexual activity are a niche in the social science literature that have shown a tendency to focus on either discussions of the gendered nature of such work, who is involved in providing commercial sexual services, or examinations of the (il)legal aspects of such encounters. What stands as the least developed aspects of such issues is how involvement in commercial sexual activities is experienced as part (or the entirety) of men's sexual experiences. For some observers the idea of paying for sexual services may be seen as a way to be introduced to or learning about sex, an activity that serves as the central component of an individual's sexual repertoire (perhaps due to inabilities to access or lack of interest in other sexual encounters; Edgley, 1989; Reinisch, 1990) or as simply one component of a set of healthy sexual expressions. The present study seeks to add to this discussion through an examination of whether men who patronize prostitutes display especially high levels of sexual activity.

Review of the Literature

Research on men's sexual engagements, specifically the factors that influence the frequency with which men are sexually active, has primarily centered on examinations of sexual activity in stable, long- or short-term romantic relationships, as well as in casual, noncommercial couplings. When researchers have addressed men's sexual encounters with prostitutes they have primarily focused on identifying how many men do so and the demographic characteristics of these men, and means by which men who have sex with prostitutes protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases. Other issues that have been addressed, but are tangential to the current study include violence in such encounters and patterns of how men find, approach and carry out their commercial sexual encounters.

Factors Influencing Frequency of Sex in Relationships

The research literature has shown that there are a number of factors that may be important influences on the frequency of sexual activities for persons in committed relationships. Among these factors are marital status, the presence of children, quality of relationship, and demographics.

Marital status has been shown to have little influence on frequency of sexual interactions for heterosexual couples ( Stafford, Kline, & Rankin, 2004). However, while the official status of a relationship has not shown effects on sexual behavior, research has shown that sexual activity frequency decreases over time for heterosexual couples (Blumstein & Schwartz, 1983; Pederson & Blekesaune, 2003; Stafford, et al., 2004). A significant decrease in both sexual frequency and satisfaction is hypothesized to be a consequence of "boredom and routine" (see Pedersen & Blekesaune, 2003). This idea is supported by research that has shown that men are both more likely than women to report having sexual fantasies involving a partner other than their spouse/significant other and that the likelihood and frequency of such fantasies increase as relationship length increases (Hicks & Leitenberg, 2001).

The quality of a relationship is clearly also an important influence on the frequency of sexual activity for heterosexual couples. For young adult heterosexual couples, perceptions of higher levels of conflict and frustration in the relationship have been shown to be related to higher frequency of sexual intercourse (Rostosky, Galliher, Welsh, & Kawaguchi, 2000). Marriages in which one or both partners are violent toward one another have also been shown to have higher frequencies of sexual interactions between partners (Apt & Hurlbert, 1993; Donnelly, 1993). This apparently counter-intuitive finding has been explained by some with the argument that it is only the husband's violence that is associated with a higher frequency of sexual activity (DeMaris, 1997). This argument suggests that violent men are "sexual extortionists" in their marriages and although there may be more sexual activity between the partners, it may not be fully consensual or desired by the female partner.

Some research has been devoted to the effects of leaving a relationship (e.g., divorce) on sexual activities. Again, contrary to some popular beliefs and stereotypes, individuals who leave relationships do not necessarily seek and obtain multiple sex partners (Wade & DeLamater, 2002); however, there are some variations in sexual activities post-relationship. Specifically, lower income individuals (both men and women) are more likely than higher income individuals to seek and obtain multiple sex partners after leaving a long-term relationship. Overall, however, divorced individuals report a low rate of sexual activity. Findings from one national sample show a mean of less than one sexual partner per year (Stack & Gundlach, 1992).

While still involved in a long-term relationship, significant numbers of men have been shown to pursue and consummate sexual activities outside of their primary relationship. More than one in five (22.7%) adult men in a nationally representative sample reported having engaged in extramarital sex (Wiederman, 1997). Variations in this include that African-American men are more likely (33.0%) than whites (21.4%) or men of other races (25.7%) to report extramarital sex.

In regards to demographics, three principal variables have been the focus of research: sex, age at which sexual activity was initiated, and race. Each of these variables has been shown in the literature to be related to engagement in casual sexual activity. Regardless of whether or not an individual is engaged in an on-going relationship, men are more likely than women to engage in casual sex (Cubbins & Tanfer, 2000). One national study found that just shy of one-half (46.7%) of men reported having on at least one occasion engaged in casual sex (Cubbins & Tanfer, 2000). Such activities are most common for individuals whose first sexual encounter occurred prior to age 17 (50.6% vs. 26.0%) (Cubbins & Tanfer, 2000). Additionally, contrary to the research on extramarital sex, African-Americans are less likely to report casual sexual encounters or multiple sex partners than all other races (Cubbins & Tanfer, 2000; Michael, Gagnon, Laumann, & Kolata, 1994). It appears, therefore, that while African American men may engage in more casual sex while not married, during their marriages they may be less likely to engage in sex with partners other than their spouses.

Men and Prostitutes

One understudied issue in sexuality focuses on sexual interactions between men and prostitutes. Recognizing that not all sexual activity occurs between romantic partners, scholars, public health officials, and social service providers are interested in knowing how frequently, under what circumstances, and who specifically is most likely to be involved in sexual activities with prostitutes. Results of a nationally representative sample showed that approximately 16% of American adult men have ever paid for sex (i.e., had sex with a prostitute, Michael, et al., 1994). A related way to view this is that "just six in a thousand" (p. 213) men visit prostitutes in a given year. Others have reported similar rates (18%; Sullivan & Simon, 1998). Approximately one-half of men who do visit prostitutes are involved in a long-term relationship (Atchison, Fraser, & Lowman, 1998; McKeganey & Barnard, 1996; Morse, Simon, Balson, and Osofsky, 1992).

Several researchers have addressed the issue of racial variations in men's likelihood of patronizing prostitutes, but the findings of this area of research are mixed. Freund, Lee and Leonard (1991) reported that white men were the majority of prostitutes' clients; others (Johnson, et al., 1994) suggest African-American men are the most common clients and yet others (Kim, Marmor, Dubin and Wolfe, 1993) report Hispanic men are the most likely to patronize prostitutes. These seemingly contradictory findings, however, are likely the result of either geographic/cultural differences or more the more important influences of education and socio-economic status. Men with lower levels of education and homeless men have also been shown to have a greater frequency of sex with prostitutes than other men (Kinsey, et al., 1948; Rickert & Rickert, 1995).

Most existing research suggests that men who patronize prostitutes tend to do so repeatedly, although available research does not support a contention that prostitutes are most men's primary sexual outlets. (1) While data on how often men who engage in sex with prostitutes are scarce, at least one set of researchers reported that for a sample of 143 clients the median number of sexual encounters with a prostitute over a period of more than a decade was seven (Barnard, McKeganey, & Leyland, 1993). Similarly, working with survey data from men enrolled in a diversion program for arrested clients of prostitutes, Wortley, Fischer and Webster (2002) reported that 25% of men claimed the time they were arrested to have been their first time attempt to purchase a prostitute's services, 18% were novices (claiming to have done so 1 to 4 times previously) and 22% were sex-trade veterans (having been with a prostitute at least 5 times previously). (2) Freund, et al. (1991) reported similar results; survey data from clients of prostitutes indicate that a majority of clients were often repeat customers, returning to either an individual or small group of prostitutes. This was also supported by research which suggests that men who have a high frequency of sexual behavior with prostitutes are also more likely to be obsessive-compulsive (Rinehart & McCabe, 1998). However, it is also important to note that clients of prostitutes do recognize health risks in such encounters, and will frequently take active steps (e.g. use condoms) to minimize such risks, as shown in one European study (Vanwesenbeeck, DeGraaf, Van Zessen, Straver, & Visser, 1993).

While many men who...

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