The common myth that “any man” (ie., that a sex buyer is a random everyman, an anonymous male who deserves the common name, john) might buy sex is simply not supported by research. Sex buyers share certain attitudes, life experiences, and behavioral tendencies that distinguish them from their non-buying peers in socially and statistically significant ways. By understanding sex buyers, we can better craft the legal and policy prescriptions, preventative education, and cultural norms needed to eliminate demand for illegal commercial sex.

Did you know?

  • Sex buyers self-report a greater likelihood to rape;
  • they perpetrate sexually coercive acts against women more often;
  • buyers are more likely to abuse substances, commit assault, and possess weapons;
  • and almost three times as many buyers report prior felony convictions.

Deterrents to Prostitution

We asked 200 men in the Boston area, half of whom admit to buying sex, “What would deter you from buying sex?” Here’s what they said.

Non-Buyers Buyers Rank
Added to a sex offender registry 91% 88% 1
Photo or name in local newspaper 85% 82% 2
Photo or name on a billboard or poster 83% 84% 2
Time in prison 83% 80% 3
Picture or name on Internet 85% 84% 3
Letter sent to family members 76% 88% 4
Suspension of driver’s license 84% 73% 5
Greater criminal penalty 81% 70% 6
Car impounded 82% 71% 7
Greater monetary fine 79% 66% 8
Community service 46% 57% 9
Attend an educational program 54% 38% 9

For Law Enforcement

Our survey shows that sex buyers engaged in significantly more criminal activity than non-sex buyers. Also, buyers hold extensive information about pimps, coercion, trafficking, and the harms of prostitution to the women in it. This information is not yet fully used by law enforcement and could be useful.

For Educators

According to our survey, many of the men who do not buy sex are surprisingly tolerant of prostitution for men who do. These findings suggest that efforts to deter sex buyers should expand their focus from men who buy sex to the general public’s attitudes that support prostitution.

For Buyers

About half of men who purchase sex that we spoke to believe that most men do it, but non-buyers we surveyed do not make this incorrect assumption. Men report feeling just as many negative feelings after buying sex as they did before, and rightfully so. Prostitution is not a victimless crime.