When the Kinsey report on male sexual behavior was published in 1948, it revealed among its then-scandalous findings that up to 69 percent of American men had paid for sex at some point in their lives.
Since then, the notion of the "john next door" has been perpetuated in pop culture, and even in some recent studies. But new research drawing on a large-scale nationally representative sample of men shows that frequenting prostitutes is not actually all that ordinary in the United States.
About 14 percent of American men said they paid for sex at some point in their lives, but just 1 percent said they visited a prostitute in the past year (2010), according to the study, which is, in part, based on data collected as part of the General Social Survey by researchers at the National Opinion Research Center.
"While it is noteworthy to recognize that the 1 percent of adult men who paid for sex in 2010 still result in a large number of customers, there is no credible evidence to support the idea that hiring sex workers is a common or conventional aspect of masculine sexual behavior among men in the United States," study researcher Christine Milrod, of the University of Portland, said in a statement.
The researchers also found that the average john doesn't look all that different from the average man who has never paid for sex — clients are more likely to have served in the military, only slightly less likely to be married and white, and only slightly more likely to have a full-time job and be more sexually liberal. [The 10 Most Surprising Sex Statistics]
More distinct characteristics, however, emerge among avid customers of prostitutes who self-identify as "hobbyists" and post on message boards that review call girls. A survey of men in this online community revealed that a substantial portion of them are married, white, earn over $120,000 per year, have graduate degrees and think about sex more (and feel less guilty about it), compared with other groups of men, including those who have been arrested for hiring prostitutes on the street.
Men of this more privileged class that cruise the Internet instead of the sidewalks for sex also have different views about prostitution. Compared with men who have been arrested for soliciting a prostitute, the "hobbyists" are more likely to say that prostitution should be legal, that they would marry a prostitute and that prostitutes enjoy their work, the researchers found.
Whereas the authors of the new study argue that hiring prostitutes is not necessarily an ordinary behavior, they say there's also little evidence to show that it's inherently deviant or linked to psychological deficiencies. That's in contrast to findings by some anti-prostitution groups.
A small-scale study presented in 2011 by the nonprofit Prostitution Research & Education, based in San Francisco, compared 101 men who had bought sex with 100 men with similar age, race and education level who had not. The sex-buying men were recruited through ads in newspapers and on Craigslist, and they were more likely than non-sex-buyers to have a prior criminal history, to say they would commit rape if they could get away with it and to have coerced non-prostitute sex partners into sex.
There are undoubtedly some johns who act violently toward call girls, but the new study found that most sex-buyers were unlikely to buy into so-called rape myths that have been linked to violence against women (such as the notion that most women report a rape to get back at a man).
The results suggest "john schools" that try to educate men who have been arrested for buying sex might be misguided for assuming that these offenders need to be treated for anger management and sexual addiction.
"The emphasis on teaching about 'sex addiction' and 'healthy relationships' to arrested men further supports the notion that customers of street prostitutes are endowed with some form of psychopathology that needs reorientation toward more accepted forms of sexual relations," Milrod said. "The focus on treatment fails to separate paying for sex and being psychologically impaired."
The research was detailed March 22 in the International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology.