I’ll go out on a limb and say that a married man who visits prostitutes repeatedly is probably not the happiest kid in the sandbox. Although the wives of such men may feel the behavior reflects on their desirability, my experience tells me that such a pattern of behavior doesn’t have anything to do with the wife’s attractiveness. It says something about the man who, most often loves and feels committed to his partner.
Paying for sex on a regular basis is not the norm, even for single men. And it can be a sexually addictive behavior, in which case it has to do with the man’s emotional problems including his problems dealing with relationships.
Who are these men who pay for sex?
An article published earlier this year called What Kind of Men go to Prostitutes? reviewed some of the recent research and survey data on men who visit prostitutes. The studies indicate that between 1 and 3 percent of men in the U.S. have gone to a prostitute in any given year and about 14 % of men have paid for sex at some point in their lives.
The studies also indicate that men who hire prostitutes are only slightly more likely to be single than married. And furthermore they do not appear to differ much from the general population of men. The men’s reasons for having hired prostitutes were seen as predictable: wanting more sex, being unhappily married, being insecure about dating, wanting the excitement of risk, and wanting power and control.
An outcome study of men who attended a “John School”, a criminal diversion program for men who are arrested for paying for sex, reported that:
“Johns report a variety of reasons for why they purchase sex including the feeling that buying sex is an addiction. Interviews with “Johns” revealed that 83 percent of participants identified buying sex as an addiction (my italics) (Durchslag & Goswami, 2008). Additionally, research suggests that men who participate in the commercial sex industry often view women as commodities and feel a sense of entitlement to sex. Interviews revealed that men who did not have a regular sexual partner also legitimized purchasing sex (Monto, 2000).”
The Johns as a group also consisted of married and single men. Were all the married men paying for sex because they were unhappily married? This is unlikely, because Johns as a group are characterized as unhappier than other men. And besides, if they have problems with sexual behavior this could account for their unhappy marriage as much as the other way around.
Unfortunately there is not enough known about the demographics of the John population or the prevalence of psychological problems. These are still very much being debated.
Paying for sex and sex addiction
I feel on firmer ground talking about the kinds of relationship dynamics that are commonly seen in men who show up for sex addiction treatment where paying for sex is one of their compulsive behaviors.
As with sex addicts in general, men who visit prostitutes most often have other sexually addictive behaviors. These can include compulsive porn use, cybersex, strip clubs, and sometimes offending behaviors like exhibitionism and others. Going to prostitutes is thus part of an pattern of sexually addictive acting out behaviors.
The fantasy element in sexually addictive behavior
Whatever the specific behavior, sexual acting out is always largely a fantasy. It takes place outside of the person’s “real life” and it functions as a drug. While engaging in the sexually addictive behavior, the addict escapes whatever is painful and achieves a totally gratifying experience on his own terms. This implies that the man has issues that he cannot resolve, or issues he would rather escape than allow his adult self to face head-on.
The avoidance of intimacy in sexually addictive behavior
Paying for sex is exactly the same as any other sexually compulsive behavior in that it is part of a pattern of intimacy avoidance. What is the addict escaping from when he is avoiding intimacy with a partner? It is not that the prostitute has so much more to offer than the spouse.
The sex addict experiences intimate bonds as frightening and overwhelming. Being with a prostitute is safe, limited and controlled interaction. The addict can relax and feel safe from the dangers of getting hurt, abandoned, rejected or feeling inadequate. The sex addict feels unlovable and insecure and meets his needs for sexual abandon in a contrived, compartmentalized way.
Sex addicts feel bad about their addictive behavior afterward but they continue to do it. If a man who is not an addict visits a prostitute he may feel many things but he will not be driven to repeat the experience.