Do Happily Married Men Go to Prostitutes?

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.

Find Dr. Hatch on Facebook at Sex Addictions Counseling or Twitter @SAResource

Is it Possible to Recover from Sexual Addiction?

The concept of “recovery”

I have seen many sex addicts recover from an unhappy, lonely, self-destructive pattern of behavior in their sexual addiction and go on to not only rebuild their lives but to reach greater heights than they ever imagined.

Yet there is a tradition in the addiction field of viewing addictions as in some ways similar to “chronic” mental illness and chronic medical conditions like diabetes; conditions that require ongoing care and can be managed successfully over time.  This implies that there is no “cure,” that there may be periods of relapse and that there is no end point to recovery.

Current thinking about sexual addiction has moved beyond the earlier more limited concepts.  See a recent review of the history of the concept of recovery in mental health and addiction.

Recovery from sex addiction

Recovery from sex addiction is considered today to involve much more than abstinence from the sexually addictive behavior.  It involves a long term process of years rather than weeks or months in which the addict will make many positive changes in his/her life and functioning and in which abstinence is merely a first step along the way.

Sex addiction is viewed in the larger context of a problem with intimacy in general, usually relating back to a relational trauma of some sort during childhood.  Treatment involves resolving the underlying trauma issues and building up the life competencies that have been compromised.

Sex life in sexual addiction

The sex life of the practicing sex addict looks very different from that of the addict in recovery.  The sex life characteristic of sexual addiction is:

  • Compulsive in that it involves preoccupations, cravings and urges that defy control
  • Compartmentalized in that a chunk of the sexual life of the addict is separate from the addict’s intimate life i.e. the addict leads a double life
  • Secret in that the behavior characteristic of the addicts sexual addiction does not square with the rest of the addict’s life and the face he presents to the world, and
  • Used as a drug in that the hyper-arousal characteristic of the addictive behavior serves to distract, numb or otherwise escape from negative feelings
  • Does not usually involve a real relationship although the addict may fantasize a relationship with a stripper, a masseuse etc.

Sex life in recovery

In recovery the sex addict will be able to integrate his sex life and his “regular” life instead of keeping them separate.  This implies that the recovering addict will be:

  • Less narrow and rigid in sexual preferences and fantasy scenarios
  • Less compulsive about sex, meaning less preoccupied with seeking sex and less obsessed with sexual cravings
  • More relational and less isolated in sexual activity (e.g. sex with a person vs. porn only)
  • Less selfish, in that he will be less focused on himself and his gratification and more able to focus on a partner and
  • Able to give up the “hyper-arousal” of addictive sex in which sexual excitation is used as a drug

Long term benefits in recovery from sex addiction

Not only can the recovering sex addict have a richer, less destructive sex life, but he or she will throughout the time of recovery make many other changes as well.  If recovery continues to be a process of overcoming past fears and insecurities through active participation in treatment, therapy, support groups or a combination of these, the addict can grow in many ways over a period of 3 to 5 years and beyond.

Some of these areas of improved functioning are internal, and some have to do with relationships and general levels of functioning.  The addict in good recovery will show improvement in

  • Empathy for others
  • Less narcissistic attitudes
  • Greater feelings of overall comfort
  • Improved self-care
  • A commitment to honesty
  • Greater ability to be responsible and nurturing as a partner and parent

Addicts in recovery can expect to learn many life skills they never had before, such as the ability to set appropriate limits and boundaries, to stick up for themselves, and to set life goals and achieve them.

So where does it end?

These are pretty hefty promises but I have seen them fulfilled.  You might ask “So why do we keep on talking about ‘recovering’ addicts instead of ‘recovered’ addicts?”  Perhaps addicts feel the need to be vigilant about habits that may still be deeply buried in their “lizard” brains.  Perhaps it is just a leftover tradition from the founders of AA.  For the time being we could just think of it as a way to stay connected to a fellowship and a reminder to us to give back.

Talking about Sexually Addictive Behavior: Inside a Sex Addicts Anonymous Meeting

Would you like to sit in on a Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA) meeting?  Would you like to hear what real addicts sound like talking about sexually addictive behavior?

What follows is a fictionalized account of an average SAA meeting.  All the names are fake.

The Intro

The room is small and comfortable.  People are saying hello and chatting casually; there is already a sense of common ground.

The meeting starts with the serenity prayer followed by a reading of the guidelines for the meeting: there will be no “cross talk,” meaning you  listen to what people say but you don’t respond or comment.

Next certain readings are read aloud by members who volunteer.  These are short sections taken from the SAA literature that describe the program and the 12 steps.  “SAA is open to men and women of any religious affiliation or of none….”  The readings promise a new way of living “if you want what we have and are willing to go to any lengths to get it…”  Then it’s time for sharing.

Tom W.

Tom is the leader for tonight, meaning he talks for a somewhat longer time and chooses a topic for that meeting.  He is a tall handsome entrepreneur in his 40’s.  He had been in the program on and off for over 15 years.  Tom recounts his early history of verbal and physical abuse by his mother.  As a child he struggled with learning disabilities.  His father was a sex addict who kept a separate house for women he was seeing.

Tom has used pornography, gone to prostitutes, and had extramarital affairs.  He has been a compulsive seducer.  He says of the women he has dated: “I wanted to take them prisoner.”

Tom has been sexually sober for a few years.  He describes his current stormy relationship.  He knows he is attracted to angry women who remind him of his mother. Tom can flash a dazzling smile but in meetings he is mostly in pain, often tearful when he talks about his struggles.

Tom suggests a topic of relationships.

Joe S.

Joe is a middle-America looking guy in his early 60’s. He has a small mustache, glasses and a paunch.  Joe is married with children and he is active in his church.   Joe is a professional man who lost his job and retired from his career a few years ago after being caught with pornography at work.  His wife has stuck it out even though he has had relapses every so often.

Joe says that when he first got into recovery he felt like: “Quit porn? You gotta be kidding!”  Tonight I see Joe avoiding talking about his marriage.  He talks about seeing his grandchildren that week, about singing in the church choir, and about how life is basically good.  He cannot find anything to complain about in his childhood.

Joe admits, in vague general terms, that he does not have sex with his wife.  He wants to dodge this issue.  He tries to be a glass-half-full kind of guy but it comes off a little forced.  What he does not say out loud is that he is still in love with porn.

Dave T.

Dave is a short and pudgy guy in his 30’s.  He has some kind of job but also gets aid for psychological problems.  He has been acting out continuously by going to strip clubs multiple times per week.   He uses up all his money on strip clubs and he seems to have little if any other life.

Tonight Dave talks about wanting to date one of the strippers he goes to see.  He has tried to strike up an acquaintance with her but nothing came of it.  He doesn’t see that dating a stripper is part of the same fantasy life as his addiction.  He is unable to get abstinent for more than a few days.

Ian A.

Ian is a 30 year-old gay man.  He is fit and pleasant looking in a boyish way.  Ian was physically and emotionally abused by his mother and step-mother and sexually abused by his father.  Ian was a voyeur and an exhibitionist until he got into recovery.  He says that had he kept on acting out he would probably be in prison today.

Ian is very bright and is dedicated to his own recovery.   He quit college and took a low level job until he can get his life on track.

Ian recently decided to break a long-standing habit of showering at the gym.  He did so because he realized he had been using the locker room as a surreptitious way to peek an naked men.  Even as he struggles, Ian is articulate and often very funny.  He wants to be a psychologist.

Bob R.

Bob is a 70-something retired doctor.  He was married to the same woman his whole life and during that time secretly carried on dozens of affairs.  When his wife found out and left him he got into the SAA program.

Bob is funny and philosophical.  He pays lip service to wanting to recover from his addiction but is mostly focused on getting his wife back.  Tonight he announces triumphantly that his wife has agreed to try living together again.  He says he is deeply grateful to the program.

Teri B.

Terri is a serious, pretty woman in her 20’s.  She recently graduated from university with a degree in chemistry.  Her history is one of poor family boundaries, sexualization by her father and molestation by an older girl.  Terri in her young life has a history of compulsive masturbation, indiscriminate sex and exhibitionism.

She talks about her relationships with men.  She has typically picked younger men she could dominate.  She then breaks up with them before they can break up with her.  Teri is in good recovery and is looking to start a healthy relationship.  She recently took up with a guy who is several years older than she.  It feels different, but she is cautious.  She says some day she wants to have children and doesn’t want to pass her problems on to them.

The the meeting goes on for an hour and a half.  There is a new member, Jeremy, barely 20, who was in residential rehab after he admitted watching child pornography.  There is Jerry, who cries when he talks about giving his pregnant wife a sexually transmitted disease resulting in damage to their child.  There is Jeff, who is making no headway in his career in internet technology but instead habitually exposes himself in movie theaters.

After the meeting there is “fellowship” (conversation).  What becomes clear is that these people are struggling and suffering but they are doing so with a purpose.  They read a lot they think a lot and they go to meetings a lot.  Mostly what seems to help is that they are together in their struggle.  They witness the gradual changes in one another.  They are not alone.  Find Dr. Hatch on Facebook at Sex Addictions counseling and on Twitter @SAResource.

Frequently asked questions about sex addiction: The first in a series

Is sex addiction the result of a brain disorder?

Yes, according to recent studies of brain development.  Sexual addiction is now often discussed in clinical circles as “a brain disorder manifesting in a compulsive behavior.”

Sexually addicted people very often have some history of emotional, physical or sexual abuse or neglect in their early life which is thought to cause stunting in specific parts of the developing brain. This in turn results in impairment in the brain’s ability to regulate emotional and behavioral reactions which in turn leads to over-reactions of distress and “emergency” unrelated to present day reality.  The use of a drug or an addictive behavior later in life can become a substitute for the normal mechanisms of emotional regulation such as the ability to calm oneself, to stop and think, etc.

Thus the brain of the addict has two strikes against it.  First, the person will have more difficulty maintaining their emotional equilibrium and will reach for outside substance or experience to take the place of the normal self soothing mechanisms.  Second the addict’s brain is less able to control his or her reactions and so the addict will tend to behave impulsively and without regard to consequences, especially if the behavior (drugs, sex, food etc.) offers escape from uncomfortable emotions (see also Sex Addiction is a Drug and This is Your Brain on Cyber Porn.)

With treatment the learning of new self regulating skills and new behaviors, the letting go of old reactions and the resolving of early trauma make room for different neural pathways to form. In this way the addict brain can and does heal over time