Demand for Commercial Sex

Posted: October 11, 2011 in GLOA 491
Tags: , , , , ,

I picked up an interesting paper the other day entitled Best Practices for Addressing the Demand Side of Trafficking by Donna Hughes, a leading sex trafficking expert. I know that we’ve all thought about the demand for commercial sex. Whether that means questioning why there would ever be a demand for sex with trafficked children, or what leads someone to seek out a “legitimate” prostitute, I know the question is floating around in all of our heads. The paper by Hughes provides valuable insights behind the motivation for this demand.

Many believe that there are two primary groups that compose a  large chunk of this demand: men who are lonely, socially awkward and/or bad at interacting with women; and men who want sex acts performed that they don’t feel comfortable requesting from their usual sex partner. We imagine these men as heartless and willing participants in heinous acts. We question how, or whether it is possible, to change their behavior. So I was surprised to read in Hughes’ paper that a Swedish study found that:

“… the majority of the men [who were surveyed were not] satisfied from buying a sex act. Although men sought out prostitutes, often repeatedly, a significant portion of the men said they were dissatisfied with the experience and wanted to stop. In one study, only a third of men surveyed said they enjoyed sex with prostitutes, and 57 percent of them said they had tried to stop going to prostitutes.” (p. 15).

66% of customers did not enjoy their sex with prostitutes? 57% had tried to stop visiting prostitutes? If this were a real, legitimate industry, it would be on the verge of collapse. Something to think about.

On a random note, there is a quote from Glenny’s McMafia that reads:   “And along with the increased inflows and outflows of capital and goods came the personal acquisitiveness that underpins globalization and which presumes that money can fulfill any whim or desire. Combined with the ubiquitous images of male and female sexuality, this consumerism encourages the sense (certainly among men and increasingly, it would seem, among women too) that sex is less an expression of intimate relations and more a marketed commodity subject to the same rules governing the sale of hamburgers or sneakers…” (p. 104-105).

Again Hughes provides thoughtful insight, saying that the idea of sex as a commodity, particularly in men is linked to the number of times they have actually bought sex; that with more participation in commercial sex acts, one is more likely to accept the idea of sex as a commodity. Okay, maybe that seems obvious, so Hughes takes it one step further: “…the more they thought that sex was a legitimate commodity; the more they had attitudes that justified violence against women,” (p. 20). The implication is that the more widely sex is viewed as a commodity, the greater the threat of violence against women. Wow.


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