Social acceptance of prostitution makes it more likely for men to seek out prostitutes, as do certain sexual attitudes. For some men, the risk is part of the appeal.
“One of the motivations behind seeking prostitutes for some men is that there’s something exciting or risky about it. The illicit nature of it can make it more exciting,” said Martin Monto, a sociologist at the University of Portland who has researched prostitution.
“Johns” — or men who visit prostitutes — are not easy to study, given the secretive and often illegal nature of their sexual habits.
Researchers have traditionally focused on the supply side of the prostitution equation, interviewing sex workers and trying to understand how women get into the business.
But good data on johns does exist, both from men who have been arrested for soliciting prostitutes and from large national surveys that ask people about their sexual experiences.
These representative surveys suggest that only about 1 percent of men in the United States visit prostitutes in any given year. About 16 percent of men have visited a prostitute in their lifetime, according to these results.
Because of the danger of underreporting by men reluctant to admit their prostitution-related activities, other researchers have used arrest data to extrapolate out the number of men frequenting prostitutes. Those studies estimate that about 2 percent to 4 percent of American men have visited a prostitute in the last year, said Devon Brewer of the Seattle-based consulting firm Interdisciplinary Scientific Research, who has conducted these studies.
Although johns make up a small portion of the population, large-scale studies show only a few differences between them and other men, Monto told LiveScience.
Occasional users — men usually caught after propositioning an undercover police officer — are slightly less likely to be married than the general population of American men (59.3 percent versus 44.2 percent, respectively, according to a study by Monto published in the journal Violence Against Women in 2004).
And if they are married, the marriage is more likely to be unhappy. Unsurprisingly, johns are more sexually liberal than men who don’t frequent prostitutes.
Military men are more likely to have visited prostitutes in their lifetime, likely due to both opportunity and professional culture, Monto said.
The Secret Service is a “militarized” subculture itself, Monto said, perhaps explaining the current allegations that the agents hired prostitutes during President Barack Obama’s recent trip to Colombia.
“It’s learned in these types of professional subcultures that involve travelling far from your soil. They also involve local economies that cater to service members,” Monto said.
Men who report more contact with prostitutes tend to report more sexual partners, more sexual activity, less happy marriages and more sexually liberal attitudes than men who report soliciting a prostitute just once.
Hobbyists or “sex tourists” — the kind of men who post on message boards that review call girls — tend to see frequenting prostitutes as a lifestyle and have much larger numbers of sex partners compared with occasional johns, Monto said.
In fact, the reasons why men visit prostitutes are rather unsurprising, according to Monto.
“If I were to take a group of 30 people and ask them to guess the top 10 reasons men seek out prostitutes, they would be correct,” Monto said.
In other words, the motivations you’ve heard are true: Some men visit prostitutes because they want more sex or a different kind of person than their regular partner. Others are lonely. Still others are socially awkward and have trouble on the typical dating scene.