The men who sleep with prostitutes
BBC News Magazine Highlights

The conviction of Steve Wright for the murder of five prostitutes in Suffolk has again thrown the light on prostitution. The debate about its legal and social status is as current as ever, but what do the men who visit prostitutes think about what they do?

Patrick, Pete and Mark have some things in common. They are all successful, professional men, who work long hours and have to travel away from home. But what really unites them is that they all use prostitutes and are utterly unashamed about it. Patrick, an IT worker in his 50s, dislikes the coverage of the issue. He dislikes the pieces written by feminists like Julie Bindel in the Guardian, who describes prostitution as "abuse". Patrick also dislikes the tabloids. "They hate punters and want to bring in laws making the man a criminal," he says. "Take the Sun newspaper, they sell sex but as soon as they find someone being caught out with a prostitute, there's double standards." Despite the negative coverage, there is not a granule of remorse in Patrick's voice. He cannot see any reason why there should be. "I've been totally monogamous in my life, with one partner. I wanted to know what is it like to have sex with somebody who isn't your partner."

After his first encounter, in an Edinburgh sauna, Patrick felt happy. "I was quite elated afterwards. From the sexual side, which was better physically than what I would normally get at home, and also the conversation with the woman." He does not appear to have a problem leading a double life with his partner. "She doesn't know. I don't believe it's changed my relationship with her in any way. To some extent I feel closer to her. "I don't have to demand things that maybe I was demanding from her, like oral sex and things like that. She didn't like doing that. Now I no longer have to ask."

Management consultant Pete, 40, from Oxfordshire, is blunt about his motivation for buying sex. "I've not had sex with my wife for at least five years," he says. "In simple terms, it's how I get sex. I've not noticed a change in our relationship at all. "There is no emotional involvement [with the prostitutes]. At the risk of sounding cruel and heartless I don't think I do have a moral issue with it. If I did I wouldn't have done it."

Having visited prostitutes for 18 months, Pete says he was attracted while surfing on the internet. "I've been leading up to it; using pornography and looking at various websites. Rather than being a fantasy it was someone you could have sex with."

Mark says he used to spend a lot of time trying to pick women up in clubs and bars. Now the 31-year-old business consultant from London doesn't have the time.
"It is a mixture of the convenience and the time aspect. I work very, very long hours." He recognises there is a stigma, but it is one he utterly rejects. "Some of my friends are fully aware that I visit prostitutes. Many of them do themselves. There is this fear that it is in some way abusive. I would disagree with the idea that nobody chooses to do it for a living."

Patrick views it as a totally mundane transaction between adults. They seem to enjoy my company, several have moved onto more of a friendship aspect
Mark "I see us as adults. I want to pay and someone wants to sell. As long as I'm not hurting them in any way what harm am I doing. I'm distributing my wealth to people who don't have it."

During his trial, Wright explained that he moved from visiting massage parlours to using street prostitutes because they were cheaper. Patrick, Mark and Pete say they only use parlours or escorts. The trio all use a website where "punters" - the men who visit prostitutes - go to discuss their encounters. On these message boards the implication is that there are two classes of punter. Pete suggests the world of street prostitution is "probably the grubbiest, grimiest bit". Patrick says he is not tempted, saying it is "risky and not comfortable". Mark's view is also revealing: "There is a slightly exploitative element to street prostitution."

Instead, the men speak of forming friendships with the women in the parlours and saunas. "There's always a lot of girls that I know," says Patrick. "We have a good camaraderie. I treat them as my friends and I feel to some extent they confide and talk to me." Mark says he enjoys similar friendships. "They seem to enjoy my company, several have moved onto more of a friendship aspect. There are a couple who have phoned me for advice on tax matters."

And there is one aspect of the media coverage that all three men find irritating - the idea that trafficked or coerced women make up a significant proportion of prostitutes. Patrick, Mark and Pete say they have never encountered a trafficked woman and that conversations with prostitutes lead them to believe it is rare. "The perception is that everybody is trafficked," says Mark. "The figures bandied around for the numbers of trafficked women are absurd." Mark's position is clear. If he did meet a woman he suspected was trafficked he would do something about it, there and then.

"I've never come across one," says Patrick. "All the people I've seen, they have always been happy, we have talked beforehand." All three men are, needless to say, opposed to the Swedish model that is now gaining currency in the UK where, the act of buying sex is criminalised. "Like any other form of prohibition it just doesn't work," says Mark. "The more you criminalise, the more criminals can profit." The real root of prostitution is in the economic system and not the criminal laws, says Patrick. "There are a lot of single mothers who feel that's the only way they can make money. If you want to get rid of prostitution the way is to reform the welfare system."

Nearly one in 10 men pay for sex
Men aged between 25 and 34 are most likely to use prostitutes
Men who pay for sex are most likely to be single
In UK brothels 85% of prostitutes are from overseas
Source: University College London and Home Office

Sample of Reader Comments:
...the whole point about decriminalising prostitution is so that organised criminal gangs don't profit from it!
Sean, Belfast

I have a friend who works in a 'massage parlour' to supplement her income. Sometimes she enjoys her work and sometimes she doesn't. But she is unskilled and it pays better than her 'regular' job in a shop. Obviously women who are trafficked or otherwise exploited should be protected. But surely the clients know when a prostitute is unwilling as opposed to making the choice? If those who used trafficked girls were prosecuted for rape, then the demand would dry up and the business would go back to willing sex workers such as my friend.
Abi, Brighton

I have on occasion used what is euphemistically called an 'escort service'. The last lady was an NHS nurse supplementing a very poor income. Did she give the impression of being 'abused'? No. We had a nice bottle of wine, a good laugh and afterwards both went off happy. Legalise and control - don't drive it further underground where women who choose (many more than forced into it) are at risk from nutters.
Na Breithne, London

These men do not seem to be able to make the connection between themselves and trafficked women. Their "lawful" purchase of sexual services increases the overall demand for women in the sex industry which in turn creates the demand for trafficked women. I view the buyer of sex as the ultimate perpetrator.

Real sexual relationships are not hard to find. There are plenty of adults of both sexes who are willing to have sex if someone treats them well, and asks. But there lies the problem. Some people do not want an equal, sharing relationship. They do not want to be nice. They do not want to ask. They like the power involved in buying a human being who can be made to do almost anything.
Louise, London

My sister started an escort agency a few years ago as a sideline to her main job, until it's now become her main job. Almost all of her girls are students, looking earn a bit of extra cash. She's friends with all of them, to the extent she goes on holiday with some of them. No one is exploiting them - they choose this as a way of making great money without too much risk.

She's never came in contact with organised crime, trafficked girls or anything other than the occasional 'weirdo' who her local police liaison officer is more than happy to hear about.
John, London

In this day and age, where pretty much anything goes and everything is accepted, on what basis is the government criminalizing prostitution? It is harmless business transaction between consenting adults. Why is it criminal because money is involved when the government would completely accept it if there was no money involved? There don't seem to be too many clear thinkers in government these days.

Prostitution is never going to be stopped and frankly I don't see anything wrong with it. The girls that work on the streets do so to fund a drug habit the parlours and agencies won't employ them. The street girls are the cheapest form of prostitution and just a very small percentage of this industry. In every hotel every night of the week women are working as prostitues with business men. Most of these women get paid around 150 an hour. The real problem is how to we solve the rampant drug problem this country has and stop women having to work on the streets.
Helene, Bristol

I have lived in the Far East, where prostitution is not seen as anything other than a service. It is an accepted part of the culture. I knew many of the girls as friends and for most of these, prostitution was a means to an end - they wanted out of their situation and this gave them financial means to do that. Personally I have never had the "need" to use the service, but I would have no moral problem if the need did arise.

This concept of the girls being exploited I think is rubbish - anybody that has to work for a living is being expoited by the owners of that company. If you wish to look at expolitation then look at the youngsters starting out in life being paid 4.25/hour (or less) for work that nobody else will do.
Gary, Farnborough

As was pointed out by one of your interviewees, criminalising the buying of sex will only create greater opportunities for criminals; whilst doing nothing to increase the safety of those women who make their living within the sex trade. The sole reason the "Swedish Model" is supposedly gaining currency in the UK is due to the fact that the public is being bombarded with propaganda; largely based on biased studies and tabloid scare stories, rather than being provided with the facts on the issue.

In reality, all independent studies indicate that the Swedish policy has been a failure, increased dangers to sex workers and done nothing to tackle the problem of trafficking.
Glen Parry, Manchester, UK

I'm single, 50, and consider myself fairly normal and attractive. But for whatever reasons, most women I try and chat up are not in the slightest bit interested in me - or just want me as their 'friend'. Usually the kind of friend that pays for everything. So I have used prostitutes several times, usually from websites, as otherwise I would not have had sex for years. These girls are all far more gorgeous (and youthful) than any woman I could go out with and offer a stupendous sexual experience - with none of the payback that I have had with girlfriends in the past. I have not got the impression that any of them have been unwilling or trafficked, but nearly all of them have been foreign. Sad to have to do this you might think, but true.
Steve, London, UK

There may be an element in this article of men justifying what others think is wrong, but as a happily married woman I would prefer my husband to visit a prostitute for sex than he have an affair for sex which might ruin my marriage because of his emotial involvement with another woman.
Hilary Davies, Portsmouth

I agree entirely with prostitution being illegal and the men being punished for it, that is not to say the women need to be somehow taken out of that life of exploitation and abuse, be it a jail sentence or a rehabilitation process. I highly disagree with the final comment, the welfare system needs to be vastly reduced, surely all the free money given to people who havn't the drive to get a real job fuels the desire to get some tax free pay by prostituting your body.
Peter Collinson, Dundee

You ask "How do [the men] justify it?". Why should they have to justify it? The majority of prostitutes are not trafficked, not violently forced into prostitution. They don't like the job? Most of us don't like our jobs. But, like them, we do it willingly and for the money. And we don't blame our customers for that.
Sandy, Reading

Do these men seriously believe that every penny they hand over goes to the women they encounter. Money is taken from these women by pimps or "escort agency fixers" much of it being used to fund organised crime. As for not coming across any trafficked women they are delusional if they think the women are going to tell them, these women are physically abused time and time again, they are mentally traumatised and live in terror of their abusers 24/7. Admit it, you are exactly what the press portray you as.
K, South Yorkshire

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