The answer (that is) according to Julie Bindel. Before I start can I just say that I don’t like the word “use” in that context. Visit is much better, but of course ‘visit’ doesn’t have the nasty connotations that ‘use’ does, so we won’t see Julie using it anytime soon.
Julie wrote another column for the Guardian yesterday. The title of which is exactly the same as the title of this blog. Unfortunately, I missed the deadline for comments, so I shall hold forth at you lot instead. 🙂
The subject of Julie’s latest article is a report on why men visit prostitutes. Although it has been undertaken by a group which includes members who believe that the only safe choice for women is lesbianism, I’m sure it isn’t at all biased (Where’s that SarcMark when I need it?).
I’ll deal with Julie’s article first and I’ll do my best not to wander off at a tangent (I’m not making any promises).
The reasons why many men pay for sex are revealed in the interviews that make up a major new piece of research
Translated: The reasons why the men they asked pay for sex. I would like to see how they worded their questions and whether anyone was quoted out of context.
‘I don’t get anything out of sex with prostitutes except for a bad feeling,” says Ben. An apparently average, thirtysomething, middle-class man, Ben had taken an extended lunchbreak from his job in advertising to talk about his experiences of buying sex. Shy and slightly nervous, he told me, “I am hoping that talking about it might help me work out why I do it.”
If that’s true, then poor old Ben probably shouldn’t be visiting prostitutes. Sounds like he has some problems/issues that he needs to work through. Having said that, who is he visiting? If he were to find a nice independent girl who was willing to sit and talk to him, then it could do him the world of good.
I, too, was hoping to understand his motives better. Ben was one of 700 men interviewed for a major international research project seeking to uncover the reality about men who buy sex. The project spanned six countries, and of the 103 customers we spoke to in London – where I was one of the researchers – most were surprisingly keen to discuss their experiences.
Yes Julie, I’m sure you were just dying to know their reasons. Just so long as they tallied with your pre-conceived ideas.
103 people? That’s all they could find in London? That doesn’t show a keenness in my view. I’m sure that 103 men visit girls in London and a damp Sunday in January. It puts me in mind of those TV adverts, when they say “8 out of 10 people said our product is marvellous!” So you think “Great stuff then”, until you spot the small print at the bottom of the screen which says: Based on a survey of 38 people. Not quite so convincing any more…
The men didn’t fall into obvious stereotypes. They were aged between 18 and 70 years old; they were white, black, Asian, eastern European; most were employed and many were educated beyond school level. In the main they were presentable, polite, with average-to-good social skills. Many were husbands and boyfriends; just over half were either married or in a relationship with a woman.
Not quite the axe wielding psychopaths you imagined then?
Research published in 2005 found that the numbers of men who pay for sex had doubled in a decade. The authors attributed this rise to “a greater acceptability of commercial sexual contact”, yet many of our interviewees told us that they felt intense guilt and shame about paying for sex. “I’m not satisfied in my mind” was how one described his feelings after paying for sex. Another told me that he felt “disappointed – what a waste of money”, “lonely still” and “guilty about my relationship with my wife”. In fact, many of the men were a mass of contradictions. Despite finding their experiences “unfulfilling, empty, terrible”, they continued to visit prostitutes.
Still no quotes from anyone who is completely comfortable with what they are doing. I can’t help but start to think that this survey attracted a certain type of chap. The few who are having problems. The guys who are visiting these girls for all the wrong reasons. The guys who feel bad because of what they do. The guys want somebody to fix them so that they don’t do ‘the bad thing’ anymore. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe it’s just selective quoting.
I interviewed 12 of the men, and found it a fascinating experience. One told me about his experience of childhood cruelty and neglect and linked this to his inability to form close relationships with anyone, particularly women. Alex admitted sex with prostitutes made him feel empty, but he had no idea how to get to know women “through the usual routes”. When I asked him about his feelings towards the women he buys he said that on the one hand, he wants prostitutes to get to know and like him and, on the other, he is “not under delusions” that the encounters are anything like a real relationship.
“I want my ideal prostitute not to behave like one,” he said, “to role-play to be a pretend girlfriend, a casual date, not business-like or mechanical. To a third person it looks like we’re in love.”
I felt compassion for Alex. No one had shown him how to form a bond with another human being and he was searching for something that commercial sex was never going to provide.
Now, while I would agree that this chap needs some sort of counselling to get over his ‘inability to form close relationships’. I can’t really see what harm he’s doing. He wants someone to cuddle up to, he wants to feel wanted and until he sorts himself out, at least he has access to some basic human warmth. In fact (as much as Julie would probably disagree), sometimes that first step can set a person like Alex on the path to a happy and fulfilling life.
But another of the interviewees left me feeling concerned. Darren was young, good-looking and bright; I asked him how often he thought the women he paid enjoyed the sex. “I don’t want them to get any pleasure,” he told me. “I am paying for it and it is her job to give me pleasure. If she enjoys it I would feel cheated.” I asked if he felt prostitutes were different to other women. “The fact that they’re prepared to do that job where others won’t, even when they’re skint, means there’s some capability inside them that permits them to do it and not be disgusted,” he said. He seemed full of a festering, potentially explosive misogyny.
At the first sign of that attitude he would be out the door. I don’t expect men to be all consumed with the amount of pleasure I get out of our meeting. In fact I don’t mind if they’re not particularly bothered whether I get any enjoyment at all, but to feel cheated if I enjoy it? Goodbye!
That last line is a classic though: “He seemed full of a festering, potentially explosive misogyny”? This from a woman who seems (to most) full of a festering, potentially explosive misandry.
When asked what would end prostitution, one interviewee laughed and said, “Kill all the girls.” Paul told me that it would take “all the men to be locked up”. But most of them told the researchers that they would be easily deterred if the current laws were implemented. Fines, public exposure, employers being informed, being issued with an Asbo or the risk of a criminal record would stop most of the men from continuing to pay for sex. Discovering the women were trafficked, pimped or otherwise coerced would appear not to be so effective. Almost half said they believed that most women in prostitution are victims of pimps (“the pimp does the psychological raping of the woman,” explained one). But they still continued to visit them.
Again, I’d like to see how these questions are worded and I want to know whether the men were quoted out of context.
Another said that he had “seen women with bruises, cuts and eastern European accents in locations where lots of trafficked women and girls are”. One man suspected that an African woman he had met was trafficked because “she was frightened and nervous. She told me she had been tricked. I had sex with her and she seemed fine with the sex. She asked me to help her, but I said there was little I could do. She might have been lying to me.”
One of the most interesting findings was that many believed men would “need” to rape if they could not pay for sex on demand. One told me, “Sometimes you might rape someone: you can go to a prostitute instead.” Another put it like this: “A desperate man who wants sex so bad, he needs sex to be relieved. He might rape.” I concluded from this that it’s not feminists such as Andrea Dworkin and myself who are responsible for the idea that all men are potential rapists – it’s sometimes men themselves.
A couple of fabulous examples of the human race, right there. Honestly, if you will include the dregs of society in your survey then don’t be surprised if they give you answers like that. Oh, hold on, I forgot, that’s exactly the type of answer you were looking for.
Hang on a minute though, who are these men visiting? Dodgy brothels? I’m sure they exist somewhere. Street girls? Either way, what they are doing is illegal already. It has nothing whatsoever to do with independent girls like myself, who are working legally and whom these researchers would bring down in order to ‘save’ the exploited girls.
Only 6% of the men we spoke to had been arrested for soliciting prostitutes.
So we are talking about street girls here?
To be continued…
Quote of the day:
The trouble with facts is that there are so many of them. – Samuel McChord Crothers