What we know about men who buy sex

Earlier this month, ABC’s Lateline dedicated a segment to exploring Sweden’s solution to prostitution and trafficking. The ‘Nordic model’ criminalises the demand for commercial sexual exploitation, decriminalizes those exploited, and provides exit programs for individuals in prostitution who want to leave the industry.


Click here to watch the video

Various human rights campaigners and organisations along with prostitution survivors advocate for the implementation of the Nordic model, with former US president Jimmy Carter calling it ‘the only workable solution’. Nordic legislation has been implemented in a growing number of countries around the world, and the European Parliament overwhelmingly voted in favour of it.

Gunilla Ekberg explained the rationale behind criminalizing buyers of sex and decriminalizing the sellers: 

“One of the cornerstones of Swedish policies against prostitution and trafficking in human beings is the focus on the root cause, the recognition that without men’s demand for and use of women and girls for sexual exploitation, the global prostitution industry would not be able to flourish and expand.”

While there are countless debates over the notion of ‘choice’ for women and children in the sex trade, largely missing from these discussions is the role of men who make choices to buy women and children for sexual exploitation.

As The Invisible Men Project suggests, “Let’s talk about his choices.”

Who are the men who buy sex?

Over half are married or in a de-facto relationship

The sex industry attempts to obscure the realities of prostitution, including its gendered nature. It is primarily men buying mainly women and children. According to Detective Inspector Simon Haggstrom of the Stockholm Police Prostitution Unit, in the 15 years since buying sex has been criminalized, they have not found a single woman paying for sex. While the media narrative tends to depict lonely or even disabled men who are just looking for some companionship or someone to talk to, a major international study found that over half were married or in a de-facto relationship.

One exited woman shed some light on why men in committed intimate relationships buy women. She said, "I spent 15 years servicing men and allowing them to use me any way they saw fit. I've had clients confess that the things they paid me to do were things they would never ask their wives, whom they respected, or their "child's mother" to do.

Many are well aware women are exploited

The study describes how men who pay to sexually exploit women are aware of the harms to women they exploit:

“The sex buyers had an extensive awareness of the intimate relationship between coercion, prostitution and trafficking."

"Many (41%) of the sex buyers used women who they knew were controlled by pimps at the time they used her."

"Both sex buyers and non-sex buyers evidenced extensive knowledge of the physical and psychological harms of prostitution."

"Two thirds of both the sex buyers and the non-sex buyers observed that a majority of women are lured, tricked, or trafficked into prostitution."

"Many of them had an awareness of the economic coercion and lack of alternatives in women’s entry into prostitution."

"Almost all of the sex buyers and non-sex buyers shared the opinion that minor children are almost always available for prostitution in bars, massage parlours, escort and other prostitution in Boston.”

But this awareness didn’t stop them:

“The knowledge that women have been exploited, coerced, pimped or trafficked failed to deter sex buyers from buying sex.”

They know what would deter them

The men surveyed agreed that the most effective deterrents to buying sex would be being placed on a sex offender registry, public exposure, significant fines and jail time.

Progress under the Nordic model 

Since Sweden's legislation criminalising the buying of sex, considerable progress has been made. According to research from the Nordic Gender Institute, the number of men buying sex has decreased from 13.6% in 1996 to 7.9% in 2008. Street prostitution in Sweden has halved while in neighbouring countries such as Norway and Denmark it is estimated to be three times higher. Police have intercepted phone correspondence between pimps and traffickers who now regard Sweden as an unattractive market and suggest Denmark, Germany or Holland (where prostitution is legal) as alternatives. Reportedly, there has been a cultural shift in Sweden where it is no longer considered acceptable to purchase another person. 

As proponents of the Nordic model attest, we cannot oppose sex trafficking of women and children and support the commercial sexual exploitation of women and children that is prostitution. Sex trafficking would cease to exist if men stopped buying women. There can never be gender equality while women are commodities to be bought and sold.

How men who buy sex regard women, in their own words 

Click here to read men's comments about prostituted women *warning: explicit content, may be triggering* 


Lateline: Sweden's Laws protect prostitutes while dismantling their trade

The Guardian: Why men use prostitutes

Comparing Sex Buyers with men who don't buy sex 

Targeting the sex buyer

The Ban against the Purchase of Sexual Services: An evaluation 1999-2008

10 myths about prostitution, trafficking and the Nordic model

Showing 21 reactions

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  • @CollectiveShout tweeted this page. 2016-08-27 17:17:44 +1000
  • commented 2015-05-24 23:38:56 +1000
    Thank you Melinda – can you extend your services to the rest of my life too?! xx
  • commented 2015-05-24 23:17:52 +1000
    Stephen, Vicki has requested that the conversation with you come to an end, please respect her wishes and move on.
  • commented 2015-05-24 22:13:07 +1000
    Hi stephen, so by your words we can neither prove nor disprove this assertion as the research doest tell us number of women that start in prostitution under 18. I think we have to agree to disagree. Most women that are anti prostitution are so because of their experiences at the hands of male supremacists, they have suffered real and prolonged male hate crime, either in the home or on the streets. Most men dont want to admit that the ideology of male supremacy leads a number of men to believe they are above the law and that women and children are beneath its protection, and that the bro code will protect them should they get caught raping a women or child. This bro code is at work right now. You are taking me as a liar or wrong until i can prove im right. But no evidence i have will ever be quite good enough for bros. This is why the polices track record on male violence against women and children reeks of discrimination and looking the other way. The gov wont fund research into male hate crime against women and children as it is a vote loser amongst men who like the situation just the way it is. And the deaths of women and children go on. I cant prove in any meaningful way what i know because you havent experienced this violence and you dont believe those who have. We dont have the money to research what we all know by experience, and male govs wont fund it either, hell they dont even say that dv is a hate crime, same as harrassment at work or on the street. Lets leave it there.
  • commented 2015-05-24 21:39:16 +1000
    I completely agree that prostituting a 13/14/15 year old is rape. It’s a shocking crime and anyone caught doing it should go to jail.

    This however in no way proves that the majority of those engaged in commercial sex started at the age of 13. I took a look at the link you sent me. It makes a series of assertions, with citations. However, when you follow the citations they don’t actually support the case. The reference in regard to age is the Estes and Weiner study. But that study DOES NOT claim that the average age of entry into prostitution is 13. Rather it says that this is the average age of entry for those engaged in prostitution WHILE UNDERAGE.

    This study has some serious flaws, as pointed out in the link I shared, and even its lead author has said it should not be relied on as a “head count” (see here http://www.politifact.com/oregon/statements/2013/mar/02/diane-mckeel/Is-average-age-entry-sex-trafficking-between-12-an/)

    But let’s ignore those. Even if the study is valid, all it says is that those who start selling sex before they are 18 have an average age of 13 (give or take a bit). But it doesn’t say whether they are 1%, 10%, 50% or 90% of those selling sex in total.

    But unless 100%, or very close to it, start while underage, then the claim that this represents the average starting age of the total is completely bogus. The fact that an NGO quotes the figure unfortunately speaks badly of that NGO, rather than giving credibility to the figure.
  • commented 2015-05-23 04:37:41 +1000
    Thanks Melinda, a further link to those that come to this discussion and believe that prostitution doesn’t start on average for girls aged 13 follows:


    Prostituting a 13/14/15 year old is rape, no histrionics needed, its the law.
  • commented 2015-05-22 18:56:24 +1000
    “danielle” both yours and Aarons comments were deleted due to the harassment towards Vicki. Apologetics for child exploitation and lowering the age of consent are not welcome here. I’m sure the sex industry would welcome your arguments, take it elsewhere.
  • commented 2015-05-22 18:09:44 +1000
    I am shocked as to how my comments, just because they didn’t conform to the existing opinion “a la vicki” have been deleted/censored. WHY?? Are we not encouraging women to speak up? Just because my opinion differs does not mean it has to be deleted. Everyone has an opinion. I was using basic biological facts to substantiate my discussion. As I have always maintained we need to be as objective as possible. That is the only way to be wise and to then base your stance on something tangible and with firm biological basis. I would urge that my posts/comments be reinstated. If as a girl my comments are going to be stifled by women owning this site, how on earth are we going to make a collective stance and get support from other women. I for one want to discuss and make sure everyone is sure of their facts. Unfortunately I don’t see that. All I notice is emotional garbage with half baked stats. Then when one makes a comment that differs from Vicki’s comments and opinions, the comments get deleted. Very sad indeed. If we don’t support each other and allow free speech, why do you expect others to respect us and treat us any better. Women are attacking women, so why expect and demand any better from others? Balance, objectivity and logic seem to escape some.
  • commented 2015-05-22 12:48:47 +1000
  • commented 2015-05-21 23:44:07 +1000
    As i said, im not going to waste time debating with an mra and child abuse proponent.
  • commented 2015-05-21 20:23:08 +1000
    A sexual relationship with a child by an older man is rape – that is the law, not me sensationalising things. The law recognises that such a relationship has huge imbalances of power built into it which is why it is seen as abuse. Children do not have the experience to know if they are being manipulated or made to do things that they don’t feel comfortable with. I was 13 too once and was targeted by a 32 year old married man that I worked with in a Saturday job. He used drugs and his age to exploit me – I simply didn’t have the life skills to counter his constant twisting of everything I said and did into a come on to him. The law recognises this which is why the responsibility is on the older person not to sleep with children by stating that it is statutory rape. The child cannot make an informed choice because they dont have the experience to understand the emotional ramifications for themselves, even if they understand the basics of biology.
  • commented 2015-05-21 19:28:30 +1000
    Most girls hit puberty in the UK around 12/13 Danielle, by your choice of words you seem to be suggesting that sex with children after puberty is ok – 13/14/15. Is that what you think? The Western world has legal brothels in Germany where very young women from Eastern Europe are sent to work as prostitutes to pay off family loans made to their fathers. This is called indebted labour and is a form of slavery. If you look at any Johns site, you will see man after man stating that he’s paid for a women so that he can do what he likes with her for that time, even if what he wants to do breaks the law. He is paying for human rights to be suspended for that period of service, which is why prostituted women and children suffer so much violence. Im not going to get into a long discussion with an MRA about the use of slave labour and violence against women and children in the sex industry – the fact that there is a huge public inquiry underway in the UK about this very subject vis a vis Rotherham, Cyril Smith and fellow MPs, policemen etc – Jimmy Saville and how many people covered up male child abuse by labelling the victims sluts, bitches and whores, is well known. Child and women sex abuse survivors do not need ‘moderate’ women calling them liars when the industrial scale of male abuse is beginning to be revealed.
  • commented 2015-05-21 02:16:01 +1000
    Sorry Stephen, Object’s website is down. Traditionally the justice service has termed underage girls that are sexually exploited and abused by men as whores or fallen women. There were homes for them in Ireland where they were put into what was described as concentration camp conditions by the UN and then ended up in prostitution on release due to total abandonment by family and state. The same was true in the UK where underage girls that were bought by gifts etc by men were locked up in the mental health service as delinquents. 80,000 of them were released back into society in the 80s as part of Care in the Community, very often after a life of incarceration. Just recently the girls in Rotherham who were being exploited by men were termed prostitutes by police and the children’s agencies that were meant to be looking after them. There is no support service for girls that are exposed to sexual abuse by men in return for gifts and they are generally shunned by society so they enter prostitution. I went to the largest female school in the UK back in the Seventies and there were guys that used to hang around outside the school gates offering girls joints. If you stopped and chatted and tried the drugs, more was offered in the guise of friendship, as well as drink and gifts. Older girls that had been taken in by these guys often were in the back of their cars, very made up, often looking really out of it. The amount of children being exploited for sex by men is only just beginning to really be looked into by male run justice systems who up til now have simply locked up the children or dismissed them as prostitutes, taking an active part in the shunning. So my experience is first hand, as is the majority of womens making these allegations as we are the ones that have either fallen foul of this as children or work with survivors that were recruited at school. I cant recall the organisation that cited the 13 year old average age of entry, I think it might have been Eaves who work with prostituted women and children.
  • commented 2015-05-21 00:51:17 +1000
    Well I tried Googling “object fact checker” and “object fact checker prostitution” and couldn’t find the leaflet.

    OTOH, what I could find very easily was this http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/09/is-one-of-the-most-cited-statistics-about-sex-work-wrong/379662/

    In other words the claim is attributed to a scientific paper, which actually said 13 was the average age of entry for UNDER AGE girls in the sex industry, NOT those women as a whole, and even that badly stuffed up its stats so the average is a fair bit higher.

    Moreover, the fact that police hardly ever find girls that young selling sex for money might be a bit of a clue that the stat is rubbish, at least in the developed world.

    I mostly stay out of debates about the sex industry, because I think whatever is decided it should be by those who have some direct experience, which I don’t. But I’m appalled by some of the blatantly false claims that get made, and I am struck by the fact that they predominantly (although not exclusively) come from one side. If you can’t make a case without making things up, are you sure you’re right?
  • commented 2015-05-20 22:25:14 +1000
    It was on an Object fact checker regarding prostitution and was sourced at the bottom of the pamphlet. If you look on their website the source should be on the bottom.
  • commented 2015-05-20 22:16:53 +1000
    “Given the average entry age for a girl into prostitution is 13”. Do you have a source for that? I see this claim a lot, but no one ever seems to want to back it up with actual evidence, presumably because when you think about it for more than 30 seconds it is obviously false.
  • commented 2015-05-20 21:59:24 +1000
    Danielle, men using prostitutes are not buying the right to have sex, they are buying the right to own a woman for a limited amount of time to do with as they wish. Hence the violence directed at the women that are prostituted. Given the average entry age for a girl into prostitution is 13, if you remove child rape and trafficking out of the equasion you will have very few women left in prostitution as those are the main recruitment tools by the sex industry. If an industry relys on rape of children and forced slavery to keep its workforce, then perhaps you need to focus on the needs of the many rather than the rights of a few.
  • commented 2015-04-19 00:52:20 +1000
    Aaron Butler – no one is forcing men to have sex – why not just go your own way and wank each other off. It will be no loss to the planet and your blood line will end there. Job done.
  • commented 2015-04-18 06:56:29 +1000
    The nordic model cant come soon enough. Men who buy sex are the demand that drives slavery. Its about time the law started focusing on them and their pathological disregard for human rights of women and children.
  • commented 2015-04-14 03:43:22 +1000
    If you buy something you own it forever. The use of the term buy here is a clear indication that the author thinks that the client has some permanent ownership over the woman. That’s a pretty typical way for misogynists to think – they’ve had sex with a woman once and somehow she forever bears their stamp. But I find it surprising in people who claim to be empowering women. (It’s revolting whoever expresses it).

    Slavery is one of the worst crimes imaginable, and slavery in the sex industry is presumably even more damaging than in other areas. A man who has sex with a woman forced into the sex industry is committing a terrible crime, but he is still not buying that woman.
  • commented 2015-04-14 00:03:54 +1000
    David On Tour are you seriously equating hairdressing to prostitution? When does hairdressing or any other job expose someone to possible STD’s, pregnancy, violence & social stigma? So to you, cutting hair, being a taxi driver, a cook etc. is the same as banging random strangers for money? And what of the ones that are trafficked? In that case you are 100% buying someone. And to anyone saying that the trafficked are the minority, the voices of the voiceless are silent. No one will ever know their number which is much higher than what has ever been reported.

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