Jul 21

Wait a Second – am I a John?

A recent article from Newsweek (that I’d recommend everyone read) outlines a study that examined characteristics of the men who, according to the article, buy sex. When I think “buy sex,” think of paying a prostitute. That’s just what it is. I guess I can also understand the classification of going to strip clubs and/or purchasing dances as “buying sex,” even though it’s not the first thing that comes to my mind. However, the authors of the study are quoted in the Newsweek piece as saying:

“We had big, big trouble finding nonusers,” Farley says. “We finally had to settle on a definition of non-sex-buyers as men who have not been to a strip club more than two times in the past year, have not purchased a lap dance, have not used pornography more than one time in the last month, and have not purchased phone sex or the services of a sex worker, escort, erotic masseuse, or prostitute.”

The part of this description that I don’t really understand is the pornography stipulation. I’ve never thought of porn as buying sex, but maybe that’s because I never pay for it? In this day in age, it’s so easy to get free porn that it feels almost like just another feature of the internet, like Facebook. This piece got me thinking a little bit – by watching porn (more than once a month, thank you very much scientific article) am I somehow supporting the same system that subjects so many women to the emotional and physical trauma that comes with being a prostitute?


To answer that question: I don’t know. I’d like to think not. The Newsweek article focused on the tragedy of human trafficking, an issue that is still very much a problem today. Men and boys get trafficked too, but the majority of people who are kidnapped and sold into sex slavery are women. When I go onto youporn and watch some grainy amateur film for forty-five seconds, am I perpetuating the demand for purchasable sex? I believe that porn objectifies all parties involved, not just women. So maybe I can forgive myself since my actions objectify and demean not only women, but also men.

I might be wrong, though. The people who star in porn might have faced down the same economic realities as people who have turned to prostitution. In many cases, the decision to sell sex is made from an economic standpoint instead of nymphomania or insatiability. I don’t always watch amateur porn. Even if I don’t pay for it, does using it at all bolster the clout of the same industry and mindset that leads to prostitution?

This classification as using porn as the same as buying sex has obviously got me thinking, but I have no answers. I’d like to defend porn since it’s a great tool and it doesn’t (have to) involve anyone except for me. But if the line for “buying” sex is providing money or support to people who make a living off of other people having sex, then I guess porn should be the same as prostitution. Except prostitutes are far more likely than porn stars (and everyone else) to be killed on the job so I don’t have to feel bad about that.

It’s a fascinating concept. Maybe I’m a john. That is that weird.



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  1. Chris Houdlette

    This is an interesting topic, the relationship between pornography consumption and buying sex in other contexts. I think what I am not clear about are the main reasons that people venture to go the extra step and purchase the services of a prostitute. I also feel like it is difficult to lump all prostitutes together in one category as there are so many variations from forced sex slaves to exclusive, expensive escorts. I just wonder what psychologically drives people to purchase these services as sexual desires are informed in many ways by notions of power, race, economic status etc. I think I would need a better understanding of why people use prostitutes to understand these relationships.

    Interesting stuff!

    1. JuliasThoughts

      Actually one of the more interesting findings summarized in the Newsweek piece was that people who purchase sex are more likely to commit all kinds of crime, and also enjoy the “right” they feel it gives them to abuse women and treat them like objects instead of people. I think sometimes people who purchase sex seem not to do so because they can’t get sex, but rather because they pay for the privilege of treating a woman like a thing.

  2. MRB

    Does this mean I am buying sex when I purchase a pack of condoms?

    It’s too early in the morning to do the research and guesstimate motives, but I can’t imagine that the researchers felt like the pornography criterion was a reasonable one. It kind of smells like a situation where they wanted to get no result. I’m a project manager for the g’mnt and I can guarantee that from time to time, we get forced to do projects that we don’t want to see implemented and therefore sandbag the inputs to make it look like a bad idea, so it wouldn’t be shocking to find out that is what happened here.

  3. Nonplayer

    Porn is the only thing on the above list I’ve participated in, and I’ve never paid a cent for it except for the Playboy I bought myself as a novelty when I turned 18.

    So, by pirating/watching porn online do you support the porn industry? I guess sort of — YouPorn, Tube8, TnAFlix — these porn aggregating websites do make money from advertising, though I’m not sure any of it directly trickles back to the porn stars? I’m not totally sure how those sites work in terms of how people get paid.

    And, I dunno, at least in America, where all the porn I watch seems to come from, I feel like there are always other options. My opinion is going to be biased, as I’m a male who was raised in an upper-middle class family with a good education, but even I’ve worked a retail job in this miserable economy. I have a hard time feeling like anyone was “forced” into doing porn, at least in America. Maybe it’s a hard industry to leave? Maybe I’m defending it because I do enjoy porn on a semi-regular basis?

  4. giantcowofdoom

    As a person who has purchased porn on numerous occasions, but has never even been inside a strip club, I think porn is a very different animal from these other things.

    While a lot of porn pays women very poorly and exploits them, there are sites like girlsoutwest.com, which are created and produced entirely by women. Other examples of positive pornography can be found in the excellent Feminist Porn Awards from Goodforher.com.

    I think one can watch porn as long as you bear in mind what is going into the production. When you randomly google search for porn a lot of the stuff that comes up can be pretty misogynistic and degrading, but that doesn’t mean the medium is self is bad, just that there is a lot of bad porn out there, and that you have to be an active consumer and search out porn that treats its actresses properly.

    In conclusion:

    relevant part starts at 1:20 into video

  5. Helka

    Porn does involve other people except for you. It involves the women (and men) involved in making it. That stuff really happened to real people.

  6. Helka

    Also, Nonplayer, free porn is made by the same people who sell the not free stuff, as a way of funneling users towards the paying kind. Doesn’t work on everyone, but works on enough people that the industry is a multi-billion dollar one.
    Porn performers get paid a fee for each job. They don’t get royalties. The money from sales goes to the producers and distributors of the product.
    I think, and I am glad you realise this, that you are defending it because the idea of people being in porn because they have no other options is unpleasant. But it is the case, unfortunately. Most women (men is a different story most of the time) that end up in porn do so because they have very reduced options in life.

  1. On Pornsick Bastards « smashesthep

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