Ordinary or Peculiar Men? Comparing the Customers of Prostitutes With a Nationally Representative Sample of Men

Martin Monto, University of Portland
Christine Milrod

International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 2014, Volume 58, Issue 7, 802-820.

© The Author(s) 2013

Linked version is the final published version.


Recent media attention implies that prostitution seeking is widespread, an “ordinary” aspect of masculine sexual behavior. Other accounts suggest that customers are “peculiar,” characterized by distinct qualities, perversions, or psychological impairments. Using the nationally representative General Social Survey (GSS), this study demonstrates that prostitution seeking is relatively uncommon. Only about 14% of men in the United States report having ever paid for sex, and only 1% report having done so during the previous year. Furthermore, this study dissects whether customers are ordinary or peculiar by comparing a new sample of active customers who solicit sex on the Internet with an older sample of arrested customers, a sample of customers from the GSS, and a nationally representative sample of noncustomers. The customers of Internet sexual service providers differed greatly from men in general and also from other customers. The remaining samples of customers differed slightly from noncustomers in general. We argue for a balanced perspective that recognizes the significant variety among customers. There is no evidence of a peculiar quality that differentiates customers in general from men who have not paid for sex.