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Why So Many Guys in Relationships Pay for Sex

Though men who hire sex workers are sometimes stereotyped as misogynist villains or perverts, a recent study found that nearly half are in relationships and many crave an emotional bond.
Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta via Stocksy

New data shows that men who purchase sex aren't the villainous misogynists and perverts society sometimes frames them to be. Instead, researchers Susann Huschke and Dirk Schubotz found that many are family men seeking intimacy.

Huschke and Schubotz posted a questionnaire on escort websites and also sent it via email to escort site users. In total, 446 people answered their survey, 97 percent of whom were men. The majority (61 percent) were between the ages of 31 and 50. Nearly half (48 percent) were in a relationship of some kind—including marriage relationships.


Read more: People Explain Their Reasons for Cheating

"Among the respondents were farmers, doctors, civil servants, care workers, bank clerks, accountants, electricians and company directors," according to the study. Nearly all (85 percent) of the male respondents pay for sex with women. Per their findings, many "'prefer[red] to see only one or two escorts on a regular basis, as it allows friendship and trust to develop."

For instance, Nick, one of the subjects the researchers interviewed, said that he questioned the "social institution of marriage" and explained how his interactions with sex workers are more than intercourse. He often talks to the women he pays to sleep with. "Part of me will enjoy that almost more than the sex itself, that human contact," Nick said.

Respondents said that their top two favorite things about buying sex were being able to have multiple sexual partners (47 percent) and the ability to explore their sexuality (40 percent), but almost half (41 percent) were unhappy that they had to hide the fact they pay for sex. Thirty-five percent of respondents said they'd stop paying for sex if they were in a relationship—but that might not actually be true because, again, 48 percent already were.

Dr. Ian Kerner is a licensed psychotherapist and sexuality counselor who specializes in sex therapy and the author of the best-selling sex advice book She Comes First. "Sexless marriages are really quite rampant," Kerner said, pointing to the frequency with which people search Google the words "sexless marriage." Men, he explained, often cope with these flaccid relationships by hiring sex workers or seeking sexual gratification at "happy ending" massage parlors.


Monogamy is a funny line.

The interviews given by some of the respondents to Huschke and Schubotz's survey reflect this fact. Many said they don't have sex with their wives, which motivated them to buy sex. "If I had a good, active sex life at home, I definitely wouldn't be going to any escorts," Roger (one of the respondents) said, adding that "half the time I want to be cuddled, and hugged, intimately."

If a relationship is failing to sexually satisfy someone's intimacy needs, why would they stay? Kerner told Broadly that there are many reasons: Perhaps these men have children, or there is a financial bond too expensive to break, or it could be that they're totally satisfied by their partner in every way other than sex.

The reasons for paying for sex, as opposed to sleeping with someone else for free, are also many. Part of the appeal of transactional sex, Kerner said, is that such interactions are more simple and carry less baggage than an affair or "even a one-night stand." Some men he's worked with have rationalized their behavior: If intercourse is paid for, then does it really count as sex? Paid sex can also be a way for men to manage boredom or mental health issues like depression or anxiety, Kerner noted, adding that such behavior is often difficult to control. Patients who seek Kerner's help often want to regain control over their paid sex habit.

This behavior is sometimes the result of an inability to share one's self completely with a partner, Kerner explained. Some men seek paid sex because they can't be honest about some taboo part of their sexual identity. Kerner has worked with clients who have seen sex workers because they like to be dominated but are expected to play a dominant sexual role with their spouse, or because they're interested in having gay sex but are in a straight marriage, or because they like to wear women's lingerie.


"When there is an erotic conflict," Kerner said, "[men] will often pay for sex as a way of addressing that conflict." In Huschke and Schubotz's study, one interview subject identified as a heterosexual cross dresser and shared this aspect of his sexuality with escorts because he had tried sharing that part of himself with women he'd dated in the past, "but these [relationships] did not last."

Read more: People Explain Why They Stayed With Their Partners Who Cheated

In most of the scenarios that Kerner has encountered, the partner of the man who is paying for sex is unaware of the behavior. "Monogamy is a funny line," he said. Some of the straight married men with whom Kerner has worked have permission from their wives "to go to strip clubs, to go to massage parlors that include sexual gratification," or other various "non-monogomy agreements," but these rarely include paid sex.

Could such behavior be positive, or is it implicitly harmful? Sometimes men pay for sex during regular times away from home—for instance, if they travel for work. Their home life may be phenomenal, but they become "very lonely" and "very horny" while they're away, Kerner told me. Paid sex becomes a "transactional way of having their needs met," he said.

"Some guys will just go up to their hotel room and masturbate to porn—other guys will pay for sex. In that case, they would say that it has a very positive effect on the relationship, otherwise they might be having an affair," Kerner explained. But, as a therapist, he typically enters a patient's life "when there's a problem" and not when everything is going well. He can think of one client in particular who pays for gay sex but is married to a woman; she has agreed to let him see male sex workers. But this is just one case.

Kerner has worked with female partners who are coping with their husband's tendency to pay for sex. He describes relationships that have deteriorated as a result; in many cases, women become paranoid and feel they can no longer trust their husbands. "It's generally not only the sex with sex workers, but the secrecy around [that behavior]," Kerner explained. "In all of the cases I can think of, this is generally a source of distress."