Conceiving of Sex as a Commodity: A Study of Arrested Customers of Female Street Prostitutes

Article excerpt

Abstract: Framing prostitution as an economic exchange, this paper evaluates some of the consequences of conceiving of sex as a commodity rather than as an aspect of an intimate interpersonal relationship among the customers of prostitutes. Subjects were 700 men arrested while trying to hire street prostitutes. Questionnaires were administered prior to intervention programs designed to discourage re-offense in San Francisco, California (N=588); Portland, Oregon (N=82); and Las Vegas, Nevada (N=30). Significant predictors of conceiving of sex as a commodity included being unmarried, having served in the military, and more frequent visits to prostitutes. Conceiving of sex as a commodity significantly predicted rape myth acceptance, attraction to violent sexuality, less frequent use of condoms while with prostitutes, support for prostitution, and the attitude that prostitution is positive for women. We argue that that conceiving of sex as a commodity has a number of negative implications for the men involved, their sexual partners, and for gender relations in general.

Keywords: Prostitution; Customers; Male Sexuality

Though researchers and the popular media have shown great interest in prostitution and prostitutes themselves, very little attention has been paid to their male customers. Shrage (1992:42) notes the "relative absence of scientific studies concerned with the motivation and social characteristics of the customers of prostitutes." The scant research that does exist has tended to focus on health-related issues (Freund, Lee, and Leonard, 1991; Freund, Leonard and Lee, 1989) or has relied on small qualitative samples (Armstrong, 1978; Holzman and Pines, 1982; Prasad, 1999) or second-hand accounts (Boyle, 1995; Diana, 1985). There are several explanations for this neglect of male customers. Davis (1993) argues that the neglect of customers by researchers and policy-makers reflects a sexual double-standard in which women are seen as responsible for men's deviance. Prasad (1999) argues that the neglect of customers is consistent with the assumption that demand for prostitution is natural and inevitable among men. Other scholars emphasize the difficulty of collecting data on customers, who often make an effort to conceal their activities (McKeganey and Barnard, 1996; Special Committee on Prostitution and Pornography, 1985).

Recently there has been increased interest in men's contribution to the problems associated with prostitution. Several communities now sponsor workshops or classes for men arrested while trying to hire prostitutes. The best known of these "john schools" is San Francisco's First Offenders Prostitution Program (FOPP), which sometimes has classes of over 50 men (Monto, 2000; 2004). This study employs data collected from the men attending these classes. This unprecedented access to a previously hidden population should allow us to step beyond conceptions of prostitution customers based on anecdotal accounts or theoretical assumptions.

Framing prostitution as an economic exchange, this article evaluates the consequences of conceiving of sex as a commodity rather than an aspect of an intimate interpersonal relationship among the arrested customers of female street prostitutes. We explore factors associated with the development of a conception of sex as a commodity and the consequences that such an orientation has on customers' attitudes toward prostitution, prostitutes, sexuality, and violence. While recognizing that conceiving of sex as a commodity is not an inevitable outcome of patronizing prostitutes, we argue that this orientation has a number of negative implications for the men involved, their sexual partners, and for gender relations in general.

PROSTITUTION AS AN ECONOMIC EXCHANGE

Framing prostitution as an economic exchange provides a potentially rich source of insight into the nature of prostitution and the larger contexts in which the prostitution exchange takes place. …