Research Spotlight

Are Men Who Buy Sex Different from Men Who Do Not?: Exploring Sex Life Characteristics Based on a Randomized Population Survey in Sweden

Charlotte Deogan et al.

Archives of Sexual Behavior (2020), doi:10.1007/s10508-020-01843-3.

Key Takeaway:

A study of 6,048 Swedish men found that frequent pornography users were 3 times more likely to pay for sex, showing how pornography use drives demand for prostitution. Risk factors that increased odds of buying sex among Swedish men included dissatisfaction with their sex life (1.7x), having less sex than they would like to (2.8x), and ever having looked for or met sex partners online (5x). The generation of Swedish men growing up with the Nordic prostitution model, which criminalizes the purchase of sex, buy sex at half the rate of older generations.

Study Highlights

This study of 6,048 Swedish men (ages 16-84 years) used a randomized population-based survey to estimate prevalence of sex buying in Sweden and to determine factors associated with having paid for sex. The study reported the following:

  • 9.5% of Swedish men reported ever having paid for sex in their lifetimes. Broken down by age groups, 4.8% of men ages 16-29, 9.9% of men ages 30-44, 11% of men ages 45-64, and 11.4% of men ages 65-84 had ever paid for sex. Only 0.4% of women had ever purchased sex, revealing that the purchase of sex in Sweden is overwhelmingly a male activity.
    • In comparison, a U.S. study reported that 4% of the adult male population had purchased sex within the past three years (unfortunately, a lifetime rate of male sex buying behavior was not provided).1 Other research based on a large convenience sample has found that 20% of U.S. males have purchased sex at least once in their lifetimes.2
  • This study found no association between sex buying and education level.
  • Men with the lowest income level (percentile 1-20) showed increased risk of buying sex compared to men with the highest income level (percentile 81-100); 12% of men with the lowest income level had ever paid for sex, compared to 7.6% of men with the highest income level. This finding conflicts with previous research (Priebe & Svedin, 2011,3 Milrod & Monto, 20174) which found that sex buyers were more likely to have high incomes. The reasons for this may relate to differences in the participants of the different studies. For instance, Priebe & Svedin’s study utilized an online panel which in Sweden tend to be disproportionately represented by individuals with higher incomes, while the sample used by Deogan et al. (2020) is likely to represent the full spectrum of the population.
  • The odds of ever having paid for sex were 1.7 times more likely for men who were dissatisfied with their sex life, 2.8 times more likely for men who reported having less sex than they would like to, and 5 times more likely for men who had ever looked for or met sex partners online.
  • Men who were frequent pornography users, characterized as watching pornography “daily or almost daily” or “3-5 times a week,” were 3 times more likely to have ever paid for sex.

Poor sex life satisfaction, high online sexual activity, and frequent pornography use were all significantly associated with sex buying behaviors. This study shows the correlation of these factors in driving demand. Men who had less sex than they would like to, which included lacking a sex partner, wanting more sexual partners, not having sex often enough, and/or not having sex in the way they would like to, were more likely to purchase sex than those who were satisfied with their sex life. Results also revealed that sex buyers used the Internet/mobile apps for sexual activity more than men who do not buy sex.

Commentary

While not addressed by the authors, this study demonstrates a likely intersection/overlap between pornography use, sex buying, and sexual dissatisfaction. Pornography use has been linked to less sexual and relationship satisfaction in more than 80 studies. For instance, a nationally-representative, longitudinal study on married couples found that frequent pornography consumption at Wave 1 (2006) was strongly and negatively associated with sexual satisfaction at Wave 2 (2012)—the negative impact on marriages being highest among men who consumed pornography at high rates (once a day or more).5 Thus, pornography use could be playing an even greater role in men’s sex buying behavior by fueling their underlying sexual dissatisfaction.

Also of importance, this study estimated the prevalence of male sex buying behavior in Sweden where such activity has been criminalized since 1999. It is noteworthy that among the younger generation of Swedish males, those aged 16-29, only 4.8% had ever paid for sex (less than half the percentage of any other age group they examined). While this study does not settle the question, it raises the possibility that Sweden’s emphasis on criminalization of male sex buying behavior is having a deterrent effect. However, it is also possible that other factors such as lower disposable incomes among younger men account for some or all of the age difference in sex buying.

Footnotes

  1. Dominique Roe-Sepowitz, Stephanie Bontrager, Justin T. Pickett, et al., “Estimating the Sex Buying Behavior of Adult Males in the United States: List Experiment and Direct Question Estimates” Journal of Criminal Justice 63 (2019): 41-48, doi: 10.1016/j.jcrimjust.2019.04.005.
  2. Demand Abolition, Who Buys Sex? Understanding and Disrupting Illicit Market Demand, November 2018, https://www.demandabolition.org/who-buys-sex/ (accessed March 30, 2021).
  3. Gisela Priebe and Carl Göran Svedin, “Sӓlja och köpa sex I Sverige 2011. Förekomst, hӓlsa och attityder: Delrapport 1 [To sell and buy sex in Sweden]. Linköping University Electronic Press.
  4. Christine Milrod and Martin Monto, “Older Male Clients of Female Sex Workers in the United States,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 46, no. 6 (2017): 1867–1876, doi: 10.1007/s10508-016-0733-3.
  5. Samuel Perry, “Does Viewing Pornography Reduce Marital Quality over Time? Evidence from Longitudinal Data,” Archives of Sexual Behavior (2016), doi: 10.1007/s10508-016-0770-y.

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