Research Spotlight

Estimating the Sex Buying Behavior of Adult Males in the United States: List Experiment and Direct Question Estimates

Dominique Roe-Sepowitz, Stephanie Bontrager, Justin T. Pickett, et al.

Journal of Criminal Justice 63 (2019): 41-48, doi: 10.1016/j.jcrimjust.2019.04.005.

Key Takeaway:

A nationally representative survey in the U.S. found that 1 in every 25 adult men (about 4 million) had purchased sex within the past three years, with 57% of those who had purchased sex saying they purchased sex multiple times. Findings suggest paid sex transactions during the 3-year study period may have exceeded 10 million and yielded a billion dollars in profit for the sex trafficking industry.

Study Highlights

This study estimated the number of male sex buyers from a nationally representative sample of 2525 American men over the age of 18. Via a survey fielded in January 2017, the study found that:

  • 1 in every 25 adult men purchased sex in the past three years, suggesting that 4 million American men (4% of the U.S. male population) paid for sex in the prior 3 years
  • 57% indicated they had purchased sex multiple times
  • 81% paid for sex from a female person
  • 66% of men located a person in prostitution offline (e.g., on the street, at a bar, or in a massage parlor)
  • 34% used online methods (e.g., escort advertising or social media) to locate a person in prostitution
  • the average amount paid for sex was $120 per encounter.


While the findings suggest that the majority of men do not purchase sex, the fact that over half the participants admitted to buying sex more than once means that the total number of paid sex transactions occurring in the 3-year period could easily exceed 10 million and yield a billion dollars of revenue supporting the sex trafficking industry.

Of importance, this study did not investigate lifetime prevalence of male sex buying behavior, or the purchase of sex acts from persons engaged in online prostitution, popularly referred to as “camming,” or consumption of other forms of non-contact commercial sex (e.g., strip clubs, pornography). Inclusion of one or more of these forms of prostitution would present a significantly higher rate of consumer-level demand for paid sex.


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