Who Buys Sex?

We talk a lot about the victims of trafficking as well as the traffickers… but who is generating the demand? What kind of person purchases sex? What can we do to make them stop? Demand Abolition did an in-depth study to determine answers to these kinds of questions. Here are the highlights from what their study found:

Demographics of Sex Buyers

Most men have never paid for sex – only 6.2% of men have in the last year and 20.6% at least once in their lifetime. However, 1 out of 5 men that have never purchased sex can see themselves doing so in the future under the right circumstances.

Of those that have purchased sex there is no profile as far as race, age, socioeconomic status or sexual orientation. The only common exception is found among those known as a high-frequency buyer, someone who purchases sex on a weekly or monthly basis. This group of buyers make up 75% of the market and usually make $100,000 or more annually. They also usually started purchasing sex before they turned 21, often being to introduced to the behavior by a family member or friend.

On average a buyer will spend more than $100 per transaction which would estimate the annual revenue generated by the US commercial sex industry to be $5.7 billion. These transactions can take place through a variety of venues including illicit massage parlors, online escort ads, tracks where street prostitution occurs or visiting other adult establishments. No one location dominates the market.

Active buyers are less likely to be married, with only a third being married. Over half had children that still live with them. Active high-frequency buyers are more likely to report they are in a relationship but not married than low- frequency buyers. Meaning they often view the purchase of sex a a relationship type behavior.

Attitudes and Beliefs of Sex Buyers vs. Non-Sex Buyers

Certain beliefs about sex, relationships and masculinity make someone more prone to purchasing sex than someone else. Active sex buyers report the following:

  • Higher tolerance of cheating on a significant other
  • Believe sex buying is “just guys being guys” or “taking care of their needs”
  • Hold the belief that prostitution is a victimless crime, and all involved are choosing this


Whereas non-sex buyers report:

  • Belief that sex buying is treating females as objects
  • Believe that during the act of prostitution someone is harmed


The study found that the main driver for purchasing sex is a normalized or culturally accepted belief that prostituted women enjoy the act, it is generally a victimless crime and that buyers are just “guys being guys.”


Former Sex Buyers and Why they Stop

Six percent of men that purchase sex report ever being arrested for it, leave the fear of getting caught a very low reason to stop purchasing sex. The reasons for stopping the behavior from largest percentage to lowest are as follows:

  1. I realized paying for sex is inconsistent with my morals – 72.3%
  2. I was concerned about the risk of contracting an STI – 51.9%
  3. The person did not look attractive to me – 43.9%
  4. I did not want to hurt my partner/ spouse – 29.2%
  5. I was concerned about my physical safety – 24.4%
  6. It was too expensive – 24.1%
  7. I was concerned that I could be arrested – 18.2%
  8. I was afraid someone might find out – 16.6%



While we may never be able to completely eradicate the demand for sex there are some proactive things we can do to change this industry. First, change the way our country thinks and talks about the behavior of purchasing sex. If this behavior was viewed as unacceptable more sex buyers would feel as if they are doing something wrong and would be worried which of their friends might find out. Second, focusing more law enforcement resources on arresting sex buyers would increase the fear of being caught. Lastly, changing the laws and penalties for those that are caught. By charging larger fines and increasing sentences it would create a larger deterrent.


Demand Abolition’s study goes into further details regarding who buys sex and some solutions to diminishing the demand. You can find the study in its entirety here.