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Long-term clients who access commercial sexual services in Australia: Dissociating from stereotypes

Long-term clients who access commercial sexual services in Australia: Dissociating from stereotypes

Sex industry clients are often cast in deviant stereotypes that are fuelled by moral philosophies but not supported by evidence. The aim of this qualitative study was to explore experiences of buying sex from the perspective of long-term clients themselves.

Participants for this online, anonymous study were recruited via online advertisements and through sex workers. A secure data collection tool was used wherein self-selecting volunteers completed a brief semi-structured questionnaire and wrote short narratives regarding their experiences with buying sex, guided by broad open questions. In total 137 people responded to the survey and twenty seven narratives of men who had been buying sex approximately monthly for over one year were included for in-depth analysis using an interpretive phenomenological approach.

The narratives highlighted strategies men employed to distance themselves from deviant stereotypes of clients of sex workers. Each narrative stressed several motivations to buy sex, with seeking intimacy being of greater importance than seeking sexual satisfaction. Other strategies included particular manners of paying and tipping that reinforced ‘good client’ etiquette and integrity, with some men framing payment as a romantic gesture and a mark of respect toward sex workers. Some participants held stereotypical beliefs which were projected on to other clients of sex workers. Almost all participants were reluctant to disclose to others that they bought sex due to stigma.

Examining clients’ motivations to buy sex, views of sex workers and perceptions of other sex industry clients revealed men’s strategies to diffuse internal and external stigma. Due to stigma, sex industry clients are reluctant to disclose their commercial sex activities to challenge current stereotypes. The study paves discussion of ethical sex industry client behaviour, opposing notions that men who buy sex are socially or sexually deviant, and has significance for sex industry law and regulation, particularly in discussions of criminalising commercial sex purchases.

Speakers: Hilary Caldwell

Australian Society of Sex Educators Researchers and Therapists 2012

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