A common refrain in many anti-prostitution arguments is that sex work is inherently exploitative and that it perpetuates gender inequality. Built into these arguments is an assumption that men who buy sex from women are more sexist to begin with and/or that participating in sex markets increases sexist beliefs.
But is there any truth to this idea? Are men who buy sex necessarily more sexist?
A new study published in the journal Men and Masculinities challenges this assumption. In this study, 519 men were surveyed online. On average, participants were 48 years old, most were White, and a majority were unmarried. All men had paid for sex before either online or in person.
Participants were surveyed about their attitudes toward gender equality via the following items: “A working mother can establish just as warm and secure a relationship with her children as a mother who does not work,” “Because of past discrimination, employers should make special efforts to hire and promote qualified women,” “Most men are better suited emotionally for politics than are most women,” and “It is much better for everyone involved if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of the home and family.”
Their responses were then compared to results from the General Social Survey (GSS)—a nationally representative US survey. The GSS included the same measure of attitudes toward gender equality, so researchers used this as a comparison point (and, of course, only looked at male GSS respondents).
Generally speaking, attitudes relating to women’s roles in the workplace, home, and politics tended to be more positive among men who had paid for sex compared to the national average. This suggests that men who pay for sex do not necessarily devalue women more than other men; in fact, it anything, the reverse appears to be true based on these data.
Further, when looking at whether men had paid for sex online or in-person, results tended to be similar. In other words, their attitudes toward women didn’t seem to depend on the specific markets they utilized.
Of course, it is important to note that this sample isn’t representative of all men who pay for sex—but that’s to be expected because this is a largely underground population, which would make obtaining a truly representative sample quite difficult, if not impossible. The results also do not rule out the possibility that certain subgroups of men who pay for sex tend to hold more sexist attitudes.
That said, these findings would seem to suggest that arguments about what drives men to buy sex which are rooted in the idea that these men necessarily devalue women’s place in society are unfounded.
These findings are also consistent with other research finding that men who view porn tend to hold more positive attitudes toward gender equality than the national average.
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To learn more about this study, see: Brents, B. G., Yamashita, T., Spivak, A. L., Venger, O., Parreira, C., & Lanti, A. (2020). Are Men Who Pay for Sex Sexist? Masculinity and Client Attitudes Toward Gender Role Equality in Different Prostitution Markets. Men and Masculinities, 1097184X20901561.
Image Source: 123RF/lightfieldstudios
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