Who Becomes a Prostitute?
It is estimated that there are as many as 2 million prostitutes working in the United States today, some full time and some part time. Although there are more female prostitutes with male clients than all other forms combined, there are also gay, lesbian, and straight male prostitutes (Goode, 1994; Perkins & Bennett, 1985).
What motivates a man or woman to sell sex for money? Is it the money? Is it fear? Is it necessity? The majority of prostitutes say that their primary and maybe even sole motivation for prostituting is for the money (Rio, 1991). Prostitutes can make more money, on average, than their peers who work conventional jobs.
Many prostitutes say that the major drawback to their job is having to engage in sex with their clients. It is a myth that women become prostitutes because they love sex or because they are “sex addicts.” Those involved in the prostitution subculture say that if a prostitute enjoys sexual intercourse with clients, it “gets in her way” (Goode,
1994) because she may lose sight of the importance of client pleasure, or she might want to spend more time with a particular client, which could reduce her income. One prostitute said:
I would say that nothing could prompt me to have an orgasm or even become excited with a john. . . . I doubt that I would be able to manage it. . . . I will always pretend to be excited, and to come at the moment he comes, but if I really got excited I would be all involved with myself, and the timing would be thrown off, and actually he wouldn’t have a good time as if I were faking it. It’s funny to think of, but he gets more for his money if it’s a fake than if he were to get the real thing. (Wells, 1970, p. 139)
The majority of prostitutes do not enjoy their work. In fact, one study found that 89% of female prostitutes reported wanting to escape from prostitution (Farley et al.,
2003) . Most prostitutes work full time, with 49% of their clients repeat customers, including some long-term customers (M. Freund et al., 1989). A regular customer visits the prostitute at least once a week, and some have sexual encounters two or three times each week with the prostitute or spend several hours at a hotel (or one of their homes) together.
Question: Do prostitutes enjoy having sex?
Having sex with whom? Eighty percent of prostitutes have sexual lives outside of their professional lives (Savitz & Rosen, 1988). As for sex with clients, some prostitutes report that they enjoy both sexual intercourse and oral sex, although the majority do not. Some do experience orgasms in their interactions with clients, but again, the majority do not. In fact, in Masters and Johnson’s early research on sexual functioning, they included prostitutes (see Chapter 2) but found that the pelvic congestion in prostitutes, which resulted from having sex without orgasms, made them poor subjects for their studies.
In the United States, most female prostitutes are young. The average age of entry into female prostitution is 14 years old (Dittmann, 2005). One study found that 75% of prostitutes were younger than 25 (Potterat et al., 1990). The majority of female prostitutes are single (Medrano et al., 2003).
Typically, female prostitutes live in an apartment or home with several other prostitutes and one pimp. This is known as a pseudofamily (Romenesko & Miller, 1989). The pseudofamily operates much like a family does; there are rules and responsibilities for all family members. The pimp is responsible for protecting the prostitutes, whereas the prostitutes are responsible for bringing home the money. Other household responsibilities are also agreed on. When the female ages and/or the male tires of her, she may be traded like a slave or simply disowned.
Psychological problems are more common in prostitutes than nonprostitutes and more common in older prostitutes (de-Schampheleire, 1990). There are dangers associated with a life of prostitution—stressful family situations and mistreatment by clients or pimps. To deal with these pressures, many prostitutes turn to drugs or alcohol, although many enter prostitution to enable them to make enough money to support their preexisting addictions. One study found that 95% of prostitutes used drugs, including crack, heroin, alcohol, and marijuana (Dalla, 2002). One prostitute said: “It would take a real strong person to prostitute without drugs.” Many women who become prostitutes have
Human Sexuality in a Diverse World