PARIS — As French lawmakers consider new legislation that would make it a crime to pay for sex, it’s becoming clear that we tend to know very little about the clientele of prostitutes.
Based on the few reports that have been published on the subject, between 12% and 18% of men (and less than 1% of women) have paid for sex in France. The majority are in relationships, have children and enjoy good social situations. So what are these men looking for? And will they stop if there is a risk of being fined or jailed?
Some of these so-called patrons agreed to answer questions by email on the condition that they would not be named (all used aliases). Of the 50 people we contacted via websites dedicated to prostitution, seven replied, though sometimes hesitantly. “It’s not that easy for a man to agree to talk about his paid relationships with women,” wrote Jean, a 37-year-old divorcé. “It’s because of the fear of being judged, of looking like a bastard, which I probably am, but I’d rather not think about that.”
These are men who are willing to spend 200 or 300 euros for a one-hour meeting with an escort. They are looking for “high-quality service” as opposed to “low quality, or even low-cost” street prostitution. They work in finance, marketing and IT.
“Need for change and novelty”
Most of these men say they don’t pay for sex to overcome a feeling of loneliness but instead because they want to fulfill fantasies. “We can do things that we can’t do with our everyday partners,” explained Radric, 24, who is part of a couple. “And we can meet all sorts of women, in accordance with our physical criteria.”
Similarly, 40-year-old “Antoine Inconnu” explained that he “achieves” with prostitutes what he is “not able to achieve” with his wife. He also referenced a “need for change and novelty.” As for François, 52, and also part of a couple, prostitutes bring him “a little variety” and were “a bit of sexual company” when he was alone.
“I met types of women that I would never have been able to mix with in my everyday life,” wrote “homme cool,” who is 34 and single. “For example, I met this tall brunette, dark skin, 5-foot-9 and with everything in the right place.”
Cédric, 27 and single, went to see a prostitute for the first time in August. “She was a beautiful, promiscuous woman and an expert in her sexuality.”
Easy, discreet, no commitment
Prostitution offers a certain number of guarantees: It is easy, discreet and requires no commitment. “Antoine Inconnu” wrote that there is “no pressure” and no risk of interfering with his “private life.” Radric described a “moment of escape where I don’t feel judged by the woman in front of me,” a “stimulating transgression.”
Paying means that you can “avoid the seduction phase, and the restaurant or cinema, which can sometimes lead nowhere,” says “homme cool.” At the end of the day, it can even end up being cheaper, he said. Jean explained the “fear of engaging with someone, the fear of suffering and failing once again.”
Jean is the only one to have met with a woman who was clearly forced to work as a prostitute. “She had bruises on her forearms … She was scared. I paid and I left instantly,” he recounted. “I'm more careful now. There are unmistakable forerunners.”
All vehemently condemn pimping and human trafficking in the strongest terms. And all but Jean say they have met only women who freely and willingly sell their services. “Of course, I can’t be certain,” François noted. In their minds, coercion is associated with physical abuse but not with financial needs. In fact, they dislike the thought that prostitutes would do it just to earn a living.
“There are some who do it because they need the money, and I don’t feel comfortable with them (probably because I feel guilty) so I avoid them,” “Mas Reg” wrote. “There are others who do it because they like sex and money.” “Antoine Inconnu” said he had the “weakness to think” that the escorts he met were doing it “because they needed to and also a bit for pleasure.” Jean told the story of a young woman who had no other client besides him. She contacts him “whenever she wants sex, tenderness or money.”
“The world isn’t made of rainbows and lollipops”
Some even said they prefer the “occasional” prostitutes which allow for “more human” encounters, as opposed to “professionals” who are more “mechanical.” “It’s as if they all had the same training,” Radric said. Cédric is straightforward on this question: “What motivates the prostitute is none of my business.”
People who oppose prostitution think of the women as victims, that they are forced to sell what should not be sold. “The world isn’t made of rainbows and lollipops. People buy and sell anything,” Jean wrote. Some escort girls earn “a lot of money without working full time. It’s easy money,” “homme cool” wrote. “Everybody wins.”
For these men, the possibility of a new law that would prosecute clients is appalling. An idea they characterize as “hypocritical,” “cowardly,” “stupid” or “certainly due to a feminist point of view.” Only François has mixed feelings. “I can't make up my mind about it,” he said. “I’ve read articles that were for and against it, and I found they both had valid arguments.” He explained that he will probably stop if the bill passes. He is the only one, and he is also the one who patronizes prostitutes the least: not even once a year, as opposed to up to three times a month for the others. And yet, they do not feel threatened by the legislation.
“If I agree with somebody by email or by phone to meet at her place, at mine or at a hotel, I hardly see how the police could ever know anything and intervene,” "Antoine Inconnu" said. “Besides, don't they have anything better to do?”