The Survey About Punters And Buying Sex In Ireland

Here on Escort Ireland we have known that the general attitude people have to the sex industry sucks. They have become very set in their ways about the things that escorts do, and are eager to “help save them” if they can… while all sex workers want is “rights, not rescue”. Then we get to those buying sex and find that the stigma is just as bad. If you are the client of a sex worker, you are seen as misogynistic and violent. They believe that you don’t actually care about who you see, as long as sex is on the cards. It is the kind of thing that we read about every day and find ourselves getting incredibly frustrated with.

A couple lying in bed, the process of buying sex

For a long time we have been saying that this isn’t the case, and that there is much more to sex work, the escorting industry, and the clients who are actually buying sex than people believe. Finally we have something to back up this belief, as a piece of independent academic research has actually found that, contrary to popular “understanding”, the majority of clients “do not fit the image of violent, careless misogynists”. No, we’re not surprised either.

However, this is still excellent news for those buying sex and sex workers everywhere, and here on the Escort Ireland blog we take a long in-depth look at the study, and how this might bring us a step closer to destroying the stigma of sex work.

The theory behind the ban on buying sex

Last year, buying sex became illegal in Northern Ireland, and the criminalisation of the purchase of sex is currently being discussed in the Republic of Ireland. If they decide to make it a crime, then the country will be joining others such as Sweden, Norway, Iceland, and France.

The idea is a popular one, and has been debated in a number of different countries. In Scotland, back in 2012, the notion was rejected, and in England, the subject was dropped before it even came to a vote. These countries felt that criminalising the client wasn’t going to make the difference to the sex industry that people believed it would… but what exactly is the theory behind the criminalising of buying sex?

The research, conducted by Susann Huschke of the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, and Dirk Schubotz of Queen’s University, Belfast, tells it to us straight:

“In both Irish jurisdictions, the sex purchase ban is presented as a measure to reduce human trafficking, following the logic that if paying for sex is criminalized, the demand will be significantly reduced, and if there is less sex work, there will be significantly less trafficking for sexual exploitation”.

This belief comes about, it seems, by the lack of research in Ireland. We are told that there are “few existing studies on the Irish sex industry”, and that those that do exist “focus on sex trafficking”. A number also seem to lump the two together, believing that “all sex work usually involves exploitation and force”… and that is just the stigma surrounding the workers and what they do!

What about the clients?

Those buying sex will know what the stigma is like. You aren’t seen as someone simply seeking companionship. Instead, you are portrayed “as careless misogynists” or simply “sexual perverts”. I can’t even begin to tell you the number of times I have read newspaper articles talking about the clients of sex workers and been disgusted by the attitude. People genuinely seem to believe that those who see escorts just don’t want to put the effort in and that, if they had a shower and a shave and went to a bar, they’d be sorted.

There seems to be the belief that those who see escorts do it so that they can “dictate what they want to do” and that they see no difference between the escorts at all, as they are “all the same”.

Now, there have been numerous studies in different areas of the world suggesting that, actually, those buying sex aren’t at all like that. In fact, the studies all seem to contradict this, and yet when it comes to discussing the subject, research is “widely ignored” in Ireland.

Previous studies, according to the research by Huschke and Schubotz, have shown that there are so many different reasons for clients to choose to pay for companionship. It isn’t a case of not being able to find someone, as the attitude of the public seems to be. Instead, the reasons cover everything from dissatisfaction with a current partner and an eagerness to try new things to enjoying the atmosphere of a date with a sex worker.

What makes a client?

The general belief that clients are all the same type of person has been proven wrong by this piece of research, which compared the data they received from clients to survey data and sex worker interviews to determine that the information is “generally reflective of the client base across Ireland”.

They found that the majority of respondents (97%) were male, while 2% identified as female and a further 1% stated that they were trans. So while we can see that those who see sex workers are more likely to be male, there are also a number of women and transgender clients out there.

As for the age of clients, they covered pretty much everything you could think of, from under 22 to over 75 years of age, but 64% of clients sit comfortably within the 31 to 50 year box. They also found that many of the participants were Irish nationals (63%), with a number of Northern Irish (2%), British (14%), Australian, Indian, American, French, German, and Romanian thrown in there too. This helps to illustrate just how diverse those buying sex are.

When it comes to relationships and employment, it is also a pretty mixed bag. However, they found that 52% of people, when you added separated/divorced and widowed to the mix, were not in a relationship. Considering that there is an assumption that all clients are married and using escorts to have an affair, this might surprise a few people. Clients are also well educated, with 58% stating that they “had an undergraduate qualification or above”, and only a small number of them (6%) “were unemployed or unable to work”. The rest were either students (2%), employed (59%), self-employed (25%), or retired (5%).

So what does all of this information mean? Well, it puts to rest the belief that all clients are the same. In fact, those conducting the study say that this point was further “emphasized by sex workers”, as they “commonly stated that there is no ‘typical’ client”.

Choosing your companion

Clients out there will know how difficult it can be to choose an escort to call and arrange a date with. At the time of writing this, there are over 760 escorts currently advertising on the Escort Ireland website, so we can see why choosing an escort is challenging. During the study, they wanted to know more about the process of choosing an escort.

The study found that most clients (85%) chose to see female sex workers, while others such as TV, TS, male, couples, and duos also featured. They also found that a large number of clients (58%) “would see different sex workers” instead of sticking to the same lady all of the time. In fact, only 5% would do this, showing that diverse clients have diverse tastes.

Perhaps one of the most fascinating things that the researchers have discovered is how often people choose to visit escorts, and you can take a closer look at this in the graph below.

Figure 1 from Huschke and Schubotz, 2016
Figure 1 from Huschke and Schubotz, 2016

The majority of people (46.1%) see dating an escort as a treat, or something that they only do a few times a year, while a further 30.7% will do it once or twice a month at most. Only a very small number see escorts once or more a week (4.2%)

Why pay for sex?

So the study has shown us a little bit more about the diversity of clients… but the main reason for the research was to look at their reasons for buying sex. While it is good to know that there isn’t a ‘typical’ client, they really wanted to know why people might see a sex worker… and as with the clients themselves, they found that the differences between them were varied.

A large number (47%) stated that the reason they do it is because they “enjoy having sex with different people”. Dating escorts gives you a huge amount of diversity in your companion, but that isn’t the only big reason for dating escorts. Some said that is has given them the chance to “explore [their] sexuality” (40%), while another 41% say that it “allows [them] to try things [they] haven’t tried before”.

A number also seem to find the convenience of it extremely useful to them. Some said that they “don’t have time for other sexual relationships” and that “there are no emotional strings attached” when dating an escort, which is perfect for people who don’t want to get involved. Many also felt that buying sex was “more honest” and “a safer option than affairs or one-night-stands”. You can see even more of the reasons by looking at the table below.

Table 1 from Huschke and Schubotz, 2016
Table 1 from Huschke and Schubotz, 2016

However, the researchers also asked “what respondents dislike about buying sex” and found, yet again, a huge diversity in the reasons. However, sitting right at the top was “I feel like I have to hide what I do, I don’t like that”. A huge 41% of people said this, showing that the stigma surrounding sex work and the attitude that other people have to those who pay for sex is having an impact on those buying sex.

Building on this, it seems that those who have grown up or now live “in a morally conservative society” like Ireland are finding a number of challenges facing them when it comes to sex work, as others simply do not understand why they might pay for sex. One of those surveyed stated “we are slowly coming out of the Dark Ages. It is going to take a long time admittedly. Religion is very much in use as a means of control especially in Northern Ireland.”

Table 2 from Huschke and Schubotz
Table 2 from Huschke and Schubotz, 2016

A large number surveyed stated that it made them “worry” about certain things, from friends and family finding out (39%), “the well-being of the sex worker” (36%), and their sexual health (25%). Concern is a huge part of it, as many participants seem to feel guilty for it. This could be because of the stigma surrounding the industry and those who work in it, but one participant elaborated. They stated that sex workers “can be exposed to any type of guy at any time; it can be a dangerous job”.

Many sex workers feel that, if criminalisation of the client comes in, it is only going to make their jobs harder and more dangerous. It will push the industry underground, making it harder for them to keep themselves safe. This concern is clearly something that clients worry about too, and yet the concern of sex workers is not really addressed in discussions about the Swedish model.

Clients and criminalisation

The survey is fascinating to read, but it wasn’t just conducted for the fun of it. The aim was “to inform the NI Assembly discussion on the criminalization of clients”, and so they didn’t want to know just about the types of sex workers clients visit or why they like buying sex. They wanted to know how they might react if the Swedish model was brought in to the Republic of Ireland.

This is a topic we often see being heavily debated on the Escort Ireland forum. Clients and escorts alike and constantly talking about the issue, and how the criminalisation of the client might change the way they work. So, the researchers decided to look at it once and for all.

So first of all, would clients actually stop seeing sex workers if the law made it illegal for them to pay for sex? The answer seems to be a big fat no. In fact, “only 7% of survey respondents said they would stop paying for sex altogether if it was illegal”. That is it. 7%. Most of those asked about their reaction said that they “would only see sex workers that they trusted” (42%) or that they would “be more careful” (38%)… but they would still continue to see them. Only 7% would do what the Swedish model actually wants them to do!

They then asked the clients what they thought sex workers might do if the law is brought in, and their answers suggested that the Swedish model would not be very effective in Ireland. 4% thought that it might stop sex workers from working, but that is it.

However, what might surprise some out there is that 57% had very strong views on what might happen to sex workers if the law changes. They stated that they believed it “would make things less safe for sex workers”. They then elaborated on this further in the additional comments section, where they stated that the move would “create more precarious and risky working conditions”, as well as “drive sex work further underground”.

These are the things that sex workers have been saying for a long time. In fact, the researchers have found that it matched a number of different studies that they are have seen, where sex workers have said the exact same things. The fact that clients are also aware of these issues shows, quite clearly, that “many clients are mindful and considerate in relation to working conditions of sex workers”. So, once again, this supports the fact that “the majority of clients do not fit the image of violent, careless misogynists”. They care a hell of a lot.

It isn’t just about sex

People tend to think that the escort industry is all about sex, and the way that clients are often portrayed shows that a lot of people do not have as deep of an understanding about sex work as they think they have. In fact, they seem to ignore the fact that there are, as this study has shown, emotional and social aspects to each date.

Back in 2014, during the Northern Irish Assembly on the 20th October, Paul Givan described clients as those who “treat women and young girls as a commodity that they can buy for their sexual gratification”. When people have this attitude to those buying sex, it is hard to get your voice heard over the stigma that they are continually spouting.

However, this piece of research gave clients the chance to have their say on a number of matters, and they also spoke about what happens on a date with an escort. While sex was a part of it, it wasn’t all that it was about. They wouldn’t walk in the door, get their kit off, and get straight down to business. Many clients stated that things like “talking, joking, hanging out and ‘having a bit of craic'” were perfectly normal things to do when meeting an escort.

Many clients want to enjoy the social interaction of meeting an escort, but they don’t want to become involved. That is the beauty of buying sex. They don’t have to settle down with one person. They can just enjoy sex and a friendly relationship with someone without any emotional strings attached.

So… what happens now?

Contrary to popular belief, “clients are a heterogeneous group with diverse reasons to pay for sex”. The majority of them aren’t sleazy, disgusting people who are violent towards sex workers. They are people looking for sex without the strings, for a good time with a beautiful woman without complications getting in the way of things.

Now, given the amount of information the study has to offer, which you can learn more about by visiting the SAGE journals website, shows that sex workers aren’t likely to leave the industry because of the law, and that clients are still going to continue seeing them. Yes, a small number might quit, but given the fact that the Swedish model aims to criminalise the client and rid the world of sex workers, a small number proves that it is going to be ineffective.

If anything, all that will happen is that it will “contribute to worse working conditions for sex workers”, as well as “make vulnerable people who currently work in the sex industry even more vulnerable to labour exploitation, violence and abuse”. Considering those are just a few of the things that the Swedish model aims to stop, why are people still considering bringing the law in to the Republic of Ireland, and keeping it in place in Northern Ireland? The researchers behind the study seem to have a pretty clear idea:

“We conclude that the recent public debates on commercial sex in Ireland and the implementation of the so-called Swedish model in Northern Ireland constitutes a ‘moral crusade’ against sex work, which is perceived as transgressing sex-negative, conservative Christian moralities. By employing negative stereotypes and ignoring the existing research evidence on men who pay for sex, promoters of the sex purchase ban have missed an opportunity to allow an open and less prejudiced debate about people’s sexual desires and the social norms that shape them.”

Hopefully, this independent academic research, which has apparently been funded by the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland, is going to help those in Ireland see what buying sex is really like… but what do you think? Is the research simply going to be brushes aside, or are people going to take notice? We want to hear from you, so get involved in the discussion on the Escort Ireland forum or leave a comment in the box below.

Lara Mills
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Lara Mills

Lara Mills is a writer who has four years of sex industry expertise behind her. Since she entered the adult industry, she has worked on the Escort Advertising forums, before moving into her current role three years ago.

Since then she has gained a fine reputation with her blogs on sex advice, sexual health and amusing news stories from around the globe. She is also a campaigner for the rights of sex workers from all over the world.

In her spare time, Lara keeps herself active by going running, and is something of a film buff. She also loves to go travelling.
Lara Mills
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