The men who sleep with prostitutes
BBC NEWS | UK | Magazine | The men who sleep with prostitutes
The conviction of Steve Wright for the murder of five prostitutes in Suffolk has again thrown the light on prostitution. The debate about its legal and social status is as current as ever, but what do the men who visit prostitutes think about what they do?
Patrick, Pete and Mark have some things in common.
They are all successful, professional men, who work long hours and have to travel away from home. But what really unites them is that they all use prostitutes and are utterly unashamed about it.
Patrick, an IT worker in his 50s, dislikes the coverage of the issue. He dislikes the pieces written by feminists like Julie Bindel in the Guardian, who describes prostitution as "abuse". Patrick also dislikes the tabloids.
Nearly one in 10 men pay for sex
Men aged between 25 and 34 are most likely to use prostitutes
Men who pay for sex are most likely to be single
In UK brothels 85% of prostitutes are from overseas
Source: University College London and Home Office
"They hate punters and want to bring in laws making the man a criminal," he says.
"Take the Sun newspaper, they sell sex but as soon as they find someone being caught out with a prostitute, there's double standards."
Despite the negative coverage, there is not a granule of remorse in Patrick's voice. He cannot see any reason why there should be.
"I've been totally monogamous in my life, with one partner. I wanted to know what is it like to have sex with somebody who isn't your partner."
After his first encounter, in an Edinburgh sauna, Patrick felt happy.
"I was quite elated afterwards. From the sexual side, which was better physically than what I would normally get at home, and also the conversation with the woman."
He does not appear to have a problem leading a double life with his partner.
"She doesn't know. I don't believe it's changed my relationship with her in any way. To some extent I feel closer to her.
"I don't have to demand things that maybe I was demanding from her, like oral sex and things like that. She didn't like doing that. Now I no longer have to ask."
Management consultant Pete, 40, from Oxfordshire, is blunt about his motivation for buying sex.
"I've not had sex with my wife for at least five years," he says. "In simple terms, it's how I get sex. I've not noticed a change in our relationship at all.
I'm distributing my wealth to people who don't have it
"There is no emotional involvement [with the prostitutes]. At the risk of sounding cruel and heartless I don't think I do have a moral issue with it. If I did I wouldn't have done it."
Having visited prostitutes for 18 months, Pete says he was attracted while surfing on the internet.
"I've been leading up to it; using pornography and looking at various websites. Rather than being a fantasy it was someone you could have sex with."
Mark says he used to spend a lot of time trying to pick women up in clubs and bars. Now the 31-year-old business consultant from London doesn't have the time.
"It is a mixture of the convenience and the time aspect. I work very, very long hours."
He recognises there is a stigma, but it is one he utterly rejects.
"Some of my friends are fully aware that I visit prostitutes. Many of them do themselves. There is this fear that it is in some way abusive. I would disagree with the idea that nobody chooses to do it for a living."
Patrick views it as a totally mundane transaction between adults.
They seem to enjoy my company, several have moved onto more of a friendship aspect
"I see us as adults. I want to pay and someone wants to sell. As long as I'm not hurting them in any way what harm am I doing. I'm distributing my wealth to people who don't have it."
During his trial, Wright explained that he moved from visiting massage parlours to using street prostitutes because they were cheaper. Patrick, Mark and Pete say they only use parlours or escorts.
The trio all use a website where "punters" - the men who visit prostitutes - go to discuss their encounters. On these message boards the implication is that there are two classes of punter.
Pete suggests the world of street prostitution is "probably the grubbiest, grimiest bit". Patrick says he is not tempted, saying it is "risky and not comfortable". Mark's view is also revealing: "There is a slightly exploitative element to street prostitution."
Instead, the men speak of forming friendships with the women in the parlours and saunas.
"There's always a lot of girls that I know," says Patrick. "We have a good camaraderie. I treat them as my friends and I feel to some extent they confide and talk to me."
Mark says he enjoys similar friendships.
"They seem to enjoy my company, several have moved onto more of a friendship aspect. There are a couple who have phoned me for advice on tax matters."
For some prostitutes are a progression from internet porn
And there is one aspect of the media coverage that all three men find irritating - the idea that trafficked or coerced women make up a significant proportion of prostitutes.
Patrick, Mark and Pete say they have never encountered a trafficked woman and that conversations with prostitutes lead them to believe it is rare.
"The perception is that everybody is trafficked," says Mark. "The figures bandied around for the numbers of trafficked women are absurd."
Mark's position is clear. If he did meet a woman he suspected was trafficked he would do something about it, there and then.
"I've never come across one," says Patrick. "All the people I've seen, they have always been happy, we have talked beforehand."
All three men are, needless to say, opposed to the Swedish model that is now gaining currency in the UK where, the act of buying sex is criminalised.
"Like any other form of prohibition it just doesn't work," says Mark. "The more you criminalise, the more criminals can profit."
The real root of prostitution is in the economic system and not the criminal laws, says Patrick.
"There are a lot of single mothers who feel that's the only way they can make money. If you want to get rid of prostitution the way is to reform the welfare system."