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economic justice | gender & sexuality

How Prostitution Works: The Johns

Prostitution, pornography, and other forms of commercial sex are a multibillion dollar industry. They enrich a small minority of predators, while the larger community is left to pay for the damage. No business can afford to create a product for which there are no buyers.
Prostitution, pornography, and other forms of commercial sex are a multibillion dollar industry. They enrich a small minority of predators, while the larger community is left to pay for the damage.

People used in the sex industry often need medical care as a result of the ever-present violence. They may need treatment for infectious diseases, including AIDS. Survivors frequently need mental health care for post-traumatic stress disorder, psychotic episodes and suicide attempts. About a third end up chronically disabled and on Social Security.

In addition to these costs, the community loses the contributions which might have been made to legitimate community productivity by those used up in the sex industry.


No business can afford to create a product for which there are no buyers. The first step in understanding the sex industry is to understand the customers, the johns.

Real sexual relationships are not hard to find. There are plenty of adults of both sexes who are willing to have sex if someone treats them well, and asks. But there lies the problem. Some people do not want an equal, sharing relationship. They do not want to be nice. They do not want to ask. They like the power involved in buying a human being who can be made to do almost anything.

The business of prostitution and pornography is the use of real human beings to support the fantasies of others. Anyone working in prostitution who tells a john too much about who they really are, interferes with the fantasy. They risk losing a customer, and may get a beating as well. In real relationships with real people, you are stuck with the limitations of who you are, who your partner is, and what you can do together without hurting each other.

Some people do not want real relationships, or feel entitled to something beyond the real relationships they have. They want to play "super stud and sex slave" or whatever, inside their own heads. If they need to support their fantasies with pictures, videotapes, or real people to abuse, the sex trade is ready to supply them. For a price, they can be "a legend in their own minds."


The most common type of prostitution customer is the user. He is quite self-centered, and simply wants what he considers to be his needs met.

The user would deny any intent to harm anyone, and might even claim some empathy for the sex workers he uses. However, his empathy does not extend to discontinuing his using behavior, nor to helping anyone escape from the sex industry. He does not care whether the person he is using is unwilling or unusually vulnerable. He simply feels entitled to whatever he wants, whenever he wants it. If someone is hurt, that is not his problem. He feels that the fee he pays covers any damages.

He sees himself as a respectable person, and works to protect that appearance. Users provide a large, safe, and steady income for the pimps and other "businessmen," of the sex industry.


Sadists are people who have the ability to take pleasure in another person's fear, pain, or humiliation. They constitute about ten percent of the population. Sadists vary in severity, ranging from those who just make you feel bad, on up to those who do torture murders. There is a definite practice effect. If allowed to hurt people often, their sadism gets worse.

Physical, sexual, and emotional abuse by sadists drives their child victims from their homes into the street, trying to escape. The pimps and "chickenhawks" take it from there.

Sadists are attracted to prostituted women and children because they are willing to get into a car or come to a place where the sadist can be in control. Sadism is about control. Hurting people who cannot stop them is their most intense and pleasurable form of control.

Sadists play close attention to matters of power. They are most brutal with small women and children, and are more careful with larger women and men. They avoid people who may have someone to protect them, or someone who may take revenge on the victim's behalf.

There are pimps who specialize in supplying victims to sadists, and who base their fees on the amount of damage done to the victim.

Sadists are found at all levels of society, including the respected and powerful. They often use this, saying, "You are just a whore, nobody is going to believe you." If they do kill someone, they are very aware that, to some extent, the effort society puts into finding the killer will reflect the value placed on the victim. People working in prostitution are safe victims.


Necrophiles are people who can take pleasure in filth, degradation, and destruction. They are the users of the sick, the old, the psychotic, the brain damaged, the "tracked" and tattooed casualties of the sex industry, in the end stages of their lives. For necrophiles, broken bodies and broken minds are a turn on. They glory in their superiority over ruined human beings, and feel entitled to express their contempt in every way.

Necrophiles must keep their perversion secret from their friends and families, both to protect their social standing, and to protect their fantasies of superiority. Normal people just would not understand.


Child molesters participate in the sex industry in several ways. Some have been aware of a sexual attraction to children, often of a particular age and sex, from some time in late childhood. They then make the choice to act on it.

Some have sadistic characteristics. Children are easier than adults to control. The molester's own children, in his own home, are the easiest of all to control.

Necrophilic child molesters enjoy the knowledge that, when the molesters are finished with them, the children's lives will never be the same. They enjoy the fact that the children may later self-destruct in addiction, prostitution or suicide. It proves that they were right.

Sex offenders against children operate with varying degrees of sophistication. Some do careful "grooming." They use pornography to break down resistance, and supply drugs, alcohol, and money. Others just start out with forcible rape. Many claim unusual "love" for children. They claim that sex between adults and children is not harmful, and should be legalized. Pedophiles actually teach children that they are helpless, hopeless, worthless, and only good for sex and hurting.

A large portion of workers in the sex trade started out as sexually abused children. Some were even "broken in" by being shared with or rented out to others by their own families.

There are specialist pimps who provide children to johns. The fees vary depending on the age, sex and appearance of the child, as well as the amount of damage the child has already incurred.

When caught, the pimps and johns claim not to have known the child's real age. There is a market for small adults made up to look like children, both for direct sex and for pornography. But the truth is in the fees: real children sell for more than fake ones.


Prostitution buffs are like police and fire buffs, that is, people with an intense interest in those occupations even though they do not belong to them.

Prostitution buffs are people with a morbid fascination for or obsession with prostituted persons and their activities. Some characterize themselves as "researchers", and amass hundreds of pages of notes and photographs, that somehow are seldom published.

Others claim to be intent on religious redemption of "sinners", and spend huge amounts of time in vice areas, but never quite manage to offer anyone practical help.

A third group consists of "community livability" activists, who blame the people being prostituted for the behavior of the johns, pimps, and drug dealers.

As with any obsession, with some people it may get out of control. Police buffs may take unlawful police action, and some fire buffs eventually set fires.

Each type of prostitution buff strongly believes his or her rationalizations for their activities, and would vehemently deny any personal sexual interest. The trouble is, it is obviously there. They show a lot of subtle signs, which, to someone working in prostitution, indicate that they may be potential customers.

When a prostituted person approaches the buff to offer their services, the response may be unpredictable and dangerous. Sometimes the buffs will accept their services, and the worker may never realize that they are anything but a normal trick. At other times, they will be met with rage, as if they are making a hetero- or homosexual attack on the buff. They may be beaten, knifed, or thrown out of a moving vehicle.

Most of the "research" and "religious" buffs are men, and spend enough time studying their subject that their identifications of who is and is not prostituting are fairly accurate.

Many of the "community livability" activists are women. Some may pepper spray or draw weapons on young people who are in no way involved, but who fit whatever stereotype the activist has for what a prostitute should look like.


Three forces generate streams of customers for prostitution: Isolation, sexual abandonment, and unusual interests. Prostituted people are used to service populations which are physically isolated from the life of their communities. These customers come from military bases, logging or mining camps, and from farm labor camps. Operators of these facilities are often involved in arranging for services through local pimps.

Other customers are isolated by travel, such as seamen, truckers, and traveling businessmen. Hotels and motels, bars and other businesses providing support services for travelers also participate in arrangements for sexual services.

In some religious cultures, and some individual family cultures, sex is regarded as an unpleasant duty of marriage, and once the childbearing years are over, one partner may cut the other off from sexual activity. The sex industry does not reach out to middle-aged women, so their only choice is to have affairs. This may be morally unacceptable to them, or eligible partners may not be available. For them, there may be no solution.

For men, prostitution is quite available, and many men may see it as less wrong than having affairs, or as requiring less effort. These men provide a large and steady income for the sex industry.

Most of these johns would be classified as "users", and an unclear proportion of them might not be prostitution customers if they were not isolated.

Customers who remain in or near their home communities are more likely to use prostituted people due to unusual interests, such as sadism, pedophilia, or sexual addiction. They are isolated by the nature of their desires, rather than their location. For example, men who prefer sex with boys, but who do not view themselves as homosexual, support a whole segment of the industry involving prostituted males. It is unclear whether local law enforcement efforts, or the openness and aggressiveness with which with the sex industry is allowed to operate in a community, affects the stream of "special interest" customers.

A large portion of prostituted people are also used in and around the communities where they grew up. The fact that survivors often meet previous tricks in local grocery stores and other random places can be a considerable problem for their recovery.

For those whose special interests place them at serious legal risk in their own community, there is sex tourism. Some cities in the US are well known to run more 'wide open' than others, that is, there are fewer and weaker laws on the books, and police and other officials are discouraged from enforcing them. These conditions are often the result of cooperation between business and elected officials, who are repaid by the sex industry in various ways.

Excerpted from How Prostitution Works