Understanding johns, the buyers of sex, is important in understanding why sex slavery and prostitution exist. I’ve heard it said countless times, “If men didn’t buy sex there would be no need for prostitution.” This is true from a supply and demand standpoint and something I hope for, but it doesn’t get us closer to understanding these men. Johns are not always men, but most are, and I will refer to johns as men. But men are not the problem; we can play a huge part of the solution, seeking, finding, and helping our brothers.
The men who buy sex, do so for many different reasons. Every time a sting is done to catch johns there is a huge cross-section of men who get caught. It is always surprising to hear who gets caught: different ages, social and economic statuses, races, religions, professions and life stages. Men who work with youth, blue collar workers, law enforcement or other types of government work. Pastors and counselors, men in high-power positions and of lowly estate. Some men are clean and handsome and some are not. Some are married and others are single. Simply put, buyers of sex cannot be put into one category; their only commonality is they have paid for sex.
The differences don’t end with the type of man. Some men get caught after one visit, and others are frequent visitors. Some men buy sex because loneliness compels them toward sexual companionship. Some have certain fetishes that their normal partner won’t perform for them. Some have sexual addictions that can only be filled by a prostitute. Some love the danger of having sex with as many people as possible. Some men are violent and want to hurt women during sex. Some feel like they love the woman they frequent, hoping that she might run away with them. Some are just going with the flow and take the opportunity as it presents.
Diving into the life of a john is difficult. There are a few things that are helpful to understand in not simply demonizing a john. I don’t want to excuse the actions of buying sex. These actions are not okay, whatever the reason. We want an end of purchasing of sex and using women as commodities. Let us strive towards this goal and kindness and understanding.
I have a hard time being a judge over these men. Although I have never been with a prostitute, I have looked at pornography and viewing porn is a form of being a john. You are paying or going onto websites that get advertisers to offer free porn so that women can be objectified. For those of us who have looked at pornography we should be cautious in judging johns too quickly or harshly. We must approach the topic of johns with humility. We can’t condemn them, even if we want their actions to stop now. We get to encourage change; maybe this will be a healing kindness to them. The end goal is an end of purchasing sex. If love heals women who’ve been trapped in the life, love will heal the man who purchases sex or looks at pornography.
Men who buy sex frequently feel shame. “I would have rather died than visit another prostitute,” a friend once shared. I know men have felt trapped in their cycles of lust. They want freedom from prostitution but don’t know their way out. These men and many like them are ashamed of their own sexuality: the type of things that turn them on. They want normal sexuality, but it no longer excites them. There are very few men who actually boast about being with prostitutes; this is because of their shame. They don’t want to do it, but they don’t feel like they can stop.
Some men feel shame about their awkwardness around women; paying for sex is easier than having an actual relationship. Shame and the need to hide their activities is a big part of being a john. After reading about many johns, not one of them thinks it was a good idea. They all regret their decisions, even if they are ongoing. If we as men can talk amongst ourselves at a deep level maybe this will help. If we can talk about sex instead of masking sex with our false bravado this will help those who may struggle with sexual shame. If we loved each other, we may prevent someone from being a john before it ever starts.
Anger and hate are often the fuel that underlies a john’s life. More times than not is it anger and hatred towards oneself that is directed at a prostitute. This hate-of-life and their sexual desires combine with a compulsion to relieve themselves from this self-hatred is unhealthy and extremely harmful. They are trying to find elusive peace which gifts them with more misery at each failed attempt. They do not find satisfaction in their sexual experiences which only adds to the anger. Until they find a healthy way to deal with their anger, this cycle will continue to spin out.
Frequently, men buy sex because they are scared of intimacy, of being known. If you pay for sex the woman can be whatever you are paying for. They live in a fantasy life where services replace real relationships. The women are just fulfilling the fake role the man pays them to play; it is an unhealthy transactional relationship.
What if we as a culture were able to talk about sex? This would be a good thing. What if men worked harder to be good friends? This would help us as a community. What if men had dialogue that went beyond work, the weather, or our favorite sports team? This would help in our healing process. Men need to stand up and help one another. We need to set aside our fears of being known and share our lives with each other, even talking about our sex lives. We don’t need to be vulgar or rude, but we can be honest and trust that if we have feelings, there are others out there that have the same feelings.
Love can heal johns, I believe wholeheartedly. The process to change isn’t a short one. The johns will have to put in the work to change. This is mental and emotional work that can leave us vulnerable before others. It takes a woman years to recover from her trauma in the life and it may take years for a john to learn a new way of life, one free of purchasing sex. Love can heal if we are able to submit to true love that we all long for. Purchasing sex either online or in person is not acceptable; we can put in the work to love those who need it.
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