In my area—and I suspect in yours—the local news regularly runs stories of prostitution "stings." In case you are not familiar with them, they work like this: female police officers pose as prostitutes. They may walk a street "known" for prostitution (which in my city means you may find, at most, a dozen down-and-out, drug-addicted women on a busy night, plus the gratuitous male transvestites). Or undercover law enforcement arranges to meet a "john" at a motel. In any case, they lure men by claiming to supply sex for cash and, once a concrete offer is made, arrest them.
Dozens of men are picked up this way on a single night. Often one or more of the men will work for the school system, the local government, a church, or some other position easily sullied, which makes the story juicier. At the very least the journalist can mention that some of the men are married. The story is printed up and broadcast, with the names and photos of the more prominent men arrested. All the city can cluck its tongue at the sleazy, no-good, cheating men. Law enforcement can pat themselves on the back for "protecting" us. And the media boost their ratings. The old saying is true (in more ways than one): sex sells.
What interests me about these stories is what they reveal about our society. First, to point out the obvious (which unfortunately has become necessary): these stings show that the men offering to pay for sex are, well, men. They are NEVER women looking for male prostitutes. After two decades of reading sting stories in the local papers, I can recall only one case, excluding those involving gay hustlers, in which the prostitute was male. The cops who caught him were posing as man and wife looking for a male-female-male threesome. If someday the police do manage to catch some woman cruising for a gigolo, you can bet the media will milk the story for all its worth. In the meantime, if you are looking for examples of women paying for sex with men, I suggest you turn on a television show, go to the movies, or read the excessive and rather fantastic literature on this subject, because this is the only place you are likely to find them. In the real world, it is men who pay.
The prostitution sting stories also provide a rare measure, however imprecise, of just how strong male sexual desire can be. These men risk everything—marriage, family, job, and prestige, and most of them are aware of the risk ahead of time. A sting story in my local paper just this morning describes how one victim checked the bathroom of the motel, searched the room for the hidden camera (and failed to find it). It is common for these men to question the undercover female law enforcement officer who serves as "bait," all but beg her to tell him if she is a cop. Still, in the end, they want pussy so badly, the risk is worth it to them. They offer to pay. They are arrested, carried away, and ruined.
Why don't they just fly to Bangkok or some other place more tolerant of prostitution? Going half way around the world, paying for plane tickets, the hotel room, and the whore's fee plus tips, is expensive, no doubt, but cheaper than the penalties here. Of course a lot of men nowadays DO become sex tourists, and prostitutes abroad, bless their hearts, take care of them (far better than our domestic ones do, I hear). We have, for the most part, outsourced the industry.
Regardless of where the men go, the women of North America and much of Europe as well should get together and sing that old Sade song:
"So put your hands together for Sally.
She's doing our dirty work."
Every time a prostitution sting story appears in the local news, we must ask ourselves (or, as is increasingly the case, consciously avoid asking): Why, if women and men feel basically the same about sex, the way we so often claim nowadays, do so many men find it necessary not only to pay, but to ruin their lives for a little pussy on the side? Why don't they take advantage of all the women who are supposedly so eager and willing to fuck for free?
The common response is to chalk up these men as losers. They are "too pathetic to get laid" in the ordinary way, and therefore must pay for it. But the stories reveal the victims of these stings are often successful and intelligent, sometimes young and good looking, too. They are not losers. They are not pathetic. They are just men, and they want sex in the way men do. Their crime is that they acted on their wants, however unsuccessfully.
So we're back to the question: why?
To paraphrase Thoreau: the majority of men live lives of quiet, sexual desperation. Each of us must deal with this desperation in his own way. Some turn to swinging or even the ridiculously named "polyamory" and barter the sexual favors of their wives. Others make do with pornography and their hands. Still others (like me) bite the bullet and submit to monogamy, even as the society that imposes it upon us commits the hypocrisy of claiming we are sexually free. Paying cash for sex is just another option men have of dealing with this sexual desperation, and a relatively harmless one really. Some men get pushed to the edge, you know, and even over it. They resort to violence, either physical (harassment, rape) or, far more often, emotional, usually by suggesting to women they are interested in love or commitment when they only want sex. Compared to this sort of behavior, shelling out $300 for twenty minutes of shitty sex with a whore is practically morally upstanding.
Do you believe that prostitution is a problem? Then solve is as you would any problem. Go straight to the root: men's lack of sexual freedom. When more women start putting out for free—free of charge, free of commitment and the promise thereof—men won't find it necessary to pay. As soon as the heterosexual equivalents of gay bathhouses begin popping up all over the Western world, prostitution rates will drop drastically. Problem solved.
Do you think prostitution should be made legal? Very well. Base your argument for legalization on the facts: women and men are different, and this difference gives women a sexual power which men do not and cannot have. Prostitution, despite its many drawbacks, is a way of softening the repercussions of this inequality (though it does nothing to correct the inequality itself). Prostitution should then be accepted, even embraced. Anything less would be unjust.
Do you believe that prostitution is morally wrong? Then point to the positive example, the man who resists the temptation of prostitutes, as well as the other less reputable methods of dealing with sexual desperation. Call him a gentleman without irony. Acknowledge the sacrifice he makes for your good and mine. (This sacrifice is painful, I assure you. It is a HARD) Our gentleman is a real Dr. Jekyll. He must keep Hyde under control.
But however you feel about prostitution, do not, please do not, pretend that the male sexual desperation these stings reveal is not real. To do so is to mock one of the most powerful feelings men experience. It is like taunting an animal in a cage, encouraging it to lash out with a freedom it does not possess. Sooner or later, you're going to wind up with a bitter, mean animal.
God help us if it gets out.