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An apparently average, thirtysomething, middle-class man, Ben had taken an extended lunchbreak from his job in advertising to talk about his experiences of buying sex. Shy and slightly nervous, he told me, "I am hoping that talking about it might help me work out why I do it. I, too, was hoping to understand his motives better.
Ben was one of men interviewed for a major international research project seeking to uncover the reality about men who buy sex. The project spanned six countries, and of the customers we spoke to in London — where I was one of the researchers — most were surprisingly keen to discuss their experiences.
The men didn't fall into obvious stereotypes. In the main they were presentable, polite, with average-to-good social skills. Many were husbands and boyfriends; just over half were either married or in a relationship with a woman.
Research published in found that the numbers of men who pay for sex had doubled in a decade. Another told me that he felt "disappointed — what a waste of money", "lonely still" and "guilty about my relationship with my wife". In fact, many of the men were a mass of contradictions. Despite finding their experiences "unfulfilling, empty, terrible", they continued to visit prostitutes.
I interviewed 12 of the men, and found it a fascinating experience. To a third person it looks like we're in love. I felt compassion for Alex. No one had shown him how to form a bond with another human being and he was searching for something that commercial sex was never going to provide.