fbpx Skip to main content
Blog

What Factors Drive Men to Watch Porn and Buy Sex?

Whether driven by a desire to repress emotions, wanting a distraction, or just old-fashioned boredom, porn provides an easy escape—and an onramp to buying sex.

This guest post is written by Daniel Eastman, the Director of Policy at The Avery Center.

Men, Loneliness, Porn, and Sex-Buying

By Daniel Eastman, Director of Policy at The Avery Center

Humans are social creatures—we’re designed to connect and share in a variety of ways.

Yet increasingly, men are facing an epidemic of loneliness.

In western culture, women are socialized to collaborate and engage in value-building relationships, while men are socialized to be achievement-oriented, to compete and dominate.

Men socializing tends to happen through shared activities, which makes the relationship secondary. When men feel the need for connection, we may also feel our programming to be self-sufficient, which could leave us feeling unworthy of our original desire.

Related: Traffickers Reportedly Try to Recruit OnlyFans Content Creators, Report Finds

In addition to this, society has traditional gender norms that tell men we must be strong, aggressive, dominant, sexually prolific, self-reliant, and successful. From a young age, men are also taught not to “be like a girl.”

It is more socially acceptable for girls to show emotions, cry, and ask for help, and in many men’s view, this makes them “softer” or “weaker.”

Boys aren’t supposed to be “weak,” so they suppress the softer side—this means not showing or sharing emotions, it often seems like men are only allowed to be angry or aroused. Anything outside of that can be considered “soft” and the man becomes a “sissy.”

Is it any wonder we are lonely?

While this idea of masculinity is supposed to be what all men are, it is actually incredibly elitist. Most men do not measure up to these standards, yet we continue to compare ourselves to this ideal exacerbating our feelings of anxiety, worthlessness, and loneliness.

Store - General

An easy escape: porn and sex

Whether driven by a desire to repress emotions, wanting a distraction, or just old-fashioned boredom, pornography provides an easy escape.Levin, M. E., Lillis, J., & Hayes, S. C. (2012). When is online pornography viewing problematic among college males? Examining the moderating role of experiential avoidance.19(3), 168-180. doi:10.1080/10720162.2012.657150Copy 

Any of these can signify a need for connection, fulfillment, to be seen or heard and valued.

Related: “I Bought Sex from a Sex Trafficking Victim Without Realizing It”

The prolificacy of porn creates an avenue for what seems like an easy alternative to genuine connection where we are socialized that relationships, especially intimate, require work, are troublesome, and expensive. In this way, as porn is watched, it is being used as a coping mechanism.Hesse, C., & Floyd, K. (2019). Affection substitution: The effect of pornography consumption on close relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 36(11-12), 3887–3907. https://doi.org/10.1177/0265407519841719Copy  But being sexually engaged with images on a screen further blurs the confusion between meeting emotional and physical needs.

Sexual arousal and climax from porn provides a quick feel-good moment physically, however, it only hides any underlying emotions of being lonely, unworthy, rejected, or simply bored. Biologically, the body responds and works, the mind fantasizes, and it can trick consumers into thinking they are in a relationship, but it’s only temporary.

Results from a recent study revealed significant and positive associations between pornography use and loneliness.Butler, M. H., Pereyra, S. A., Draper, T. W., Leonhardt, N. D., & Skinner, K. B., Pornography use and loneliness: A bi-directional recursive model and pilot investigation, Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy 44, no. 2 (2017): 127-137.Copy 

A study of porn and loneliness

This studyButler, M. H., Pereyra, S. A., Draper, T. W., Leonhardt, N. D., & Skinner, K. B., Pornography use and loneliness: A bi-directional recursive model and pilot investigation, Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy 44, no. 2 (2017): 127-137.Copy  suggests a close and painful partnership between pornography and loneliness for some users. From our survey of over 1,000 individuals around the world, we developed a statistical model that suggests an association between pornography use and loneliness, each increasing in tandem with the other.

Each incremental increase in loneliness was associated with an increase in pornography use (by a factor of 0.16), and each incremental increase in pornography use predicted a significant increase in loneliness (by a factor of 0.20).

While the magnitude of effects was small, they were statistically significant. Interlocking partnerships like this are worrisome since they represent an entrapment template associated with addiction—where the consequences of coping with loneliness through pornography use only increase loneliness, potentially locking the two in a self-fueling cycle.

Related: Real Stories of Sex Trafficking Victims in Porn

If loneliness can lead to pornography use, and pornography use may bring about or intensify loneliness, these circular linkages may create a vicious cycle, pulling the user even further from health-promoting relationship connections.

In the cultural context of emotionally-disconnected sexual hookups scripted by pornography, loneliness may deepen and become increasingly painful, yet in response, pornography use may only intensify.Butler, M. H., Pereyra, S. A., Draper, T. W., Leonhardt, N. D., & Skinner, K. B., Pornography use and loneliness: A bi-directional recursive model and pilot investigation, Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy 44, no. 2 (2017): 127-137.Copy 

This is not only problematic in “the culture of emotionally-disconnected sexual hookups” but it leads to a whole other issue: sex buying.

BHW - The World

Watching porn as an onramp to buying sex

When images on a screen no longer produce the arousal they once used to,Banca, P., Morris, L. S., Mitchell, S., Harrison, N. A., Potenza, M. N., & Voon, V. (2016). Novelty, conditioning and attentional bias to sexual rewards. Journal of psychiatric research, 72, 91–101. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychires.2015.10.017Copy  many men look for another source and often turn to prostituted people.

The anti-exploitation work we do at The Avery Center has shown time and time again that porn itself is often commercial sexual exploitation and can be an on-ramp to buying sexual access to another human being.See page 17 and 29. https://www.demandabolition.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Demand-Buyer-Report-July-2019.pdfCopy  Whether it’s from a desire to do what has been seen in porn or the underlying drive is the need for connection misguided through the porn industry, paying someone for sex in person is the next step.

This fuels a wider problem: sex trafficking.

Related: What Could Stop Men from Buying Sex and Watching Porn?

Sex trafficking victims are often trafficked through pornography. The definition of sex trafficking is to use force, fraud, or coercion to compel a person into a commercial sexual act.Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000, Pub. L. No. 106–386, Section 102(a), 114 Stat. 1464. https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/BILLS-106hr3244enr/pdf/BILLS-106hr3244enr.pdfCopy 

Prostitution is often seen as a victimless crime, and many people argue that two consenting adults should be able to do what they want. However, there are several factors that disprove this notion. Prostitution is inherently gendered; most buyers are men, and the majority of victims are women or girls from at least one other marginalized community.

The mortality rate for women selling sex is 40 times higher than the average woman. Complex PTSD is a common occurrence—The Avery Center has done interviews with people in prostitution and heard multiple times that no one stops selling sex unscathed. The most common form of exiting is attempted suicide.

Related: I Was Fine with Porn and the Commercial Sex Industry, Until I Worked in a Brothel

Research shows about 90% of those who sell sex have a third-party controller. Our Co-Founder and CEO, Megan Lundstrom, has researched pimp-controlled sex trafficking and found that it meets all 15 characteristics of a cultic group. While we could go into much greater detail, this already indicates that selling sex is not a job like any other.

We certainly should not normalize a vulnerable population bearing the brunt of male violence because men haven’t been socialized to connect and process their emotions.

The underlying factors of sex buyers

The Avery Center collaborates at a local “john school” to educate men about purchasing sex. It is called First Offender Restoration Initiative (FORI) and is run by an incredible therapist that specialized in topics that commonly affect men, such as pornography addiction.

Some interesting discussion points brought up in FORI are when was their first exposure to porn and what brought them to the day they decided to pay for sex and ended up getting arrested. 100% of the men that have gone through this program have used porn.

Every single one had a story about when they first saw porn, from magazines to movies, and their subsequent use of it. They also have what the therapist calls a “hinge point moment,” which is generally some life event that pushed them to make that call to an online ad. It could be divorce, losing a job, losing a loved one, or something similar that creates an emotional response and a need for connection.

Related: I Survived Being Sex Trafficked as a Sugar Baby

Without normalizing that these types of events create strong emotions and men are healthiest when they are equipped to process them and have social supports to connect with, it is very likely men will continue to use and hurt other people.

It is troubling to think that men’s repression of emotions and loneliness translate to buying access to another person’s body.

The answer then becomes that, as men, we must understand our emotions, be willing to share and connect, and socially teach each other that this is how men should behave.

We are human beings with all of what that entails, including the need for genuine connection.

Fast Facts

About the Author

Daniel Eastman joined The Avery Center team in 2017 and has supported the organization’s anti-trafficking efforts in a variety of ways, including working in the Research, Development and Services Departments over the years. He was an integral stakeholder during the strategic planning that developed the rebranding of Free Our Girls to The Avery Center and the subsequent growth. For the past two years Daniel has been cultivating connections for collaboration across the anti-trafficking sector while assisting TAC to run smoothly at the forefront of these efforts. In 2022, Daniel assumed the position of Director of Policy and currently leads the International End Demand Working Group. Daniel has presented nationally on demand reduction data and strategies and has supported policy measures at the state level. In his free time Daniel enjoys ballroom dancing (particularly the waltz!), medieval long sword fencing, and adventures with his dachshund Leeloo.

Fight the New Drug collaborates with a variety of qualified organizations and individuals with varying personal beliefs, affiliations, and political persuasions. As FTND is a non-religious and non-legislative organization, the personal beliefs, affiliations, and persuasions of any of our team members or of those we collaborate with do not reflect or impact the mission of Fight the New Drug.

Support this resource

Thanks for taking the time to read through this article! As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, we're able to create resources like this through the support of people like you. Will you help to keep our educational resources free as we produce resources that raise awareness on the harms of porn and sexual exploitation?

DONATE