During a recent hearing on domestic sex trafficking of minors in the United States that revealed the extent of the problem and the vast number of men who are purchasing sex from prostituted minors, Senator Al Franken (D-MN) asked, “What are these American men thinking?”
In his book The Johns, Victor Malarek sets out to address that question. Malarek spent time on websites (and apparently there are several) listening to men who buy sex (the “johns” or the buyers) talk to each other about their paid sexual experiences and why they pay for sex. He shares a number of insights along with commonly used lingo: like P4P (pay for play), “mongering” (paying for sex) and “GFE” (girlfriend experience). While Malarek focuses on paid sex generally rather than paid sex with minors specifically, the mentality of the men who pay for sex generally applies to both.
So what exactly are the men saying? In one chapter entitled “Girlfriend Experience” (“GFE”), men share stories about their sexual adventures in other countries where they pay to have sex with “beautiful women” who cater to them. Several of these men acknowledge that they go to other countries because they aren’t successful with American women. For a little money, they can have a sexual experience along with a “girlfriend experience” where the woman or girl provides sexual services and the man can fantasize that she is his “girlfriend.”
In another chapter called “Monster Woman,” men vent angrily about American women who have taken their jobs, taken over the family, and are “greedy, needy, self-centered and spoiled.” Malarek says that these men cast themselves as victims who believe they are being denied what they are entitled to(sex), by women who are too demanding. Malarek says “they [the johns] want it when they want it, on their terms alone. There’s the physical urge, of course, and the physiological release – what they’ll describe as a natural need – but there’s also a deep desire to maintain some sort of control, and sex has always offered a way to exert dominance over women.” (p. 132).
This is not an easy book to read. Malarek is unflinching in his writing, and the men he is profiling and the views they are expressing do not make for “light” reading.
But his message is incredibly important. Malarek notes that “each year more than 800,000 women and children are lured, tricked or forced into prostitution, joining an estimated 10 million women already ensnared in the $12 billion-a-year global sex trade.” And Malarek’s message on how to combat this is quite simple: Target the Johns. “Criminalize the buying of sex. Teach them [buyers] what’s at stake, whether through education, tough sentencing, or otherwise. Hold them accountable for their actions.” (p. 295).
Malarek also calls for a change in societal attitudes. “Society must confront just how damaged masculinity is today and how destructive male behavior has become, both inward and outward…For real change to occur, we have to turn the tables and point the finger of blame at the real perpetrators – the johns, the pimps, the princes of porn. Society has to radically rethink men’s responsibility in prostitution, and prostitution must be seen and defined as a male issue.” (p. 295-6).