4 June 2015
As sex industry research expands, so too do sex work preconceptions. A popular stereotype and ‘myth’ is that men are always the sex purchasers, and women the service providers. However, a recent study by Lancaster University demonstrates women buy sexual services too, in a range of settings and scenarios.

This study, led by Dr Sarah Kingston of Lancaster University promises to be the most in-depth analysis of female clients in the sex industry ever undertaken in the UK, and the early results are revealing.

What has been discovered so far?

Currently, the project has interviewed 28 participants within the sex industry. This number includes escorts (male, female and transgender), female consumers, and recently swingers’ club owners. The diverse selection of interviewees has helped the researchers determine the key motives of the sex industry's female clientele.

The first motivator of women purchasing sex is that they are hoping to have pleasurable sexual experiences. Whilst this may seem obvious, this point is more complex than it appears at face value. One male escort interviewed as part of the project, Anthony, states that he gets "booked to provide the most pleasurable sexual experiences [his clients have] ever had in the way they want, not the way the man wants."

These women are seeking pleasure on their terms, and their hired escorts are employed to satisfy their needs.

Women frequently pay for more than just straight sex, as they also pay for companionship which can often take place outside of the bedroom. Going for a meal or a drink before the sexual encounter is reported, with some male escorts advertising this as the ‘boyfriend experience’ . Many escorts, like Anthony, aim to "connect" with clients, so they feel "comfortable sharing their intimate desires". As well as discerning motivations in female sexual activity, this research project has uncovered interesting points concerning the dynamics between sex workers and clients.

Women in control - breaking stereotypes

Two common threads uncovered during research are those of power and discretion. Many women purchase sex as a way to have control of a situation. It is not uncommon for women to outline exactly how they want their encounter to progress before the actual experience takes place, and this can often be meticulously planned. Additionally, booking an escort ensures discretion – particularly important for women who may be married or in relationships.

The theme of ‘professional women’ is evident in the research findings to date. James, another male escort interviewed as part of the research, states that many of his clients are women "in control" who are "professional, know what they want, [and] they're getting it". Whilst it has been found that female clients come from a range of backgrounds, the research has suggested that this professional lifestyle is common.

In terms of escort fees, this project has found that female sex workers (who see female clients) earn more money per hour of work than their male colleagues. In fact, in a survey taken of sex workers on Adult Work, one of the UK's prominent online sex work databases, found that male sex workers earn just two-thirds of what women make.

Why else are women buying sex?

Linking in with the professional ambitions of many women, it appears that many women purchase sex as they do not have time to have a relationship, or that they simply do not want a relationship. But it is not just single women that buy sex; many women are seen by sex workers as part of a couple. According to the research, many couples spice up their sex lives through hiring the services of a third party, in order to explore their sexuality while retaining confidentiality and professional discretion. Interestingly enough, some sex workers who have taken bookings from couples indicate that men can be more nervous than women in these scenarios.

Further research

With the internet becoming a popular method for negotiating and selling sex, there is a real need to develop research into the sex industry in the UK. On Adult Work alone, there are just over 18,000 profiles of sex workers who are willing to service women and couples involving women. The project is now aiming to explore how women negotiate with workers, not just financially, but in terms of physical and sexual safety too. Investigations into the understanding of sex work policy are also being investigated, from the perspective of clients and workers. Furthermore, the research has indicated that some women (mainly in couples) who participate in buying sex also partake in the swinging scene. Therefore, the research is now investigating swingers clubs as well as adult sites, to gain a holistic understanding of female participation within the sex industry and sexual endeavours.

The research project, Women Who Buy Sex, will conclude at the end of 2015, finishing with a conference at Lancaster University in early 2016. However, Dr Sarah Kingston is still inviting women who interact with the sex industry to take part in the study. She says, on behalf of the researchers, that "we still want to speak to women who buy sexual services. This will be completely confidential and they will not be identified in any way."

Distance is no issue, as the study has frequently used Skype and over-the-phone interviews to gain results.

Anyone who wants to participate in the research can contact the study team by visiting www.womenwhobuysex.org, or by emailing s.kingston@lancaster.ac.uk.

Andrew Goddard is a third-year BA Mathematics & Music student at Lancaster University. He is currently working as a research assistant for the Women Who Buy Sex Project.