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Is it OK for a Married Man to Sleep With Sex Workers?

Does sex work negatively affect relationships? Or can it be a part of a non-exclusive arrangement?

Prostitution hurts marriage, doesn’t it? This has often been used as an argument against sex work — it’s not only demeaning but endangering to unknowing wives. But, this isn’t an argument about the morality of sex work — it’s about the morality of cheating. Still, when talking to Johns, I had to ask: How are the wives actually affected?
And for women who know their partner sees sex workers, what do they think about sex work and how do they feel about their partners seeing sex workers?

Kari met Stephen at his art opening, he’s a photographer and she was immediately captured by his work: dominant, erotic and yet vulnerable. She also learned, he was polyamorous. “I felt strongly that he was offering exactly what I was looking for in a relationship, especially with respect to being open and non-monogamous.” The couple now shares an open relationship in which Stephen is able to see sex workers and Kari is okay with that. “He was honest from the beginning and I was always positive about sex work, so I was open minded.” Despite the shady media image, people fall in love with “Johns” too.

In the John’s Voice survey, 78 percent of men said they hide their sex buying and 63 percent specified they hide it from a partner. There’s a real stigma in being “The John.” Many of the guys I interviewed explained they saw sex workers because they weren’t in relationships. But, because of the stigma they carried, it is harder for them to find or stay in relationships. Only 4.6 percent of buyers said they felt they could trust talking to a partner about sex work.

Mona and Hamilton are a younger non-monogamous couple, and their story is similar to Kari and Stephen’s. “Hamilton was open about seeing sex workers, and I came to understand the appeal of paying for sex and how the idea itself can be a turn-on. I’ve fantasized about erotic massage, for example. There’s a demand for sex work. You can choose to be more in control of who your partner sees by being open and honest, or you can choose to live in ignorance and hope your partner is being faithful, or at least, practicing safe sex.”

According to Serpent Libertine of SWOP, seeing sex workers can often be better than the alternative, “Many of my clients are married and I think seeing a sex worker is much safer than having an ‘affair’ or hooking up with someone in another manner, because sex workers understand and respect boundaries. Whereas a person in a non-paid relationship might not be inclined to.”

Kissing Stephen goodbye to a secondary partner or a date is different for Kari than sending him off to a sex worker. “If he meets someone socially, like at a party, and is attracted to her and they connect, then the possibility of a more ongoing connection exists. That is still okay, but just more complicated, with respect to our existing relationship, than it would be if he was with a sex worker,” she says. Stephen also sees it as different, “One partner I had kept saying ‘so far I don’t have any problem with you doing this, but I don’t understand why you want to do it.’ Because really, in most cases, the sex itself is not great sex. I mean, to me, great sex is when you are in a very powerful intimate exchange with your partner. That’s something you can’t get from sex work.”

Kari can’t imagine putting herself in the shoes of someone whose partner was seeing a sex worker, but didn’t know. “I think people always know when someone is seeing another person, especially a sex worker. There’s an energy that becomes a part of you, that you carry with you. Even if your partner doesn’t ‘know,’ they do on some level. Ask any woman or man that’s ever been cheated on and they tell you they ‘had a feeling’ that something was going on.”

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