Why Do You Go to Brothels?

July 18, 2013 | Marie Calloway

German photographer Bettina Flitner took portraits of clients at the brothel Paradise in Stuttgart, Germany. The men, aged 21 to 73, told her why they visited brothels. Their answers were quite frank and revealing.

Christian, 23, forwarding merchant, single:

Why I pay for sex? Women are often a pain in the ass. They stress me when I haven t got enough time for them. If I want to fuck I go here – and I leave. That s it. A girlfriend often bores me after a short time. And to pay for sex has that certain something. You own the woman. You can do want you want with her. That is power. My last time? I come to the brothel every six weeks. Sometimes I have sex with the same woman sometimes with another. I like it a bit harder no vanilla sex.

Guenther, 55, divorced:

I need much sex. It excites me to have always new women. I also go to swingers clubs. But there are often old and ugly women. Sometimes I book a woman from an escort agency. My type? Black or pale skin. Mulatto or from Latvia. No silicone breasts and no injected lips. I don’t like women who are too professional I prefer the ones who make it only sometimes. They perform better. My last time is one week ago. She said that is was the best sex ever. 50 Euros. Business as usual. The price-performance ratio is good here.

Kai, 49, bank employee, divorced, 2 children:

Why I go the brothel? I would never get women like these here. And I can overstep the limits here. For example anal intercourse I wouldn’t have the heart to ask a normal woman to do it. Costs 100 Euros extra. I don’t like the very young and very thin girls. They can have normal breast and a little belly a womanly shape. Since three years I have sex with the same woman. If she likes it? I can only believe, what she is pretending.

What can we take away from this?

In some ways, this project is similar to The Invisible Men, that collects reviews by johns of their escorts. The site is frequented by anti-prostitution advocates and the quotes from johns are disturbing. Some might find these kinds of projects are revelatory and rethink or reaffirm their position on sex work. One woman commenting Flitner’s photo project said, “If there is no Hell I propose we build a Hell and throw them in it.”

But this view could be too moralistic. Some sex workers dislike these kinds of projects as they believe that anti-prostitution advocates or “abolitionists” cherry pick the worst examples which put pressure on (or gives leeway to) law enforcement and the state to arrest sex workers and their clients and create laws that create further trouble for sex workers. Instead of trying to understand the johns, they illustrate them as villains them and are not doing sex workers any favors. Sex worker and Tits and Sass blog co-editor Caty Simon explains:

They are awful bullshit which is about classing sex workers as victims without agency and pathologizing people’s sexuality.  Obviously, within a patriarchal, whorephobic, transphobic, racist capitalist context clients can be exploitative of sex workers.  But I made the analogy to Mcdonald’s today.  Customers and employers can treat food service employees like shit in the context of capitalism but that doesn’t mean the act of buying fast food is inherently wrong.  Clients and people in general should be taught to respect sex workers and their labor rights.  Not be told that transactional sex is wrong. Plus, criminalization of clients, as we see in Sweden, leads to pathologization and marginalization of sex workers as the trade is driven underground and the state perceives sex workers as victims.