Men who pay to have sex with prostitutes have less empathy for women and may be more likely to commit rape in the future, finds a new study from the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA).

"Our findings indicate that men who buy sex share certain key characteristics with men who are at risk for committing sexual aggression," said study co-author Neil Malamuth, a professor of communications studies and psychology at UCLA, in a press release. "Both groups tend to have a preference for impersonal sex, a fear of rejection by women, a history of having committed sexually aggressive acts and a hostile masculine self-identification. Those who buy sex, on average, have less empathy for women in prostitution and view them as intrinsically different from other women."

Study authors arrived at these conclusions after studying 101 men who buy sex in the Boston area and 101 men don't, with the latter group not thinking the men who did buy sex were otherwise sexually coercive. The study focused specifically on sexual aggression because that’s often how former prostitutes describe their past experiences. The question of whether prostitution is more like a job or whether it is more like abuse or sexual aggression is an important question to answer at both a societal and political level, the authors said.

In this particular study, paying for sex referred to men who acknowledged that they had bought sex from a woman or man who was a prostitute, sex worker, or massage parlor worker in exchange for something of value, like food, drugs, or shelter; men who didn’t buy sex had neither done this nor viewed pornography more than once a week. Both groups of men were knowledgeable about coercion and sex trafficking, as well as the many reasons women have previously given to explain their entering prostitution. They were also all similar in age, ethnicity, and economic status.

With Malamuth’s confluence model of sexual aggression — this works to identify the type of man at higher risk of committing sexually aggressive acts — the research team found significant levels of sexually aggressive attitudes and behavior among men who paid for sex. Traits of sexual aggression include antisocial behavior, a preference for impersonal sex, and what study authors call “hostile masculinity,” which is a narcissistic personality trait.

Men who scored higher on sexual measures for impersonal sex and hostile masculinity had less empathy for women in prostitution, viewing them as “intrinsically different from other women.” When compared to men who hadn’t paid for sex, study authors indicated that these findings suggest men who buy sex share similar key characteristics. One man who was interviewed for the study said prostitutes were like coffee cups: “When you’re done, you throw it out.”

Another man included in the study said he thought that “a lot of times [women in prostitution] feel degraded,” or at least the ones he knew lacked self-confidence. “So they feel less than a person and more like a commodity,” he explained (though separate research has shown some men who pay for sex crave emotional intimacy).

"We hope this research will lead to a rejection of the myth that sex buyers are simply sexually frustrated nice guys," said Melissa Farley, the study’s lead author and executive director of Prostitution Research and Education, a San Francisco-based nonprofit.

Having studied prostitution for the past 18 years, Farley used her existing knowledge to predict potential outcomes for the present study, she told Medical Daily in an email.

“It was validating to hear from the sex buyers that their views of prostitution essentially mirrored what the women who'd been on the receiving end of that sexual coercion and misogyny had told me over the years,” she added.

However, Farley was surprised to find just how much men in the study knew about coercion. She said they had described it similar to how “pimps control women,” in that they select the most vulnerable women. Most men knew that most strip clubs are commonly used for child sex trafficking.

“They were remarkably candid,” Farley said.

That said, this study had several limitations; for one, the data is solely collected from men who have been arrested for soliciting prostitution. Secondly, much of the information was self-reported, and it is possible men answered in a way they deemed more socially acceptable. Study authors said because of these limitations, it could suggest that the men who paid for sex were more sexually aggressive "because in the current context that prostitution is illegal, it is the more deviant, marginalized, and/or more hostile men who risk seeking out [prostitutes]."

The study concludes: "It is critical to dedicate resources and effort to programs that directly tackle issues of power, gender norms, entitlement, and sexism."

Source: Farley M, et al. Comparing Sex Buyers With Men Who Do Not Buy Sex: New Data on Prostitution and Trafficking. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. 2015.