A look at the psychology behind why married men visit prostitutes and seemingly risk everything in the process.
There are few things more devastating to a spouse than the betrayal of infidelity, and we can only imagine how intensified that devastation becomes when made public. However, there is a psychological difference between paid sex and other types of infidelity. Visiting a prostitute is usually only about the sex. It isn't about friendship. It isn't about ego, or admiration, or conquest. It is a cold and emotionless business transaction.
It is difficult to speculate as to why married men visit prostitutes, because the reasons are so varied. A man may, of course, simply be "bored" and consider an emotionless business deal not really cheating. (We're not discussing ethics here, just possibilities.) He may, in fact, have a partner who refuses to be sexual, while he refuses to abstain. Or, he may desire certain things that he is embarrassed to ask his wife to participate in. The great sex researcher Helen Kaplan once wrote of a powerful man whose marriage ended when his wife, whom he loved very much, found out that he was seeing a dominatrix. Sadly, Dr. Kaplan said, the man's "requirements" were minimal, but he was afraid his wife would abandon him if he even suggested she do what the dominatrix did. There also are issues of total control, and the fact that there is little chance of ever being hurt or embarrassed, even if unable to perform.
Before telephones and the advent of paid phone sex (or the online equivalent), visiting a prostitute was the only way for a person to be sexual with anonymity (assuming this wasn't a public figure) and without the risk of emotional complication. Recent studies show that certain brain chemicals are released after partnered but not solitary sex, and one might speculate this plays a part as to why a man who visits a prostitute prefers it to online masturbatory fantasy, even if it does put him at risk of losing things very important to him.
Statistics tell us that about 20 percent of married men are unfaithful to their spouses. That was even the case in the survey we did for our book, "He's Just Not Up for It Anymore. When Men Stop Having Sex and What You Can Do About It." The fact that these men weren't sexual with their wives didn't cause them to cheat more, or less, than the average. However, only a small portion men use "escort" services or prostitutes, and even that can vary from a one time lapse to an ongoing habit.
Needless to say, we can only speculate on what the story is in the (N.Y. Governor Elliott) Spitzer marriage. (Indeed, one thing we've learned over the years is that the only people who maybe know what's going on within a marriage is the married couple themselves. And clearly, there are even surprises there.) But you have to wonder why someone with so much to lose would participate in such high-risk behavior that could be (and in this case was) found out. Is it possible that someone in that position wants to be unconsciously discovered? Has so much guilt seeped into his psyche that he purposely leaves a trail of easily-followed clues? (The governor was fighting for much stricter laws on the books to prosecute the men who visit prostitutes. In actuality, did he want to punish himself?) Or is there a sense of self-delusion? Did he think of himself as omnipotent, that is, too smart to be caught? Did the rules apply to everyone except him?
One other possibility, although improbable, is that some couples may have a private deal. She's not interested in having sex, or if she is, it's not the kind that he wants, and therefore he has permission to visit a prostitute. No emotion that might threaten the marriage is allowed, but he can remain sexual. This might be on the condition that he practices safe sex and uses complete discretion.
Many therapists define sexual addiction as obsessive behavior that puts marriage, family, career, health and personal safety in peril. The recent situation with the governor of New York State certainly fits that description.
Visit Bob and Susan's Web site at www.bobandsusanberkowitz.com. Dr. Bob Berkowitz earned his doctorate in Clinical Sexology at The Institute for the Advanced study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco.
Bob and Susan Berkowitz's current book, "He's Just Not Up for It Anymore: Why Men Stop Having Sex and What Women Are Doing About It," was published by William Morrow on December 26, 2007.