A national survey indicates that fewer men have ever paid for sex — or been paid for it — than a couple of decades ago.
But scholars and activists wonder if that means males really are eschewing prostitution in greater numbers...or if they're just not willing to fess up, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Between 1991 and 1996, nearly 17% of men said they had ever paid for or received payment for sex, according to a number of surveys. That percentage dropped to 13.2% between 2006 and 2012, the Times said.
And last year that percentage took a kind of cliff dive, falling to its lowest point — 9.1% — since the question was first asked. However, statisticians say the unusually small number could be an aberration.
Although if fewer men are paying for sex, "it's because they don't have to," Christine Milrod, an independent researcher and sex therapist based in Los Angeles, told the Times.
That's right: "They can have sex for free," she said.
More from the Times:
The Internet — through websites such as Adult FriendFinder and smartphone apps such as Blendr — has made it much easier to find other people who want to have sex without charge, said Michael Reece of the Indiana University School of Public Health.
Reece said young adults who grew up "in the shadow of HIV" also might be more uneasy about prostitution. He pointed to the fact that condom use is higher among people in their teens and twenties than it is among older adults.
Others have their doubt that men are changing their habits.
"I have never read anything that suggests a decline in men buying sex," said Melissa Farley, executive director of Prostitution Research and Education, a nonprofit that aims to abolish prostitution.
Then again, it could be stiffer penalties associated with prostitution that are scaring men from it.
"City after city, state after state, there have been changes in the law that increase penalties for paying for sex," Ronald Weitzer, a George Washington University sociology professor, told the Times.
"It might be the growing punitive climate that's affecting these numbers" as more men avoid reporting what they did.
More from the Times:
So who is still buying sex?
In interviews with more than 100 men who bought sex, Prostitution Research and Education found 26% of customers said they were fulfilling immediate sexual urges, but 19% sought "variety" and 12% were looking for convenience or lack of commitment. The rest gave other reasons.
Customers who talked with the Los Angeles Times offered a wide range of reasons, from dating frustrations to sexual addiction.
"It's sort of like a date, with flirting and friendship," said James, a 56-year-old from Chicago who spoke on the condition that his last name not be used. He estimates he has spent more than $400,000 on sex since 1986. "But it's delusional. Because I'm paying them."