The Sexist

The Secret Prostitution Code, and What It Says About Johns

This summer, I discovered the many ridiculous sexual euphemisms employed by johns who frequent online prostitution forums. On the Internet, dudes who pay women to have sex with them communicate in an absurd code in the hopes of eluding law enforcement officers (that's "LEOs" to them). The code ranges from straight acronym (BBBJ is "Bareback Blow Job") to schoolyard joke (Ed Zachary Disease is code for "A woman with an unattractive face"). My pick for the most offensive code-word? "CCL." That means that your sex worker of choice has got the "Concentration Camp Look."

Now, a study in this month's Journal of Contemporary Ethnography has attempted to decipher these sex codes for real for real. The study, conducted by researchers Kristie R. Blevins and Thomas J. Holt, examines the "argot," or coded language, of the prostitution enthusiast's "virtual subculture" in order to discern what these communication strategies indicate about the men who engage in—and report on—prostitution. Here's what they discovered about the language of johns:

* First off: Don't call them "johns." On the online forums studied by Blevins and Holt, terms like "john" and "trick" were considered derogatory to prostitution enthusiasts. Online, johns prefer to refer to themselves as "mongers," "trollers," or "hobbyists." According to the study:

For example, a user in the Inglewood forum described a successful night identifying and soliciting several prostitutes and closed by writing, “I cant wait to monger again like the sadistic one that I am.” Another Inglewood poster wrote, “Saturday morning, 10:30 am, and it was time for this dedicated hobbyist to pursue another adventure.” . . . Thus, the terms used to describe the customers of prostitutes reflect the notion that the customers find nothing wrong in paying for sex. It is simply an interest or pastime that they enjoy.

* "Pooner" is a good thing. If someone calls you a "pooner," that means you've achieved online prostitution forum street cred. (Congratulations?):

Mongers who were very involved in discussion forums and review boards were often referred to as a pooner. This term was meant as a sign of respect and status and was used to identify those with clout in the forums. For example, jester from the Atlanta forum posted a question seeking information about escorts: “I was looking for recommendations about agencies from pooners who have used them . . . I don’t need to know details (if you are worried about LE), only about ones that are half-way reliable.” Asking for assistance from more senior or experienced members in this fashion could increase the likelihood of information sharing. Thus, active involvement in both the sex trade and online resources played an important role in indicating status among johns across the forums.

* "Mongers" tend to avoid offensive terms for prostitutes. According to the study, forum users shied away from calling sex workers "hookers," "hos," or even "prostitute." Aww, how sweet. In place of derogatory terms for people, mongers used derogatory terms for objects, often referring to sex workers by their make, model, and build:

This language may be perceived as respectful and a way to neutralize the negative perspectives of their practices, mirroring their use of terms such as mongering or hobbying. At the same time, these terms treat sex workers as items, rather than individual human beings. For example, posters used the term streetwalker or SW to describe a prostitute who works the streets looking for clients. Posters would also use a letter to denote the race of the sex worker, including WSW for white; BSW for black; and LSW, HSW, or MSW for Hispanic.

* Other fun terms that treat people like objects: On the forums, skinny sex workers are "spinners"; older sex workers have got "mileage":

For example, some johns used the term spinner to refer a petite female, [according to one forum user:] "a girl who is so tiny in proportion that you can put her on top of your bone and “spin” her like a top."

. . . Specifically, johns would also use the term mileage to refer to women whose appearances reflected the physical and emotional toll that sex work takes on prostitutes. The use of a term like mileage that is typically used for automobiles is demonstrative of the perception that sex workers are offering a service.

* An "8" on the "streetwalker scale" is a "6" on the "normal" scale. Predictably, the way mongers rate sex workers is dehumanizing—they require a different scale than "normal" people:

In addition to the term mileage, johns also utilized a streetwalker scale to rate prostitutes’ appearances on a scale from 1 to 10. This ratings system was used to indicate the differences between prostitutes and women not involved in the sex trade, as in the following post from the Chicago forum: “This time I come across a very nice wsw [white street walker]. She would be a 6 on a normal scale, 8 on the sw [street walker] one.”

* These guys tend to beat the "sex workers are objects" theme into the ground. Online Web sites which many sex workers use to advertise are called "malls." Photos are available for "window shopping":

One of the most salient terms in the argot of johns that suggests sex work is a commodity is the use of the phrase mall. In this argot, a mall was a Web site devoted to advertising a variety of different online escorts and agencies. This was exemplified by a user in the Atlanta forum: "[A web-based service] is the best for finding upscale escorts or shall I say ones that charge 200 up. There are links to the escort 'malls' where window shopping is done."

So, what does it all mean? Blevins and Holt don't delve too far into the implications of the use of "mongers" and "mileage" in online prostitution forums. But the language they've uncovered does offer a few interesting insights into the men who solicit prostitutes (and talk about it).

First, many men who frequent prostitutes feel that their activities make them worthy of status and respect. These men don't fit the convenient stereotype the public has created for johns: sad-sack guys who have to pay for sex because they can't get girls to fuck them for free. They see themselves as connoisseurs, "hobbyists"—artists, even. They see paying for sex as a sport which can be won by frequenting the most and best sex workers for the least amount of money, hassle, and consequences.

Second—and most obvious—sex workers are seen as objects to be bought, not as humans. More often than not, sex workers are not portrayed as skilled workers who provide their customers with a service in exchange for a fee. Rather, they are things—to be perused, used, and dispensed of by the "hobbyist" who uses them to bolster his monger status. The sex worker herself is seen as the product. Again, the "hobbyist" is the thinking, creative, artistic being here, while the sex worker is denied her status as a worker, performer, or businessperson—a person capable of choosing if, when, and under what circumstances to offer a service. The idea that johns think of sex workers as objects is obvious. But it's also important. It suggests, first, that johns believe that the bodies of sex workers are available for their use in any way they choose. But it also reveals that the ability to treat women as objects is part—or perhaps even all—of a john's real interest in prostitution.

Comments

  1. #1

    Amanda:

    Great post, *HOWEVER*, when you take a piece of research that's been derived from *online message boards* and then project that onto the entire population of men who've hired prostitutes, you're being a little dishonest. This research (at least in my current understanding) is only a look at the lexicon of these online communities, and I don't get the impression the authors were making a general point about men who hire prostitutes.

    Not to be glib, but I have to wonder about the reliability of that dataset. Analyzing from a linguistics perspective is fine, but I doubt many of those boards' participants are actually having sex, hookers or not. I would suggest it's more important for the users to have 'cred' in the forums than it is for them to actually have human intercourse.

    PS - love the blog.

  2. #2

    Jeremiah:

    Thanks for commenting! You've got a good point---guys who post on these boards are probably different from guys who frequent prostitutes and DON'T talk about it. I agree that these guys find it very important to have cred in the forums (and to let other guys know how awesome they are at having sex with prostitutes) but I don't think they're making it up.

    I've been on a lot of the D.C. boards (research!) and posters are often ridiculed or banned if they float stories that seem implausible, or if they discuss sex workers who don't appear to exist (that no other users have heard of or can find advertisements for). There appears to be a hazing period of sorts for new posters---if you don't provide a narrative and specifics about your prostitution experience, but instead post for advice or leads for hunting down sex workers, you'll be roundly criticized. In short, you gotta go to a prostitute before you can post on the boards.

    One of the posters compared the forums to a fraternity for guys into prostitution, and that sounds about right to me. It's about camaraderie, but also competition. And while I'm SURE that leads to exaggerations (like the guys who post about how much their sex worker LOVED it when they performed a move on THEM---yeah right), posters have to be careful not to fabricate too much, for fear of being ousted.

    That being said, the conclusions that the researchers made from these postings were so elemental that they were actually codified in the language of the posts themselves. Even if some men are exaggerating or fabricating their experiences, they're still using a very standardized vocabulary---mileage, spinners, etc.---that indicate that these men see sex workers as objects, and see themselves as heroes.

    Of course, the john who chooses not to use these words (or share his experience at all) may not have the attitudes toward sex work. But since the only real discourse between johns has emerged online, that's all we have to go on.

  3. #3

    Is'nt a prostitute selling her body as an object? They're not shilling personality I'd imagine.

  4. #4

    I agree with Kza.

    The sarcasm about the objectifying language is unwarranted; you yourself said it was done to elude law enforcement. Furthermore, the idea that men trolling for women to temporarily buy should pretend they care about them on a deep personal level is, in my opinion, silly.

  5. #5

    "Isn't a prostitute selling her body as an object?" No. She's selling a service that she (or he -- wonder if there are comparable male prostitute forums?) performs with her body. Her body is still there when she's done. Models, thletes, waitresses, aerobics teachers, bicycle delivery people, all have jobs that require them to *use* their bodies in exchange for money, but they're not "selling" them either.

    This is an important distinction to make because of the age-old assumption (conceptual metaphor, really) that a woman is "used up" by having sex, that her body no longer belongs to her after she's made that choice, & that a woman who's had many sex partners has been depleted & therefore has less to offer than a virgin. The same metaphor is in effect in abstinence-only sex ed classes, where the instructor will suck on a piece of candy, put it back in its wrapper, then ask if anyone would want to eat that candy. It's been used to justify some pretty sexist thinking. Selling a service =/= "selling your body."

  6. #6

    Every time I think my faith in humanity has been completely killed, I stumble across something like this, and discover that there was room for it to die a little more. I think our best hope at this point is a giant asteroid that collides with the earth and kills us all.

  7. #7

    I'm not a big sports enthusiast, but isn't the same sort of language frequently used when describing football players? They are described as objects, (the sum of their various statistics), their number of years playing and expected remaining lifetime is evaluated.

    This is not unique to prostitution.

  8. #8

    It only takes reading the first few sentences of this article to know the ending. These “insightful” “revealing” pieces all seem to make the same very significant error: they are just as guilty of stereotyping both the workers and their clients as they claim the men are stereotyping the women as “objects”. Yes, I am sure some people fit the stereotypes but many (a minority I suspect, but a significant minority) do not.

    If you wrote your piece about restaurants a reader would believe they all had Golden Arches in front of them. Your piece is far too simplistic. ANY interaction that is so personality based can never be as simple as you make it out to be. I know two people who have written books that give a much broader view of the types of men, women, and relationships but neither can get it published because they do not fit the mono-world view as your article presents. Too bad.

    If you would like to discuss it more I would be glad to do so.

    PS: Your lexicon has a few common use terms but you will find the terminology is very varied. You also apply a lot of implied meaning which is, to say the least, a stretch from the truth.

  9. #9

    As a John, by Choice (see http://guyinism.com/?p=11), I believe your last paragraph does not accurately reflect most of us. Most of the posts in the types of forums studied relate to guys who meet prostitutes in the street, not guys, such as myself, who invite the types of the women who do not work the streets into our own homes. If you read the posts on TheEroticReview.com, you will see a different type of conversation, with very detailed descriptions of what the women do and don't do, or might sometimes do - out of the hundreds of reviews I have read, no one on that site believes they own any woman's body, not even for an hour. There are ample discussions about the womans' personalities and such, and guys frequently share their stories how about some of the women are difficult to schedule with, how lucky they are that they called back, etc.

    Also, consider that it is much more difficult to get to know someone as a person when you have to pick them up in a car for a quick BJ in order to avoid LEO and get home in time for dinner with your wife, than when you can have a conversation, cocktails, etc, which is what almost always happens when I have girls over (I am single). Usually we don't even "get busy" for around a half-hour, and often more, and I met the woman who I consider most my "soulmate" by hiring her for the night. She came back free the next day, we dated for a blissful year-and-a-half, and I often wish I had her back.

  10. #10

    I made the post above some 4 1/2 hours ago. I checked back now to see if there were any replies, curious to see what they might be. When I have made this kind of posts in the past--on threads such as these--the negative "male chauvinist pig" variety of replies generally dominate, though there are occasionally some thoughtful, measured replies for or against my POV.

    I still hope there may be some when I look tomorrow. But for now I will content myself to piggy-back upon Dirk's comment, most of which I agree with.

    I just returned from spending four beautiful hours with a woman. I have known her for many years, and yes, I met her when she was an escort and I was looking for some companionship. Companionship in many multiple facets. She made an amazing impression upon me in the first ten minutes (and you can all get your heads out of the gutter, the impression had nothing to do with sex). I have seen her over 100 times since then. We have laughed, made love, consoled each other at the death of loved ones, had sex, and have fallen asleep in each others' arms. I never once "thought I owned her" or "thought of her as a commodity." If I did I would have never returned to see her a second time much less 100th time.

    She will always be my closest friend, and tonight we talked about her impending wedding to which she invited me. I do not claim to be unique. I know I am not. But I cannot imagine seeing myself, or my friend, in the stereotypes of the article.

  11. #11

    "It only takes reading the first few sentences of this article to know the ending. These “insightful” “revealing” pieces all seem to make the same very significant error: they are just as guilty of stereotyping both the workers and their clients as they claim the men are stereotyping the women as “objects”."

    so what...pointing out a few logical flaws in the conclusions that they reach (or in unsupported assumptions) doesn't undermine the points made that *are* logical, or the actual facts in the story. Just points out the hypocrisy in it.

    Which is a good point. The more that the "learned" wish to believe that they know and understand their subject matter, the less they can be concerned with the accuracy of their "understanding". But surely they will claim to be authoritative experts on the subject.

  12. #12

    jf1,

    I would not claim ALL the points and facts in the story are wrong. Actually I think many of them are correct FOR A SUBSET of the women and men who partake. The problem I have is the implication that all escorts and clients fit this mold in actions or in words.

    Somewhere in an earlier article Amanda made a passing comment that streetwalkers and women who do not walk the streets but are higher-end escorts are probably very different. I would like to see that recognized here too.

  13. #13

    ...dude, thanks for explaining that. The world was about to split at the seams for a minute, there. Now we can all rest easy at least for a few minutes until the next potential "misunderstanding" of something that you say.

  14. #14

    jf1,

    ????

    Am I missing something or is that sarcasm I see dripping from your words this time. Not sure what I said that seemed to irritate you. It wasn't intentional.

  15. #15

    Alfred,

    Thank you for post #10 in particular, which is personally inspiring since I recently met someone else who I am still paying for sex after a half-dozen dates but with whom my relationship seems to be mutually taking a more personal turn, just as I have intended it to since I first noticed her ad. Just this Monday, I took her to a Halloween ball she wanted to go to, with the understanding that there was a good likelihood I wasn't going to want to spring for the sex, which is how the night went down, though in the morning she invited me into the bedroom to spoon with her in all her adorable, imminently sleeping, hungoverness for free.

    I personally refer to dating escorts as "dating with dignity" since both parties usually walk away happy - as opposed to mainstream vanilla dating, which I refer to as "degra-dating," since it generally consists of guys having to go through all kinds of humiliating machinations to end up not getting to date who they really want to date anyway, and then mainly just using for sex the girls who they are stuck being able to date.

  16. #16

    I can't make the distinction between escort prostitution and streetwalker prostitution here. The study is about a code that is used across many contexts---for prostitution that happens on the street, in brothels, in massage parlors, and through escort services. If you're aware of any specific linguistic differences between the words used in message boards dedicated to escorting and the words used in message boards dedicated to street prostitution, let me know. I'd be interested to see how the language might change.

  17. #17

    Amanda,

    I think you will find the language in this business is like dialects in any language, it changes very substantially from region to region and board to board. The terms “Ed Zachary Disease”, “pooner”, and “troller” are far from the norm on the boards I see, though I have seen all of them used except the first one. The most common terms tend to be “client”, “date”, “woman”, and the like.

    My disagreement with your original article is more about the interpretation of what is going through a man's mind based upon the word(s) used. That is where I think the difference among the streetwalker, brothel, and independent escort subcultures is very different. Most the streetwalking subculture does not use the web or much of any structured communication other than word of mouth. Even among the escort subculture those who post are a small fraction of the men and the women.

    While any large group of people has good & bad intermingled the work by Blevins & Holt only acknowledges one part of the whole. I cannot say I am surprised because if Blevins is the person I think she is I have read other work of hers and it was all exceedingly slanted to justify the “conclusion” she went in with. If I have her confused with a different author then I apologize.

  18. #18

    Amanda,

    The biggest problem I see with your analysis is that it is based upon pulling isolated words out of longer, more considered posts. Yes, many of the euphemisms are ridiculous, but if you read more of these posts - especially on more upscale sites where people aren't engaging in rushed fucking in parked cars while they evade the coppers, it is impossible to draw your conclusion that prostitution has much to do with treating someone like an object. The only way, for most of us johns, that the prostitute is in any way like an object is that, unlike with an amateur but much like a product in a store, getting with a prostitute is not a moving target for which there is usually no hope of ever actually having sex. Just like a nice pair of shoes, the prostitute doesn't have to like us back. That having been said, its much better if she does.

    Rather than post my response here, I have prepared a lengthy and snarky reply to your request on my own blog, "The Balls Monologues." I invite you, and all the guys reading this, to simply click on my name next to the top left corner of this post to be linked to my site. My response is lengthy because it is a study undergone partly in response to a study, and because it allows readers to get a window into just how un-like an object some of us view women we pay for sex.

    In case you are reading this post in the non-immediate future, my post is called "Objectifornication?" and can be found at http://guyinism.com/?p=204.

  19. #19

    "...I immediately stopped raping it. The object then said it wanted me to cum, and gave me an incredible handjob..."

    From “Objectifornication?” (found at http://guyinism.com/?p=204, available by clicking on my name).

    Sorry - I couldn't help but give your readers a tease.

  20. #20

    Hi Dirk--

    So, I took the time to read your lengthy post, and I have to admit it's left me somewhat nauseated. While your intention may have been to point out how much you humanize the escorts you sleep with, what you really manage to demonstrate is how enormously you dehumanize all women. I mean, us ladies, we're all in the same game-- leveraging sex for things. It's just that some of us are "amateurs" at the game of getting things from you through pleasing you personally by having sex with you when you want it and others are professionals at it. THAT's the attitude that makes me queasy. See, since I've been brought up to think that relationships between individuals are equal and that real sexual intimacy comes from two people honestly wanting to fuck the shit out of each other MUTUALLY, it's pretty disturbing to come across this idea that no, actually, women are supposed to work like ATMs. You put money in, we put out, not because we want to, but because you've paid your fare. If that's your idea of how sex works generally, sure, I can see why you'd prefer a prostitute. I mean, who wants an ATM that doesn't spit out cash when you've pushed the right buttons?

    It just so happens, though, that I don't really like being thought of as a fucking ATM, and I doubt any woman would. So, I'm glad you treat the escorts you employ well-- and I'm damn sure they are too. But it doesn't mean you don't think of them, and all women, as objects.

  21. #21

    In what appears to be yet another feminist veiled attack on sex work, MHW misinterprets my post and creates a fiction. I wasn't referring to non-escorts being "amateurs" at some sort of game. I was referring to non-escorts being amateurs at sex.

    I've been with a lot of escorts, and I've been with a lot of non-escorts. By and large, sorry to break what should be obvious news to those who aren't inclined to want to hear it, escorts tend to be much, much better at sex than non-escorts - its what they do for a living, and contrary to what Amanda wrote in her post, us guys who see escorts do indeed very much appreciate their abilities as a "worker, performer, or businessperson." Amanda's very attack on us is that we don't appreciate professionalism - in fact, as the post on my blog (including the quotes from the review sites) makes clear, we surely do. And with those many escorts that like what they do, not only is it mutual, but like anyone else who likes their job, they tend to do be the best escorts.

    MHW's entire rant, written under the influence of nausea presumably induced by her sudden awareness of superior sexual competition and concomitant perception of disempowerment and femasculation, is based upon a misinterpretation. Therefore, there's no need to address most of the remainder of it, other than to say that if she read my post and still concluded that johns, including myself, look at women as objects, then her definition of "object," like the definition of "rape" by many on this site, has become so expanded as to become meaningless, and surely would also apply to all sorts of ways women, even the holier-then-thou types like MHW, looked at guys. The emotionalist absurdity of MHW, who doesn't know me, and yet accuses of me of thinking of "all" women as objects, says it all. According to MHW, I think of my mother, my 90-something grandmother, friends, co-workers, former teachers, infant niece, sister-in-law that had cancer surgery today, Ayn Rand, Mother Theresa, and cunt of a boss - all of them - just objects, even though I have no sexual interest in probably about 90% of women alive.

    On behalf of all of us - guys and women - who don't share your E Harmony factors view of the world, why don't you dehumanize us a little more.

  22. #22

    This article, or possibly the study it reports on, also seems to be opportunistically selective in its overview of the slang used on the boards. Yes, men who pay for sex refer to themselves as "Hobbyists" or "Mongers" -- but they primarily refer to women who accept payment for sex as "Providers." Most of the posts I've seen or read discuss the providers as people, not as objects.

    They do, however, focus these discussions on the services they are providing, how well the services are performed, and how suitable, physically, verbally, mentally or otherwise, the providers are for the customer's needs.

    In a business providing a service, it seems appropriate to discuss the factors in providing that service satisfactorily, and when the service is providing sexual release, it's an unavoidable fact that appearance and body shape are factors, so description of those factors is appropriate to reviews.

  23. #23

    Ridiculous article wrote by a woman obviously against prostitution. Whatever though, the fact is prostitution should be legal, the govt has no right to tell two consenting adults what they can do in the bedroom. I'll agree street-walkers should be illegal, but the behind-closed-doors escorts should not be illegal, it's totally ludicrous to say that should be illegal. What's the difference between a prostitute and a woman that marrys for money/status? Answer - NOTHING. So I guess there's a lot of legal prostitutes out there, the only difference is, they're married prostitutes. You're all a bunch of hypocrites! Women know nothing about the life of a single man and could never hope to understand it. If a woman wants companionship all she does is dress up and go out to a night club to get approached by men all night. I go to escorts and I'm proud of it to be honest, also I do not view the women as sex objects I see it as companionship. I treat women better than the majority of guys that do not go to escorts I wager, but I do not have a lot of money or have high social status so regular women do not consider me relationship material. Women have noone to blame other than themselves that guys like me decided on the life of a john. I'm single and have never been married, regular women have forsaken me to a life of loneliness and to never have children. So I will proudly go to escorts until the day I die at least I have a little companionship that way!!!

  24. #24

    Bitches.

    Also: Whores.

  25. #25

    Interesting material. I have been dating prostitutes for over 30 years. I specialize in finding girls who provide bbfs- bareback full service. Primarily I date Korean prositutes who work in massage parlors in the Los Angeles area.

    I don't have the full blow aids, hiv or even a veneral disease. Naturally becuase I date prostitutes I would never dream of dating a non whore. It is wrong morally. In case you are wondering, 80% of the prostitutes that allow bbfs do not allow for a vaginal discharge.

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