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.