Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Volume 8, September 26, 2005


Sex customers in Norway 2002


Bente Træen, Dr.Philos.1, Line M Eek-Jensen, Stud.Psychol.1, Hein Stigum, Dr.Philos.2
1 Department of psychology, University of Tromsø, Norway

2National Institute of Public Health, Oslo, Norway



Mailing address:

Professor Bente Træen

Department of Psychology

University of Tromsø

9037 Tromsø, Norway

Phone: +47 77645955                    Fax: +47 77645610             bentet@psyk.uit.no


How many Norwegians have bought sexual services? Which background factors are associated with buying sex, and to what extent do sex customers use condoms? Our analyses are based on data from a questionnaire survey among a representative sample of 10,000 Norwegians aged 18-49 years in 2002. The response rate was 34%. The results showed that 13 % of the men and 0.3% of the women reported they had bought sex at some point of time in their life. Among men, experience of buying sex was related to birth cohort, marital status, attitudes and use of pornography. A total of 70 % of the male sex customers reported having used condoms at the most recent occasion of buying sex. There was an association between condom use during intercourse with a prostitute, and the number of years since the sex was bought. It seems sex customers have become better condom users over time.


The most common form of prostitution worldwide is the heterosexual. Most of those who sell sex are women, and most of the buyers are men. In the rare reversed cases the transactions are often heavily camouflaged (presents, sex tourism, etc). According to Baumeister & Vohs (2004), the female sex drive is more influenced by socio-cultural and situational factors than male sex drive. Men thus have a lower erotic plasticity than women. This makes sex a female resource, and men seek sex from women. Male sexuality has no exchange value, but men give women other resources in exchange for sex. In this way, women become those who sell, and men become the buyers. These principles apply to prostitution, which is an obvious form of sexual exchange (Baumeister & Vohs, 2004). However, to what extent do men buy sex from women?

Only a few studies on buying sex based on representative population samples exist. An early Norwegian survey from the beginning of the 1980s among a random sample of men showed that 13% reported having bought sex from prostitutes (Prieur & Taksdal, 1989). Other researchers have compared self-reported experience of buying sex in males in different European countries between 1989 and 1992 (Leridon, van Zessen & Hubert, 1998). They found significant variation in the reporting. In Great Britain 6.6% of the men reported having bought sex (Wellings, Field, Johnson & Wadsworth, 1994), rising to 9.9% in Finland, 11.3% in Norway, 14.3% in the Netherlands, 18.7% in Switzerland, and 38.6% in Spain. In Sweden in 1996, 12.7 % of the male population, and none of the female reported having paid for sex (Månsson, 2000).

In the 1996 Swedish study, about 30 % of the men with experience buying sex reported they had bought sex only once, and about 25 % claimed they had bought sexual services on two to three occasions (Månsson, 2000). A total of 8% of men reported they had bought sex more than 20 times, and 2% claimed they had bought sex more than 50 times. This minority group contributed to raise the mean number of times having bought sex to 5.7, while the median was 2 times. Experience of buying sex was most frequently reported in the middle-aged group. Every fifth man in the age between 35 and 65 years reported he had bought sex. Furthermore, experience of buying sex was associated with number of sex partners in life. A minority of Swedish men was characterized as particularly sexually active, meaning having had more than 50 coital partners. In this group, 43% reported having paid for sex. The researcher concluded that these findings contradicted the hypothesis that buying sexual services functions as a substitute for an ordinary, non-commercial, sex partner. Buying sex seemed to be only one component of several in an active sex life among a small group of men with multiple partners.  

In a later Swedish study it was found that men who bought sex mainly lived, or had lived, in permanent relationships (Månsson, 2000). More sex customers than non-customers had experienced divorce, often several times. The researcher interpreted this as a sign that sex customers change their partners more often than others, and may find it difficult to establish, or maintain, stable long-term relationships.

In a 2000 review of the literature, it was concluded that sex customers mainly constitute a group of middle-class men seeking satisfaction and excitement (Allgeier & Allgeier, 2000). The reasons for buying sex were varied. Some men claimed they had physical or emotional problems that made it difficult for them to find an ordinary partner. Other customers were married men who sought variation and novelty without having to become emotionally involved with the partner, men who because of their job were away from their home for longer periods of time, men who sought a kind of sex they could not or would not ask their permanent partner to participate in, and men who thought that only “bad girls” truly are interested in sex.

Australian researchers found that sex customers named four aspects of buying sex as important (McKeganey & Barnard, 1996). These aspects were the possibility to have sex with several different women, the possibility to seek out experience with women that have special physical features, the excitement in doing something socially unacceptable, and the limitation of the sexual meeting in terms of time and emotional involvement. In another study the personality characteristics of male sex customers in Melbourne and their motivation for buying sex was addressed (Xantidis & McCabe, 2000). Comparing sex customers and non-customers they found no differences between the groups in terms of age, education, marital status or professional status. The researchers also studied the degree of masculine and feminine traits in gender roles, and the degree of sexual and social ability, among the men. They found that the sex customers generally scored lower on the femininity dimension and on the socio-sexual ability measure, and had higher sensation seeking personality, than non-customers. Two sub groups of customers were identified. The first group seemed to be motivated on the basis of the desire to be close to another person, and the other group consisted of persons characterized by high degree of sensation seeking with the need for novelty in sexual encounters.

A recent qualitative study among sex customers in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, explored motives for buying sex from the customers’ own perspective (Kippe, 2004).  Several of the informants explained their behaviour as due to having strong sexual desires that needed to be acted upon. They focused on the excitement of buying sex, whereas others enjoyed the possibility of having sex with new women, and the ability to choose who they wanted to have sex with without the danger of being rejected. Some of the informants regarded sex as a recreation activity similar to other recreation activities.  

A review of sex surveys in Europe clearly showed that sexually transmitted infections (STIs) were more often reported by men who had paid for sex than other men (Warszawski, 1998). As prostitutes have sex with multiple partners from different segments of the population, they constitute a potential risk group for contracting STIs. This seems particularly to be a problem in developing countries (Hearst & Chen, 2004). A Dutch study found that most sex customers tended to focus on the positive aspects of condom use (Vanwesenbeeck, De Graaf, Van Zessen, et al., 1993).  This may explain why the majority of European men who paid for sex in the 1990s reported using condoms. A Greek study from 1990 showed that 65% of those who had paid for sex during the past year used condoms. The corresponding figure from France was 74% (Magnus, 1998). In a Swedish study the 0.4% of the men who reported that their most recent sex partner was a prostitute all used condoms (Månsson, 2000). The similar figure for Norway in 1992 was 43% (Magnus, 1998).

The purpose of this study was to describe and analyse the buying of sexual services in Norway in 2002. How many buy sexual services from prostitutes and who are they? What social background factors are associated with buying sex? To what extent do sex-customers use protection against STIs?


In 2002, a random sample of 10,000 Norwegians between 18 years and 49 years of age was drawn from the population register by the Central Bureau of Statistics to participate in a sexual behaviour survey. The data collection was carried out by means of anonymous, mailed, self-administered questionnaires. This survey was the fourth study in a series conducted with 5-year intervals by the National Institute of Public Health in Norway. Several publications exist on the basis of the data sets collected in 1987, 1992, and 1997. The 2002 survey mostly included questions that had been used once or more in the previous studies. The questionnaire contained questions on socio-demographic characteristics, sexual behaviour, age at first intercourse, number of partners, use of contraception and experience of buying sex. In addition, questions on self-esteem, locus of control, attitudes toward sexuality, and abortion were included in the questionnaire.

One reminder was send to all individuals two weeks after the first contact. The overall response rate was 34.4%. The response rate to the previous studies was 63% in 1987, 48% in 1992, and 38% in 1997. In all surveys, the response was higher among women than among men, higher among younger than older persons, and higher among individuals with high level of education than among those with low educational level.

Statistical methods

All analyses of the data were carried out using SPSS 11.0 for Windows. Data were analysed by means of contingency table analysis and means. The results were tested by means of chi-square test and t-test. The relationship between experience of buying sex, and use of condoms during the most recent occasion of buying sex, and a set of independent variables was studied using multivariate logistic regression analysis. The adjusted effects are expressed in odds ratios (OR). An OR of less than 1 indicates reduced likelihood for having bought sex (or used condoms), and an OR higher than 1 indicates an increased likelihood. The estimates are presented with 95% confidence intervals (CI). 


Buying sex was measured by the question Have you ever paid for (bought) sexual services?” The response categories were 1 = no and 2 = yes. The question was followed by these three sub-questions: 1. If yes, state how many times; 2. How old were you the first time?, and 3. How old were you the most recent time? The variable Number of years since most recent occasion of buying sex was created as the difference between this age and the respondent’s age at the time of the survey.

Use of condoms was measured by the question Was a condom used the most recent occasion you paid for sexual services? The response categories were 1 = No, 2 = Yes and 3 = Don’t remember. In the logistic regression analysis, the variable was recoded so that no and don’t remember constitute the value 1.

            Attitude toward having sex without love was evaluated on a five point scale recoded to 1 = completely unacceptable, 2 = partly unacceptable, 3 = uncertain, 4 = partly acceptable, and 5 = completely acceptable.

Experience of STI - was measured by the question Have you ever had a sexually transmitted disease? The response categories were 1 = No, 2 = Yes and 3 = Don’t know. In the logistic regression analysis, the variable was recoded so that no and don’t know constitute the value 1.


Buying sex

A total of 13.2% of the men and 0.3 % of the women reported having bought sex at some point of time in their life (p < 0.001; 5.5% of all respondents). At the most recent occasion of buying sex, 2 of 17 female sex-customers (11.8%) reported having bought sex from another woman, and 3 of 176 male customers (1.7%) claimed they had paid for homosexual contact (2.6% of all sex customers). The majority of the paid sex in Norway thus seems to be heterosexual.

As very few women reported experiencing paid sex, all subsequent analyses were exclusively performed on male respondents. Table 1 shows the percentage of the male respondents who reported ever having paid for sexual services. We found statistically significant differences between the birth cohorts in the reporting. Only 8.4% of those born from 1973 to 1984 reported they had bought sex, compared to 18.7 % of those born 1953 to 1962. Furthermore, a significantly higher percentage of previously married respondents (28.4 %) than married or cohabiting respondents (9.5%) reported that they had bought sexual services. Significantly more of the respondents who had watched pornography on the Internet, and respondents with a positive attitude toward sex without love, reported they had paid for sex. No statistically significant difference in buying sexual services between respondents with different levels of education was found.

            A multivariate logistic regression analysis was conducted to study the relationship between buying sexual services and a selected set of predictor variables (Table 2). The results showed that the odds ratio for having bought sex increased by a factor of 2.2 for unmarried, and 2.9 for previously married, compared to married men. The odds ratio for having bought sex increased by a factor of 4.4 for men born 1953 to 1962 compared to those born in the cohort 1973 to 1984. The likelihood for having bought sex increased by a factor of 1.7 if the respondent had watched pornography on the Internet, compared to the group who had not. The likelihood of having paid for sex increased by a factor of 1.3 for every unit’s increase in positive attitudes to having sex without love. There was no statistically significant relationship between having paid for sexual services, and level of education.

The mean number of times having paid for sex among the male sex customers was 5.6, and the median value was 2 (see Table 3). There were no significant differences in the reporting among respondents of different birth cohort, marital status, and level of education. The majority of the sex customers reported to have paid for sex a limited number of times. About 40% of the customers reported they had bought sex only once, and 28% reported two to three times. Nearly 5% reported they had bought sex 20 times or more.

As shown in Table 4, the mean age at the first occasion of buying sex was 24.6 years (median 23.0; standard deviation 7.0; range 15-45 years). At the most recent occasion of buying sex, the mean age was 30.1 years (median 28.0; standard deviation 8.5; range 16-47 years). The mean number of years since the most recent occasion of buying sex was 8.1 years (median 4.0; standard deviation 8.4; range 0-31 years).

In the Norwegian language, the concept sexual intercourse implies intercourse with penetration (Træen, 1993). Thirty-two men claimed they did not have sexual intercourse at the most recent occasion of buying sex. These men are excluded from the analysis of condom use. A total of 69.7% of the men reported having used condoms at the most recent occasion of buying sex. There were no statistically significant differences in the reporting of condom use according to birth cohort, level of education or marital status.

            The multivariate logistic regression analysis in Table 5 shows that the OR for having used condoms at the most recent occasion of buying sex decreased by a factor of 0.91 for every years increase in time since this happened (p<0.01). This was the only statistically significant predictor of condom use. Thus, neither previous experience of STI, or level of education could predict use of condoms when buying sexual intercourse.


The results from this study showed that 13% of Norwegian men, and less than 1% of the women, reported having paid for sexual services. Most of the male sex-customers reported having bought sex 1-3 times. It was the men in the oldest birth cohort that most often reported having bought sex. Previously married and unmarried men reported having bought sex more often than those currently married or cohabiting. The variables that seemed most powerful in predicting having paid for sexual services was birth cohort, watching pornography on the Internet, and marital status. The likelihood of being a male sex customer increased with having positive attitudes toward sex without love, and decreased with the number of years of education.  More than two of three male sex customers reported use of condoms the last time they had intercourse with a prostitute. The only significant predictor of condom use was the number of years since the sex was bought.  

This study was based on data from a representative, random sample of 10,000 Norwegians in the age between 18 and 49 years. However, the response rate was low, and we have to consider the issue of response bias. Previous surveys suggest that response bias is not a major problem in Norwegian sexual behaviour studies. Stigum (1997) studied the reasons why people did not respond to the sexual behaviour survey in 1992. He found that the reason why people did not participate in the study was not related to sexual behaviour, and concluded that the drop out was not biased. This finding is supported with the findings from other Nordic and European surveys, which have shown that non-response is random and not related to differences in sexual behaviour [Prieur & Taksdal, 1989; Kontula & Haavio-Mannila, 1995; Stigum, 1997; Træen, 1998; Leridon et al, 1998; Lewin, 2000; Haavio-Mannila & Kontula, 2003). On this background it is therefore likely that the non-response is not selective, and that our results can be generalized to the Norwegian population. 

When the results from our study are to be compared with the results from other studies, we are faced with the problem of how buying sex is operationalized in the different surveys. For instance, in the Finnish sexual behaviour studies in 1992 and 1999, it was asked, Have you ever offered money or similar economic advantages in exchange for intercourse (Haavio-Mannila & Kontula, 2003). One of the response categories was Yes, but the object(s) did not agree. Excluding the respondents who chose this category from the analysis, 14% of Finnish men claimed they had paid for intercourse. However, when the definition of sex is limited to intercourse, information on paying for other sexual services is lost. In our study, as in the Swedish study (Månsson, 2000), a broader definition that comprises any form of sexual service paid for is used. Fourteen percent of Finnish men claimed they had paid for intercourse, and 13% of Norwegian and Swedish men claimed they had paid for sex. Taking the differences in phrasing the question into account, this would imply that buying sexual services is likely to somewhat more widespread in Finland than in Norway and Sweden. One reason may have to do with the supply of prostitutes to Finland from the former Soviet Union (Haavio-Mannila & Kontula, 2003). Furthermore, it would appear that Norwegian men buy sex to a lesser extent than men in Switzerland and Spain (Leridon et al., 1998). The observed differences between the countries are likely to be related to the degree of gender equality, poverty, or to how much of a taboo it is regarded to pay for sex. In case of the latter, for instance, response bias and under-reporting may be an issue. 

In this study, we found significant gender differences in the reporting on paying for sexual services. This is a finding verified in all other surveys across the world. Both in St.Petersburg and in Finland, the percentage of women who had bought sex was below 1%. Furthermore, as shown in this study, the selling and buying of sex mostly takes place within a heterosexual context. This was also found in Sweden, where 0.5% of the men stated they had a partner of the same gender at the most recent occasion of buying sex (Månsson, 2000). 

The difference we found between the men’s year of birth and reported prostitution experience is most likely a cohort effect, and not an age effect per se. There is no evidence in the data that buying sex is a function of how long a man has lived. Also, most of the men were rather young when the sex was bought, indicating that it could belong to an experimenting period of life. However, this is not likely to be related to sexual initiation. In some countries, sex workers still play a role in male coital debut (Bozon & Kontula, 1998). However, this was never a central feature of male sexual initiation in the Nordic countries. For centuries the prostitutes have been socially stigmatised and persecuted by the church and by the law (Stenseth, 1997). Little attention was devoted to the men who bought the sex. Over the past three decades, much attention in the media has been devoted to prostitution and to the situation of the women who sell sex. Prostitutes are often pictured as selling sex to support their family in their country of origin, escaping from poverty, or as drug addicts. Buying sex is often portrayed as an act of degrading women, and as an exploitation of people who live in poverty and misery. Feminist groups in Norway are known to have carried out actions to reveal the clients of prostitutes. Due to this it may be hypothesised that contemporary Norwegians are not likely to hold positive attitudes toward selling and buying sex. This may have had an impact on men’s behaviour.

The findings on differences between the men of different marital status in having paid for sexual services must be interpreted with caution. We have knowledge of the marital status of the respondents only at present, but not at the time the sexual services was bought. Even so, the finding gives some support to the results from the Swedish study, indicating problems in establishing and maintaining permanent relationships (Månsson, 2000). It could be argued that the finding may be related to age, as more of the older respondents may have experienced a divorce or being widowed. However, the result was upheld in the multivariate analysis.  A more plausible explanation may be a difference in having or not having access to a permanent sex partner. Another finding to support this is that buying sex was related to watching pornography on the Internet and attitude toward sex without love. However, these two latter relationships may also indicate a group of sensation seeking men, looking for excitement, sexual variation and novelty, without emotional involvement with the partner (McKeganey & Barnard, 1996; Allgeier & Allgeier, 2000; Xantidis & McCabe, 2000; Kippe, 2004).

Since the AIDS-epidemic became known in the 1980s, the health authorities repeatedly have encouraged the prostitutes and their clients to use condoms during sex. The results from this study show that nearly 70% of the men followed this advice the most recent time they paid for sexual intercourse. This is similar to what was reported in Finland, where 71% of the men claimed they used condoms at their most recent occasion of buying sex (Haavio-Mannila & Kontula, 2003). Furthermore, use of condoms at the most recent occasion of buying sex was negatively related to the number of years since the sex was paid for. This indicates that sex customers in Norway have become better condom users over time. This could imply that the STI, HIV and AIDS preventive strategies carried out since the past decades have been effective.


Buying sex among Norwegian men is most likely a cohort phenomenon rather than a function of growing older. It seems sex customers in Norway have become better condom users over time. However, the nature of this study is limited and one cannot be certain about the causality of the relationship. For this reason, further research is recommended. 

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Table 1. The Proportion of Norwegian Men in 2002 That Report Ever Having

Paid for Sexual Services, by groups.




Percent having bought sex












Birth cohort


















Marital status





Previously married













Level of education

<=9 years




10-12 years




13-14 years




15+ years









Having watched pornography on the Internet














Attitude toward sex without love


Completely unacceptable




Partly unacceptable








Partly acceptable




Completely acceptable





Note. The analyses were tested for statistical significant group differences by means of Chi-square test.

Table 2. Norwegian Men That Report Ever Having Paid for Sexual Services, by a selected set of

independent variables.

Multivariate logistic regression analysis (Odds ratios OR and confidence intervals CI)








Birth cohort


















Marital status





Previously married













Level of education

(for every unit’s increase)









Pornography on the Internet














Attitude toward sex without love (for every unit’s increase)








Table 3. Number of Times Having Bought Sex Among Male Sex Customers in Norway (n=156)


Number of times having bought sex





Cumulative percent




















































Mean 5.6



Median 2.0



St. Dev. 10.0




Table 4. Age at first and most recent occasion of having paid for sex among male sexcCustomers in Norway.



Age at first occasion of buying sex

Age the most recent occasion of buying sex

Years since the most recent occasion of buying sex









St. Dev.

















 Table 5. Use of Condoms at The Most Recent Occasion of Paying for Sexual Intercourse among Norwegian Men (logistic regression analysis, odds ratio (OR) with 95 % confidence intervals (CI))







95 % CI

Experience of sexual transmitted infections











Number of years since having bought sex

(in one unit’s increase)







(in one unit’s increase)







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