Masculinity and Sex Trafficking

Time to read: 5 minutes

“Where a man’s strength and courage is tested most is in the way that he treats women—the way that he loves.” –John Eldredge

In my last post, I discussed some of the attitudes and behaviors of sex buyers. At the end, I posed this question: what’s the root cause of these mindsets and behaviors? After all, men don’t become sex buyers overnight.

Today I want to present part of the answer. Without a doubt, there are many roots, they are complex, and how they intermix is even more complex. But the root we’re starting with is a central factor in sexual violence and sex trafficking. It all has to do with an incorrect view of masculinity. 

Let me explain.

Masculinity is Taught

When I was around age 14, my dad invited a group of men who I respected over to our house for an afternoon. We cooked out on the grill, ate together, and had a wonderful time. After that, we sat around in a circle, and something very important happened.

One by one, each of those men affirmed to me what it meant to be a man, that I had what it took to be a man, and that I was a man.

I bring that up to say this: boys aren’t born as men. Boys have to become men. Masculinity is a thing that has to be taught. The thing is, masculinity will be taught one way or another. From the very beginning of a young boy’s life, the behavior of men in his life will tell him two things:

  1. Here’s what it means to be a man.

  2. Here’s how men are supposed to view and treat women.

Here’s the question: what’s the message being sent today?

The Masculinity of Today

The masculinity of today can broadly be summarized by three words: status, toughness, and antifemininity. Obviously, this is a generalization. But you only have to look at pop culture and porn culture to see that this generalization is pretty spot on. Here’s what is meant by these three words: 

  1. Culture says that true masculinity means gaining personal status, gaining the respect of others, and not depending on anyone but yourself.

  2. Culture says that true masculinity means being emotionally and physically tough.

  3. Culture says that true masculinity means men should not engage in stereotypical feminine behavior, which is often interpreted to mean not being vulnerable or showing compassion.

Let me make a quick clarification on this term “antifemininity.” I use this term because it’s the term used in studies which will be discussed below. Of course men aren’t supposed to act feminine. They’re supposed to act like men. What I’m talking about are universal qualities like compassion, vulnerability, and kindness that are misinterpreted to be only feminine and that men think weaken their masculinity.

Countless studies show that a father has a strong impact in influencing his son’s view of masculinity. The problem can come when a father models the masculinity discussed above. The problem can come when a father doesn’t take a direct role in intentionally modeling true masculinity.

When that happens, a boy’s view of masculinity will be shaped from somewhere else. In our culture, cultural icons and pornography are more than ready to tell their version of what masculinity is.

For example, when asked by Jimmy Kimmel if having daughters changed his attitude toward women, Kanye West (pop culture and music icon) said, “Nah, I still look at Pornhub.”

It’s honestly just heartbreaking and saddening. The audience, Jimmy Kimmel, and Kanye West make light of pornography. It’s a joke to them. They don’t understand the destruction it really brings (An Inseparable Tie: Pornography and Sex Trafficking).

The point is that culture has told men that masculinity is built on status and toughness, and culture has told men that women exist for their pleasure. Kanye West’s response is evidence of that.

The Connection  

So how does this all connect to sex buyers?

Well if you remember from my last post, a common behavior and attitude of sex buyers is hostile masculinity and fear of rejection from women. But why?

Countless studies show that there is a link between hegemonic masculine norms (status, toughness, antifemininity), masculine gender role stress, and hostile behavior towards women. But just what is masculine gender role stress?

“Masculine gender role stress refers to men's tendency to experience negative psychological (e.g., insecurity, low self-esteem, increased anger) and physiological effects (e.g., increased cardiovascular reactivity and skin conductance) from their attempts to meet societally-based standards of the male role.”1

Data supports the fact that when men (who adhere to hegemonic masculinity) feel insecure or defensive due to the stresses of society or perceived threats on their masculinity, they use physical and sexual aggression to reaffirm their sense of power, control, and masculinity.  

“Similarly, men may develop hostile attitudes toward women and aggress against them as a way to attenuate feelings of personal weakness and uncertainty and, ultimately, to displace their state of stressful discontent.”

Undoubtedly, all men encounter masculine gender role stress. However, the findings suggest that men who adopt hegemonic norms of masculinity are prone to cope with that stress by reasserting their dominance through hostile attitudes and violent behavior.

So when it all comes down to it, one of the root causes of sexual violence in men is their broken view of masculinity and their insecurity about their masculinity.

No wonder sex buyers prefer a lifestyle of impersonal and non-relational sex. Relationship is vulnerable emotionally; it’s not tough. No wonder masculinity and sexual aggression is associated with alexithymia (the inability to identify and describe emotions in the self)3. After all, men are expected to stuff their feelings and be emotionally tough.

On top of all this, just add the fact that pornography can literally rewire the brain to get aroused in cases of violence, aggression, and dominance (The Science Behind Pornography). Suddenly, the connection between an incorrect view of masculinity and sexual violence makes sense.

What You Can Do 

So what should you do with all this information? 

1. Raise awareness about the “why.” Our culture needs to understand the link between our broken view of masculinity, sexual violence, and sex trafficking.

2. Celebrate true masculinity. Our culture needs to hear that true masculinity isn’t summed up in status, toughness, and antifemeninity. Yes, there is a strength in masculinity. It’s God given. But true masculinity is using that strength to serve, to protect, and even to be vulnerable.

3. Demonstrate true masculinity. This one is directed to all the men and dads reading this. Continue to be intentional in telling your sons and the boys around you about what true masculinity is. And demonstrate true masculinity. You have what it takes!

4. Keep a vision of hope. This one may come as a surprise to you, but let me explain. As I was researching for this post, I hit a point where extreme hopelessness suddenly came over me. After all, all this talk about broken masculinity, sexual violence, and sex trafficking can be very hopeless. But then I was reminded of the importance of keeping a vision of hope. People can change. Men can change. That’s the very message of Catalyst—that all of us can be a catalyst for change. There will be a day when God restores all things, even masculinity. But we can take part in that restoration now. It just starts with one person at a time.

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You and I can make a difference together.


Proverbs 31:8-9