Psychology Faculty Publications

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Journal of Behavioral Addiction





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The aim of the present study was to provide a phenomenological perspective of individuals who actively engage in street-level prostitution and identified a lifestyle addiction associated with their activities. Methods: We interviewed 25 women who were incarcerated in American county jails (at the time of interviews) for prostitution crimes. The transcripts were analyzed for themes that represented the shared consensus of the research participants. Results: Four negative psychological dynamics related to prostitution. First, participants described accounts of physical and emotional violence which they experienced at the hand of clients and others involved in the lifestyle. Second, interviewees explained an extreme dislike for their actions relating to and involving prostitution. These individuals did not describe themselves as being sexually addicted; sex was means to a desired end. Third, participants described how prostitution’s lifestyle had evolved into something which they conceptualized as an addiction. As such, they did not describe themselves as feeling addicted to sex acts – but to lifestyle elements that accompanied prostitution behaviors. Finally, participants believed that freedom from prostitution’s lifestyle would require social service assistance in order to overcome their lifestyle addiction. Conclusions: The results show that, although the prostitutes repeatedly and consistently used the term “addiction” when describing their lifestyles, they did not meet the DSM-IV-TR criteria for addiction. Rather, they shared many of the same psychological constructs as do addicts (e.g., feeling trapped, desiring escape, needing help to change), but they did not meet medical criteria for addictive dependence (e.g., tolerance or withdrawal).


Prostitution, sex work, qualitative research, psychological addictions



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