Sex and the Super Bowl

The Super Bowl is coming and with it... 40,000 hookers?

That's what the media says. They sure seem to love saying it. But it's just an urban myth.

"The idea that some Lost Tribe of Gypsy Harlots, tens of thousands strong, wanders around the world from mega-event to mega-event, unimpeded by the usual logistics of transport and lodging --" well, it defies logic, writes Maggie McNeill on the Reason blog. McNeill is a former stripper, call girl and madam-turned-blogger (a fate that seems to await us all). She's also a former reference librarian, a quadruple threat making her the perfect person to explain the hooker hype.

First off, she notes, even with cops on the lookout for lots of illegal sex, the facts don't match the fears. "The number of arrests of prostitutes doesn't increase around these events" -- i.e., the Olympics, Pro Bowls or World Cups. London, for instance, spent a reported $800,000+ on sex policing during the 2012 Olympics, but found "no significant increase in prostitution (coerced or otherwise)."

For Hookers, Sporting Events Are Loss Leaders

That's because, unlike trade shows, big sporting events are actually not good for the prostitution business. "With trade shows, you definitely have an increase," says McNeill, speaking by phone from the rural home where now she lives, happily married and writing full-time. "We liked to see trade shows, because this meant men traveling alone and they're kind of partying a little bit. But with sporting events, you usually have a decrease in business because: 1) A lot of guys take their families and 2) A lot of the guys who don't take their families are very young and they've used up all their cash getting a hotel room."

Having been a madam in New Orleans during the 2002 Super Bowl, McNeill can attest, "We didn't see any increase in business." (The strip clubs, she says, did.)

So, why would a hooker waste time and money hoofing it to a one-weekend event where the prospects are dim, the rooms overpriced and the police on the prowl?

Women Following Men

They don't. The only time a large-ish group of women pulls up stakes to follow a group of large-ish group of men is when those men are moving some place more or less permanently, like to California during Gold Rush, or, more recently, out west to join the gas industry boom.

But even then, says McNeill, we're not talking tens of thousands of women. We're talking hundreds.

So where did the Super Bowl sex myth begin?

he traces it to some remarks made right before the 2004 Olympics in Athens that got misinterpreted and repeated by the press. While prostitution is legal there, the local government nonetheless wanted to clean things up before the visitors arrived. Cops began raiding brothels, causing the legal sex workers to complain that if it became difficult for them to ply their trade, illegal prostitutes would take their place.

Sex in the Media

Put together "illegal prostitutes" and "Olympics" and suddenly you've got a juicy story about sex and tourism and hookers and sin.

Name a news outlet that wouldn't run with that.

Since then, the story has been ricocheting through the media, always sounding plausible -- till you talk to an actual hooker, like McNeill, or an actual sports fanatic, like my son, age 15. When I told him rumor had it there were 40,000 hookers flocking to the Super Bowl he said, "Wow. That's one for every two people attending the game!" As a football nut, he knows there are 82,566 seats at the MetLife Stadium.

One shady lady for every two ticketholders (and not all of them even men)? Put that way it sounds preposterous.

But it sure is a great story.