HomePage | Recent changes | View source | Discuss this page | Page history | Log in |

Printable version | Disclaimers | Privacy policy

Prostitution is the sale of sexual services (typically oral sex or sexual intercourse) for money or other physical return. A purveyor of sexual favours for consideration is called a prostitute. Prostitutes are almost universally stigmatized. Most prostitutes are females offering their services to males, but male prostitutes targetting male customers also exist and are called hustlers. Male prostitutes offering services to female customers are comparatively rare and are known as gigolos.

Types of Prostitution

Prostitution occurs in various quite different settings. In street prostitution, the prostitute solicits customers while waiting at street corners, usually dressed in suggestive clothing. The act is performed in the customer's car or in a nearby rented room. This is the lowest paid and most dangerous form of prostitution; street prostitutes are often drug addicts and commonly work for a pimp. Prostitution occurs in massage parlors and, in Asian countries, in barber shops, where sexual services may be offered for an additional tip. Brothels are establishments specifically dedicated to prostitution, often confined to special red-light districts in big cities. In escort prostitution, the customer calls an agency and the act takes place at the customer's place of residence or, more commonly, at his hotel room. Prostitution also takes place in the prostitute's apartment, and in many countries this is the only legal form of prostitution, as will be described below. A hybrid between brothel and apartment prostitution exists in Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands: prostitutes rent tiny one-room apartments in red-light districts and solicit customers from behind windows.

In many rich countries, illegal immigrants work in prostitution, often against their will. The term used for forcing people into prostitution is sexual slavery. In addition to the first world, this also takes place in countries of South Asia such as India and Thailand, where young girls are often sold to brothel owners. While in both of these societies visiting prostitutes is a common and almost normal behavior, Thailand is also a destination of sex tourists, travellers from rich countries in search of cheap sexual services. Other popular sex tourism destinations are Brazil and the Carribean.

There are other commercial sexual activities that are generally not classified as prostitution, including acting and modeling for pornographic materials, even if this involves engaging in sexual intercourse, and exotic dancing, which is naked, sexually provocative acting (sometimes involving masturbation) without physical contact with the customer. Lap dancing, where the dancer may come into contact with the customer in sexually provocative but strictly limited ways, is also not generally considered prostitution.

Legal Situation

The unadorned act of exchanging money for sex is legal in most countries; the United States (except for small Nevada counties), muslim and various communist countries being notable exceptions. At one end of the spectrum, prostitution carries the death penalty in several muslim countries; at the other end, prostitutes are tax paying and unionized professionals in the Netherlands and brothels are legal and advertising businesses there. In most countries, it is however almost impossible to engage in most forms of prostitution legally because several surrounding activities, such as advertising, solicitation, pimping, owning, operating or working in a brothel are illegal.

Law enforcement is typically concentrated against establishments engaged in sexual slavery or owned by organized crime, and against forms of prostitution that generate citizen complaints. In most countries where prostitution is illegal, at least some forms of it are tolerated. It has often been alleged that this situation allows the police to extort money or services from prostitutes in exchange for "looking the other way".

In some jusridictions, such as Nevada, Germany, Switzerland and several Australian states, prostitution is legal but heavily regulated. Such approaches are taken with the recognition that prostitution is impossible to eliminate in an open society, and thus these societies have chosen to regulate it in ways that reduce the more undesirable aspects of the practice. Goals of such regulations include controlling sexually transmitted disease, reducing sexual slavery, controlling where brothels may operate, as well as other reasons that vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Several western countries have recently enacted laws punishing their citizens if they, as sex-tourists, engage in sex with minors in other countries. These laws are rarely enforced.


Many countries have sex worker advocacy groups which lobby against criminalization and discrimination of prostitutes. These groups generally oppose German-style regulation and oversight, stating that prostitution should be treated like other professions.

Other groups, often with religious backgrounds, focus on offering women a way out of the world of prostitution while not taking a position on the legal question.

The feminist position towards prostitution is divided: while some feminists theorize prostitution as an act of sexual self-determination and demand destigmatization and decriminalization, others, exemplified by the American radical feminist and ex-prostitute Andrea Dworkin, consider it to be sexual abuse or even rape. The latter faction was able to implement a remarkable law in Sweden in 1999, when buying sexual favors was outlawed there but selling them was not.


Prostitution is often called "the oldest profession in the world". In ancient Greek and Roman societies, prostitutes were independent and sometimes influential women who were required to wear distinctive dresses and had to pay taxes. Throughout the middle ages, prostitution flourished in Europe and brothels were often operated by municipalities. The outbreak of sexually transmitted diseases in the 1500s and the reformation led to stricter controls. In the United States, prostitution was made illegal in almost all states between 1910 and 1915. Communist countries have generally claimed that prostitution does not exist within their borders. In 1949, the United Nations adopted a convention stating that prostitution is incompatible with human dignity, requiring all signing parties to punish pimps and brothel owners and operators, and abolishing all special treatment or registration of prostitutes. The convention was ratified by 89 countries with the notable exception of Germany, the Netherlands and the United States.

See also Sex worker

External links