Dark Light

Where is prostitution legal in the world today? It is safe to say that the legalization of prostitution is still one of the most controversial issues in the world. Whether or not sex work is legal in a country is influenced by a number of factors, from the culture of the given country through religion to regulations. There are places where this work is prohibited and punishable, while in others, it is accepted and governed.

In this article, we will take an in-depth look at existing global prostitution laws, examine the different legal models and analyze the main countries in detail. In addition, you will have the opportunity to browse our searchable database containing the current prostitution laws of 191 countries.

There are several legal approaches to the legality and regulation of prostitution. The most significant of these are the following:

Legalization

This legal model recognizes prostitution as a legal activity. In this case, selling, buying and organizing sex is also legal. Sex workers are mostly licensed and work under strict regulations. The aim of this approach is to make the working conditions of prostitutes safer and more controlled.

Would you like to know if your country falls into the “Legalization” category? Jump to our searchable database.

Prohibitionism

This model prohibits prostitution in its entirety, both for sex workers and clients. This means that all those involved in any part of prostitution (selling, buying, organizing) are criminally liable. Countries that adhere to the politics of prohibitionism often strive hard to completely eradicate the sex industry within their borders.

Would you like to know if your country falls into the “Prohibitionism” category? Jump to our searchable database.

Neo-abolitionism

Often referred to as the “Swedish model”, which also illegitimates prostitution, but only punishes clients and third parties, not sex workers. The basic premise of neo-abolitionism is that prostitution is a social harm that society must eliminate, but it considers sex workers to be victims and, therefore, exempt from punishment. Hence, selling sex is technically legal, but buying and organizing it is illegal.

Would you like to know if your country falls into the “Neo-abolitionism” category? Jump to our searchable database.

Decriminalization

A legal model that regulates the sex industry in a given country as a whole, from sex workers through clients to third parties. In this case, selling, buying and organizing sex is also allowed. In addition, this approach takes into account the rights of sex workers and recognizes that prostitutes also have the right to freedom and job security. The ideal goal of decriminalization is for sex work to be treated like any other job.

Would you like to know if your country falls into the “Decriminalization” category? Jump to our searchable database.

Abolitionism

One of the most common approaches, which does not criminalize prostitution per se (i.e., selling and buying sex is legal), but does not recognize enterprise-level prostitution as a legal activity (i.e., the running of brothels and the organization of sex work by pimps are prohibited). Abolitionism aims to protect sex workers from violence, exploitation and trafficking.

Would you like to know if your country falls into the “Abolitionism” category? Jump to our searchable database.

Diagram of legal models of prostitution
An overview of how many countries use each legal model for prostitution.

In this section, we provide an in-depth analysis of prostitution’s legal frameworks, focusing on countries with notable sex worker populations. For each selected country, we will detail:

  • Number of sex workers: Estimating the scale of prostitution.
  • Legal model: Understanding the laws that govern sex work.
  • Legal situation: Discussing how the law treats prostitution and associated activities.
  • Laws and regulations: Delving into specific legislation affecting sex workers.
  • Social attitudes: Examining societal views and the stigmatization of sex work.
  • Recent changes: Highlighting recent developments and their implications.
  • Future plans: Looking at initiatives aimed at improving the rights and safety of sex workers.
  • Additional insights: Providing other relevant information, such as cultural nuances and socio-economic factors.

Stay tuned for a following chapter that features a comprehensive table. This table will map out the legal positions on prostitution for a broader selection of countries, providing readers with a global perspective on the legality and various conditions under which sex work operates.

Australia

Number of prostitutes: approx. 20.500
Legal model: Legalization/Prohibitionism

The legal status of prostitution in Australia varies between states and territories. In some states, such as New South Wales, sex work is legal and regulated, as well as brothels are allowed. In others, including Queensland, only a limited number of prostitutes can legally work together. Finally, there are places like Western Australia where prostitution is not regulated.

Laws and regulations on prostitution in Australia

Each of Australia’s federal states and territories sets its own laws and regulations on prostitution. These range from laws (mostly in places where sex work is legal) that protect the rights of prostitutes to laws that provide various health and safety services for prostitutes. In the Australian Capital Territory, prostitution is regulated by the Sex Work Act, which has been in force since 1992. Sex workers here must register with the Office of Regulatory Services (ORS) and then with Access Canberra.

Social attitudes to prostitution in Australia

Although there are different opinions about sex work in Australia, in general, it can be said that society here is somewhat more open to the issue than in other countries. In those states where the government recognizes prostitution as legal work, the public holds similar views and accepts that sex workers are entitled to services such as employment protection, pensions, security and health benefits.

Recent changes in prostitution in Australia

In Australia, there have been many changes in the legal and social situation of sex workers in recent decades. New South Wales was the first state to fully decriminalize sex work in 1995. Similarly, in 2022, the state of Victoria also decided to legalize prostitution and was the first to allow street sex work, except in certain places such as near schools and churches. Finally, the Northern Territory allowed partial decriminalization in 1992 and full legalization in 2019.

Future plans for prostitution in Australia

In Australia, it is expected that the legal regulations will continue to change and move towards standardization in the future so that complete decriminalization will be realized throughout the country. In addition, in states where sex work has been legalized, efforts to improve the working conditions and legal status of prostitutes will continue.

Other interesting information about prostitution in Australia

Due to the social openness regarding prostitution, Australia has become a popular tourist destination for those who want to use sexual services in an accepting environment. Because of this growing interest, Australian sex workers place great emphasis on regular health screenings in order to provide risk-free services to their clients.

Canada

Number of prostitutes: approx. 22.000
Legal model: Neo-Abolitionism

Prostitution in Canada is legal and strictly regulated. Although the sale of sex is allowed, all other activities related to prostitution are prohibited, including buying sex, organizing sex and running brothels.

Laws and regulations on prostitution in Canada

In 2014, Canada enacted the so-called “Protection Act”, which, as described above, punishes clients who buy sex and third parties involved in prostitution, while protecting prostitutes. Sex workers are free to advertise their services (just their own, not others), but only in areas where they cannot meet persons under 18 (i.e., schools, churches, playgrounds, etc. are prohibited locations).

Social attitudes to prostitution in Canada

In Canada, both society and the police generally react negatively to prostitution, despite the fact that the activity is legal. However, there are advocacy groups that stand up for the rights of sex workers.

Recent changes in prostitution in Canada

The aforementioned Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act of 2014 was the last major amendment to Canadian prostitution legislation. However, it had many minor effects. Changes have been made to local municipal and police protocols regarding the implementation of practices related to sex work, and various public health and other social opportunities have opened up for sex workers.

Future plans for prostitution in Canada

Future plans include the full decriminalization of sex work, which is supported by a number of rights organizations and the communities of sex workers. However, this change is likely to provoke widespread social and political debate.

Other interesting information about prostitution in Canada

In Canada, sex workers often form unions to increase their rights and safety. Additionally, several Canadian cities have organizations that provide safety equipment, education and other resources for sex workers.

Prostitution is prohibited near playgrounds in Canada
Prostitutes in Canada are not allowed to sell their services near playgrounds or other places where people under the age of 18 may be present.

France

Number of prostitutes: approx. 30.000
Legal model: Neo-Abolitionism

In France, prostitution (selling sex) is basically legal, but related activities such as buying sex, organizing sex by pimps and running brothels are all prohibited.

Laws and regulations on prostitution in France

In France, the operation of brothels is illegal under the Marthe Richard law, which has been in existence since 1946. In addition, in 2016, the country adopted a law known as the “Nordic Model”, which penalizes clients who purchase sexual services and third parties involved in prostitution. The punishment for clients can be a fine of up to €150.

Social attitudes to prostitution in France

Attitudes to prostitution in France are very mixed. Many people oppose sex work and often associate it with violence against women and human trafficking. However, there are also those who argue that operating prostitution within a legal framework is not a problem because it improves the rights and safety of the women involved.

Recent changes in prostitution in France

The most significant change in recent years was the introduction of the aforementioned “Nordic Model” law. Other than this, there were no notable changes in the country’s prostitution situation, but minor measures were taken to protect the rights of sex workers and to reduce trafficking.

Future plans for prostitution in France

Several challenges arose in connection with the “Nordic Model” law. One of the most significant is that due to clients fearing sanctions, sex work shifted to more hidden and dangerous forms. For this reason, the government will re-evaluate the law in the future and will seek to eliminate this problem. In addition, the fight against human trafficking and increased protection of sex workers’ rights will also continue.

Other interesting information about prostitution in France

Pigalle, located in the capital of France, Paris, is one of the world’s most famous red light districts. The area is full of sex shops, peep shows, brothels, strip clubs, cabarets, adult theaters and bars, as well as the popular Moulin Rouge windmill, home to burlesque shows. Find out more about this erotic district of Paris in our article “Paris’ famous red light district, Pigalle”.

Germany

Number of prostitutes: approx. 41.000
Legal model: Legalization

Prostitution in Germany is legal and regulated. Selling, buying and organizing sex does not entail criminal proceedings either. This is also true for prostitutes and clients using sexual services. In addition, brothels can also operate in the country.

Laws and regulations on prostitution in Germany

In Germany, the current sex work legislation was introduced in the 2002 Federal Law and the 2016 Law on the Protection of Prostitutes, which allow sex workers to work officially. The regulations state that prostitutes have the right to decent working conditions and access to various health and safety services (such as pensions or health insurance). However, to do so, sex workers must register their businesses and pay taxes.

Social attitudes to prostitution in Germany

In Germany, all kinds of views are typical, from a relaxed attitude towards prostitution to a firm rejection of sex work. Some say that women in this industry are exploited and undervalued, while others believe that people have the right to choose what kind of work they want to do and that if the state supports prostitutes, they should do the same.

Recent changes in prostitution in Germany

In order to protect sex workers, Germany has made some changes in its legislation in recent years. These include raising the minimum age for prostitution to 21 and making businesses offering sexual services subject to licensing to ensure that they operate under the right conditions.

Future plans for prostitution in Germany

Amendments to the above-mentioned laws have been mooted in recent years. The purpose of this is to expand the rights of sex workers in the future and thus make their work even safer. In addition, the fight against human trafficking will also be prioritized in the future.

Other interesting information about prostitution in Germany

Hamburg is one of the most significant port cities in northern Germany, famous for its red light district, the Reeperbahn. In this quarter, you can meet around 400 German sex workers on a street just 100 meters long, who – like the system in Amsterdam – wave from behind glass windows and try to seduce potential clients. Find out more about this exciting place in our article “Hamburg’s famous red light district, Reeperbahn”.

Legal window prostitution in  Germany
In the red light district of Reeperbahn in Germany, prostitutes advertise their services from behind windows, similar to the system in Amsterdam.

Hungary

Number of prostitutes: between 10.000 and 50.000
Legal model: Legalization

Prostitution is a legal and regulated activity in Hungary. Neither sex workers nor those involved in the services are punished, and selling, buying and organizing sex is also allowed.

Laws and regulations on prostitution in Hungary

According to the “Prostitution Law” No. LXXV of 1999, in Hungary, prostitution can be carried out legally but within a regulated framework. Sex workers must undergo regular health examinations, pay taxes and provide their services in designated areas. In addition, prostitutes are not allowed to work in public places or outside the marked zones.

Social attitudes to prostitution in Hungary

The opinions of Hungarians on prostitution are not the same. Although the activity is legal, a part of society does not consider it acceptable. These people usually stigmatize prostitutes.

Recent changes in prostitution in Hungary

In recent years, a significant number of Hungarian women engaged in sex work have switched to selling their services through online platforms. As a result, legal and regulatory challenges have increased, and the modernization of sex work legislation and practices is an ongoing debate.

Future plans for prostitution in Hungary

For the time being, the situation of sex workers can be considered stable, and there are no concrete plans to change the laws on prostitution. However, the spread of working in the online sphere requires a future review and possible changes and modernization of the provisions. In addition, sex workers’ organizations are continuously fighting to ensure that prostitution is not socially stigmatized in the future.

Other interesting information about prostitution in Hungary

You might think that if prostitutes can work in a country under legal and regulated conditions, they are safe. However, Hungarian sex workers are often exposed to violence or exploitation because, although pimping is prohibited, the current legal system does not provide appropriate protection for prostitutes, and there are no adequate mechanisms to enforce their rights.

A prostitute working legally on the street in Hungary
In Hungary, prostitution can be freely and openly practised. Neither the sex workers nor the clients can be punished.

India

Number of prostitutes: approx. 1.800.000
Legal model: Abolitionism

In India, prostitution is not illegal per se, but related activities such as street sex work, running brothels, organizing prostitution and public gatherings of sex workers are illegal. Sex work often operates in legal grey areas in the country.

Laws and regulations on prostitution in India

The 1956 Law Against Public Indecency prohibits any public assembly of sex workers and also gives the authorities the right to close down brothels.

Social attitudes to prostitution in India

Social attitudes towards prostitution in India are mixed. In some communities, it is accepted and an integral part of society, while in the larger part of the country, it is generally considered taboo. In these areas, sex workers are subject to police harassment and social stigma.

Recent changes in prostitution in India

In recent years, India has seen growing access to prostitution via the Internet and an increase in the sale of erotic services through online platforms. However, legal challenges related to human trafficking and forced prostitution have also increased, so Indian authorities are seeking to strengthen regulations in this area.

Future plans for prostitution in India

Campaigns for the rights and safety of sex workers are regular in India, with the aim of ensuring that in the future prostitutes can work under better working conditions and have the same rights as any other worker. At the same time, the government and NGOs are stepping up their fight against forced prostitution and human trafficking.

Other interesting information about prostitution in India

There are areas in India where sex work is passed down through generations, and the occupation is often an integral part of the community and family structure. Furthermore, due to the social construction and poverty, prostitution is the only means of livelihood for many.

Sex work often operates in legal grey areas in India
In many Indian communities, prostitution is an integral part of the family structure, and all women start working in this profession.

Ireland

Number of prostitutes: approx. 1.000
Legal model: Neo-Abolitionism

Prostitution is essentially illegal in Ireland, but the law does not criminalize the sale of sex. However, the buying of sex, the organization of sex by pimps and the running of brothels are not allowed. Street prostitution is also prohibited.

Laws and regulations on prostitution in Ireland

In Ireland, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 is in force, which, following the Swedish model, criminalizes the buyer of prostitution rather than the seller. Under the Act, a person who offers money or other consideration in exchange for sexual services commits an offense and is liable to prosecution. By contrast, the sale of sexual services in itself – i.e., prostitution – is not a criminal offense.

Social attitudes to prostitution in Ireland

Attitudes to prostitution vary widely between different segments of Irish society. However, most of the country strongly condemns prostitution.

Recent changes in prostitution in Ireland

The already-mentioned 2017 law was the most important, historically significant change in the country’s regulation of prostitution in the recent period. One of the main purposes of the enactment of the Act was to reduce the incidence of human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Ireland and to improve the situation of those involved in sex work by providing them with protection.

Future plans for prostitution in Ireland

Further action is needed in Ireland to eliminate other activities associated with prostitution and to protect the safety of Irish sex workers. Active organizations are taking place to ensure the rights of prostitutes, while legislators are trying to reduce the demand for sex and the problems caused by third parties.

Other interesting information about prostitution in Ireland

Although the 2017 Act was introduced with the aim of reducing human trafficking and forced prostitution, many believe that it has instead made the situation for prostitutes more difficult. Because of the punishment for buying sex, clients and prostitutes visit each other in more hidden and dangerous conditions, which increases the vulnerability of sex workers and provides them with less protection against violence and coercion.

Prostitution in Ireland is Illegal
In Ireland, the Swedish model is in force, according to which clients who offer money in exchange for sexual services can be prosecuted.

Italy

Number of prostitutes: approx. 70.000
Legal model: Abolitionism

In Italy, prostitution is not a legal offense, but activities related to prostitution, such as street sex work, running brothels and organizing sex, are illegal.

Laws and regulations on prostitution in Italy

In 1958, the so-called Merlin Law was passed, which banned the organization of sex work by pimps, and as a result of which the owners had to close their brothels. Besides that, there are strict regulations on prostitution in public places. It is forbidden to use a public area for the purpose of prostitution where it disturbs the peace of the locals or violates public order or public morals. Such places can be, among others, schools or churches.

Social attitudes to prostitution in Italy

In Italy, there are great differences in the social attitude towards prostitution. Some are against it, others tolerate it. Street prostitution causes the greatest social revulsion, while sex work in the private sphere is less controversial.

Recent changes in prostitution in Italy

In Italy in recent years, the biggest problem in the field of prostitution has been the connection between illegal migration and sex trafficking. Thus, in 2002, draft law No. 228/2003 was adopted, which aims to combat human trafficking, including forms of sexual exploitation and forced labor.

Future plans for prostitution in Italy

Several organizations and political parties are fighting for the rights of Italian sex workers, as a result of which the legalization of prostitution has been put on the agenda in the country. However, society and the political majority are resisting the changes for the time being, and the reopening of brothels seems unlikely.

Other interesting information about prostitution in Italy

Although the brothels in Italy were closed, prostitution did not actually end in these places, it just transformed, and sex workers moved into flats. To this day, there are small apartments in many Italian cities that are specifically reserved for discreet prostitution. Italians often call them “case chiuse” (closed houses) or “case d’appointmenti” (meeting houses).

Italian prostitute about to have sex with her client
Although Italy prohibits the operation of brothels, there are a number of small apartments in the country reserved for discreet prostitution.

Japan

Number of prostitutes: approx. 225.000
Legal model: Prohibitionism

The legal status of prostitution in Japan is complex. Selling and buying sex is technically illegal, but the locals have devised a number of loopholes. These include, among others, “soap lands”, where sex workers, in principle, only bathe clients, but in the meantime, they offer oral and anal sex, as well as other sexual services, where no specific vaginal intercourse takes place. But services including “extras” provided by Japanese women offering erotic massages can also be classified here.

Laws and regulations on prostitution in Japan

The 1956 Moral Law prohibits prostitution in the traditional sense, i.e., payment for sexual intercourse. However, some sexual services are still allowed because they are not specifically regulated by the law. That’s why it is possible that the examples mentioned above, or “image clubs” (where prostitutes realize various erotic fantasies), are not considered illegal as long as no vaginal sex is performed.

Social attitudes to prostitution in Japan

In Japan, prostitution is often hidden from the public eye, and most people do not consider it an appropriate topic to talk about in a conversation. At the same time, “soap lands” and “image clubs” are widely accepted and popular places in Japanese society.

Recent changes in prostitution in Japan

Regarding the regulation of prostitution, Japanese lawmakers did not mean any significant changes in the past period. However, in recent years, there has been an increase in online sex work and the number of websites specializing in sexual services.

Future plans for prostitution in Japan

No major changes are expected in the legal situation of prostitution in the future, as there are currently no public debates or movements on the issue. However, the growth of online prostitution may give rise to changes in future regulations.

Other interesting information about prostitution in Japan

Japanese prostitution is unique in the world. In the capital, Tokyo, there is a red-light district, Kabukicho, which offers services you could not imagine until now. Half-naked women dancing on robots, hookers who can be ordered on iPads and themed love hotels. And that’s just the beginning. Discover the inexhaustible store of pleasures in our article “Tokyo’s famous red light district, Kabukicho”.

Japanese prostitute in a themed love hotel
In themed love hotels, sexy Japanese prostitutes make clients’ wildest fantasies come true.

Mexico

Number of prostitutes: approx. 240.000
Legal model: Legalization/Abolitionism/Prohibitionism

Prostitution is legal in Mexico. Selling and buying sex is also allowed. However, the organization of sex work by pimps is strictly criminalized in most parts of the country.

Laws and regulations on prostitution in Mexico

In the case of Mexico, it is not possible to formulate a single universal prostitution law, as all 31 states of the country have their own laws regarding sex work. 13 states allow and regulate prostitution. In these areas, prostitutes are free to work as long as they register and undergo regular health checks.

Social attitudes to prostitution in Mexico

Attitudes to prostitution in Mexico are mixed. Although the law allows sex work, it is unacceptable to many people. Sex workers often face discrimination and violence, both from the police and the civilian population.

Recent changes in prostitution in Mexico

In recent years, the fight against human trafficking and the prostitution of minors has intensified in Mexico, which has resulted in stricter controls and actions in the sex industry. In addition, several states have amended their laws to better regulate prostitution and protect the rights of sex workers.

Future plans for prostitution in Mexico

Efforts are underway in some Mexican states to fully legalize and regulate sex work in order to ensure the safety and human rights of prostitutes in the future.

Other interesting information about prostitution in Mexico

Mexico is home to the Zona Norte, a red-light district known as the stronghold of the sex industry, which offers countless exciting activities for those who want to immerse themselves in Mexico’s nightlife. In our article “Tijuana’s famous red light district, Zona Norte”, you can learn everything about this exotic place.

Prostitution is legal in Mexico
In Tijuana’s Zona Norte, Mexican prostitutes often wait outside the entrances of houses and hotels and try to lure potential clients.

South Africa

Number of prostitutes: between 131.000 and 182.000
Legal model: Prohibitionism

Prostitution is currently illegal in South Africa. It is prohibited to sell and buy sex, run brothels and organize sex by pimps. Both sex workers and clients are punishable.

Laws and regulations on prostitution in South Africa

Under the Sexual Offences Act 1957, prostitution is a criminal offense for all participants (prostitutes, clients and third parties). In addition, the law also made prostitution in public places illegal.

Social attitudes to prostitution in South Africa

In South Africa, prostitution is a generally despised profession. Most people associate it with sexual violence, drug use and HIV/AIDS. At the same time, many NGOs try to stand up for the rights of sex workers and provide them with support.

Recent changes in prostitution in South Africa

In recent years, there has been increasing pressure on the government in South Africa to liberalize laws against sex work, as the South African Human Rights Foundation and other organizations persistently campaign for the decriminalization of prostitution.

Future plans for prostitution in South Africa

Future prospects point towards the legitimization of sex work in South Africa. Many NGOs and rights groups are proposing the decriminalization of prostitution, and the current political climate may be willing to support such changes.

Other interesting information about prostitution in South Africa

Although prostitution is illegal in South Africa, in major cities, the authorities generally tolerate sex work. In these areas, both indoor and street prostitution are typical. However, there are also reports of police violence and harassment against prostitutes in these cities. Furthermore, the rate of sexually transmitted diseases is also worryingly high.

Prostitute flirts with a policeman in South Africa while prostitution is illegal (illustrative image)
Although prostitution is illegal in South Africa, in major cities, the authorities generally tolerate sex work, and cops even seek out the company of prostitutes.

Spain

Number of prostitutes: approx. 350.000
Legal model: Abolitionism

Prostitution is currently legal in Spain, but representatives are working on imposing prison sentences ranging from three to six years, as well as financial penalties, on pimps and traffickers. They are also proposing to penalize those who make money by deliberately providing premises or apartments for prostitution, and to levy fines against those who pay for sex. We will update our article as soon as new information becomes available on the matter.

However, the organisation of prostitution, the operation of brothels and, since 7 October 2022, all forms of promotion and advertising of prostitution and escort work are prohibited.

Laws and regulations on prostitution in Spain

Article 187 of the Spanish Penal Code of 1995 prohibits sexual exploitation, forced labor and the organization of prostitution. According to this part of the law: “Whoever profits from exploiting the prostitution of another person, even with the consent of that person, shall be punished with a prison sentence of two to four years.”

In 2022, Spanish MEPs voted in favour of legislation to end prostitution, which is currently underway.

Social attitudes to prostitution in Spain

Social attitudes to prostitution in Spain are quite complex, partly due to the different views of the various political and social groups. Some believe that prostitution is a job that deserves to be legalized, while others strongly oppose it and see it as an activity that exploits women and promotes human trafficking.

Recent changes in prostitution in Spain

The Spanish state has recently signed a number of bills aimed at dealing with the problem of human trafficking related to prostitution. In addition, legislation has also been introduced to protect the rights of sex workers.

Future plans for prostitution in Spain

Many social groups campaign for the interests of Spanish sex workers. For this reason, activities aimed at regulating brothels and street prostitution, as well as expanding the rights of prostitutes, will continue in the country.

Other interesting information about prostitution in Spain

The fact that the number of prostitutes is so high in the country is partly due to the economic crisis of 2008, which significantly increased unemployment in Spain. Many women then turned to prostitution to make a living.

Prostitution is currently legal in Spain
Prostitution is currently legal in Spain, so sex workers can openly offer their services to potential clients.

Thailand

Number of prostitutes: about 43.000
Legal model: Prohibitionism

In Thailand, prostitution is completely illegal. Selling, buying and organizing sex is all prohibited. Both sex workers and their clients are punishable if they engage in such activities. Despite this, the sex industry is present and even thriving in the country.

Laws and regulations on prostitution in Thailand

In Thailand, the “Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act” adopted in 1996 is in force, which punishes all those who participate in activities related to prostitution. In practice, however, the law is not really applied, as prostitution is widespread and considered an open secret.

Social attitudes to prostitution in Thailand

Attitudes to prostitution in Thailand are mixed. Many people tolerate it, some of them actively participate in it, while others consider it reprehensible. It is worth noting that the prostitution of transgender people is also widespread in Thailand, which also contributes to the social complexity of the phenomenon.

Recent changes in prostitution in Thailand

Recently, the Thai government has taken tougher measures against trafficking in human beings linked to prostitution. They strive to protect “subordinate workers”, i.e., those who entered the sex industry through bribery or coercion.

Future plans for prostitution in Thailand

Regarding prostitution, Thailand has committed to legislative reforms to better control sex work in the country in the future to protect prostitutes. However, due to the size and deep-rooted presence of the sex industry, building a workable system can take some time.

Other interesting information about prostitution in Thailand

Although prostitution is illegal in Thailand, the authorities not only turn a blind eye to the activity but usually participate in it. Along with locals and tourists, they like to visit the Patpong Market in the capital, Bangkok, where they can enjoy the pampering of Thai prostitutes in go-go bars and massage parlors, among other places. If you’re curious, check out our article “Bangkok’s famous red light district, Patpong Market” to find out what this place has to offer visitors.

Prostitution is completely illegal in Thailand
Bangkok’s red light district of Patpong Market is bustling with prostitution every night.

United Kingdom

Number of prostitutes: approx. 72.800
Legal model: Abolitionism 

In the UK, prostitution is essentially a legal activity, so offering sexual services in exchange for money is not punishable. However, other prostitution-related activities, such as organizing sex work, running brothels and street prostitution, are illegal.

Laws and regulations on prostitution in the United Kingdom

The Street Offences Act, which has been in force in the country since 16 August 1959, prohibits street prostitution in its entirety and criminalizes women who offer sexual services in public places. You can read more about this law in our article “Street Offences Act: The law that reshaped sex work regulation in the United Kingdom”.

Social attitudes to prostitution in the United Kingdom

Attitudes to prostitution in the UK are mixed. Although prostitution is legal, there is still a negative perception of the activity in some sections of society. In addition, sex workers often face discrimination and judgment.

Recent changes in prostitution in the United Kingdom

Recently, some new bills have appeared to prevent sexual exploitation, human trafficking and modern slavery. In addition, during the negotiations on new legislation, lawmakers have placed an increasing emphasis on the protection of the rights and health of sex workers.

Future plans for prostitution in the United Kingdom

There are several organizations supporting prostitutes in the United Kingdom whose aim is to promote the full decriminalization of sex work. As a result of their activities, there is a growing recognition that prostitutes also have rights, so it is expected that the goals of these organizations will be realized in the future and that attitudes towards prostitution will also change.

Other interesting information about prostitution in the United Kingdom

London, the capital of England, is home to the historic Soho, the center of prostitution. In the red light district, a Soho walk-up gives everyone the chance to experience the pleasures offered by London hookers. Take a look at our article “London’s famous red light district, Soho”, and find out how prostitution is structured in the city.

Street prostitution in the United Kingdom
Prostitution is basically not illegal in the United Kingdom, but street prostitution is prohibited under the Street Offences Act.

United States

Number of prostitutes: more than 1.000.000
Legal model: Prohibitionism/Legalization

In the United States, prostitution is generally prohibited, i.e., it is considered an illegal activity. The only exception is the state of Nevada, where regulated brothel prostitution is legal in a few counties with a population of less than 700.000.

Laws and regulations on prostitution in the United States

Laws and regulations on sex work in the US vary from state to state. In prohibited areas, prostitutes are not entitled to labor law protection, health care and other safety measures. The country is also covered by the Mann Act, introduced on 25 June 1910, which prohibits the transportation of women from one state to another for the purpose of prostitution. You can read more about this law in our article “Mann Act: The Law that Transformed the Legal Landscape of Sex Work in America”.

Social attitudes to prostitution in the United States

People’s attitudes towards prostitution in the United States range widely. Some people are strongly opposed, others are more accepting, and there are some who call for the extension of the rights of prostitutes. In addition, in certain cities and districts, it is widely accepted that there are so-called “red light districts” or “sex worker zones”.

Recent changes in prostitution in the United States

The fight against human trafficking has recently been strengthened in the United States, as part of which the legislation related to sex work has also been tightened. Furthermore, the rise of digitalization and the Internet has increased the presence of prostitution in the online space. This is why the FOSTA-SESTA law package was born on 11 April 2018, which protects people from online forms of human trafficking and forced prostitution. Find out more about the FOSTA-SESTA Act in our comprehensive article.

Future plans for prostitution in the United States

In the US, several people are campaigning for the relaxation of prostitution laws in order to improve the rights and safety of sex workers. For this reason, it is expected that the debate will continue in the future as to which direction the legal regulation should change: towards the tightening of the prohibition or the decriminalization of sex work.

Other interesting information about prostitution in the United States

Some cities, including San Francisco, have so-called “tolerance zones” where the authorities theoretically turn a blind eye to prostitution. Despite this, from time to time, raids are held in these areas, so sex workers are often subjected to police harassment and abuse.

A police officer arrests a prostitute in the United States
In the United States, there are tolerence zones where the authorities theoretically turn a blind eye to prostitution. Yet even in these places, prostitutes are often subject to police raids and harassment.

Comprehensive Global Overview: Prostitution Law by Country

In the table below, you will find important information about prostitution laws in countries around the world. You can see where prostitution is legal and where it is illegal, and find out which countries use a legislative model that straddles the line between legality and illegality. And you can also read more interesting facts about loopholes and individual rules.

CountryLegalityLegal modelAdditional information
AustraliaLegalLegalization, ProhibitionismVaries by state/territory.
BangladeshLegalLegalizationSolicitation still illegal.
BelgiumLegalDecriminalizationProstitution, brothels and solicitation are legal.
BoliviaLegalLegalizationOrganized and regulated.
Cape VerdeLegalDecriminalizationSex trafficking and child prostitution still illegal.
ColombiaLegalLegalizationOrganized and regulated. Inconsistent enforcement.
EcuadorLegalLegalizationOrganized and regulated. Inconsistent enforcement.
EritreaLegalLegalizationProstitution is legal. Pimping and forced prostitution still illegal.
GermanyLegalLegalizationOrganized and regulated.
GreeceLegalLegalizationOrganized and regulated. Illegal prostitution also common.
HungaryLegalLegalizationOrganized and regulated.
IndonesiaLegalDecriminalizationFrowned upon, but widely tolerated.
LebanonLegalLegalizationLightly regulated.
MozambiqueLegalLegalizationProstitution is legal, but human trafficking and child prostitution is illegal.
NetherlandsLegalLegalizationOrganized and regulated. The first European country to fully legalise prostitution in 2000.
New ZealandLegalLegalizationProstitution, brothels and advertising are legal and regulated.
PanamaLegalLegalizationOrganized and regulated.
PeruLegalLegalizationOrganized and regulated.
Sierra LeoneLegalLegalizationProstitution is legal. Pimping and forced prostitution still illegal.
SwitzerlandLegalLegalizationOrganized and regulated. Pimping and forced prostitution still illegal.
TurkeyLegalLegalizationOrganized and regulated.
UruguayLegalLegalizationOrganized and regulated.
VenezuelaLegalLegalizationOrganized and regulated.
AlgeriaLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
ArgentinaLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
AustriaLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
BahamasLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
BeninLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
BermudaLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, but organized activities such as brothels and pimping are illegal.
BotswanaLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
BrazilLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
BulgariaLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Burkina FasoLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Cayman IslandsLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, but organized activities such as brothels and pimping are illegal.
Central African RepublicLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
ChileLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Costa RicaLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
CubaLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels, solicitation, and pornography illegal.
CyprusLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Czech RepublicLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
DenmarkLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Dominican RepublicLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
DR CongoLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
EstoniaLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
EthiopiaLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Falkland IslandsLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, but organized activities such as brothels and pimping are illegal.
Faroe IslandsLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, but organized activities such as brothels and pimping are illegal.
FijiLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
FinlandLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
French GuianaLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
French PolynesiaLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
GibraltarLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, but organized activities such as brothels and pimping are illegal.
GreenlandLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, but organized activities such as brothels and pimping are illegal.
GuadeloupeLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
GuatemalaLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution and brothels legal, pimping illegal.
GuernseyLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, but organized activities such as brothels and pimping are illegal.
HondurasLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Hong KongLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
IndiaLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Isle of ManLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, but organized activities such as brothels and pimping are illegal.
ItalyLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Ivory CoastLimited LegalityProhibitionismProstitution prohibited, but many loopholes exist.
JapanLimited LegalityProhibitionismProstitution prohibited, but many loopholes exist.
KazakhstanLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
KenyaLimited LegalityProhibitionism, AbolitionismRegulated by local laws in some places.
KyrgyzstanLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
LatviaLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
LiechtensteinLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, but organized activities such as brothels and pimping are illegal.
LuxembourgLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
MacauLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels, solicitation, & \"street prostitution\" illegal.
MadagascarLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
MalawiLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
MaliLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
MaltaLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
MartiniqueLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
MayotteLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
MexicoLimited LegalityLegalization, Abolitionism, ProhibitionismVaries by state/territory.
MonacoLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
MontenegroLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, but organized activities such as brothels and pimping are illegal.
MontserratLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, but organized activities such as brothels and pimping are illegal.
NamibiaLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
New CaledoniaLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
NicaraguaLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
NigeriaLimited LegalityAbolitionism, ProhibitionismVaries by state/territory.
North MacedoniaLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
ParaguayLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
PolandLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
PortugalLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
ReunionLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
RomaniaLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
San MarinoLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, but organized activities such as brothels and pimping are illegal.
SenegalLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
SerbiaLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, but organized activities such as brothels and pimping are illegal.
SingaporeLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal. Lax enforcement.
SloveniaLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, but organized activities such as brothels and pimping are illegal.
Solomon IslandsLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal. Lax enforcement.
South SudanLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal. Lax enforcement.
SpainLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels are gray area, solicitation and advertising prostitution are illegal.
TajikistanLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Timor-LesteLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
TogoLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Turks and Caicos IslandsLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, but organized activities such as brothels and pimping are illegal.
United KingdomLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal. Lax enforcement.
ZambiaLimited LegalityAbolitionismProstitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal. Lax enforcement.
El SalvadorIllegal/LegalAbolitionism, Prohibitionism, LegalizationLegal some places, illegal in others.
United StatesIllegal/LegalProhibitionism, LegalizationIllegal in 49.5 of 50 states, but still prevalent.
AfghanistanIllegalProhibitionismSex outside of marriage is punishable by death.
AlbaniaIllegalProhibitionismStill widespread.
AndorraIllegalProhibitionismForbidden by law, but known to exist.
AngolaIllegalProhibitionismLax enforcement.
Antigua and BarbudaIllegalProhibitionismForbidden by law, but known to exist.
ArmeniaIllegalProhibitionismStill exists, but not prevalent.
AzerbaijanIllegalProhibitionismStill widespread.
BahrainIllegalProhibitionismStill exists, but not prevalent.
BarbadosIllegalProhibitionismStill exists, but not prevalent.
BelarusIllegalProhibitionismStill widespread. Minor offense.
BelizeIllegalNeo-AbolitionismSelling is legal, but buying, organizing, solicitation illegal. Still widespread.
BhutanIllegalProhibitionismStill exists, but not prevalent.
BruneiIllegalProhibitionismProstitution is illegal and severely punishable.
BurundiIllegalProhibitionismStill widespread.
CambodiaIllegalProhibitionismStill widespread.
CameroonIllegalProhibitionismStill widespread.
CanadaIllegalNeo-AbolitionismSelling is legal, but buying, organizing, solicitation illegal.
ChadIllegalProhibitionismStill widespread.
ChinaIllegalProhibitionismFrequent legal exception: happy ending massages.
ComorosIllegalProhibitionismStill widespread.
CroatiaIllegalProhibitionismStill widespread.
DjiboutiIllegalProhibitionismIllegal but tolerated.
DominicaIllegalProhibitionismForbidden by law, but known to exist.
EgyptIllegalProhibitionismStill exists, but not prevalent.
EswatiniIllegalProhibitionismIllegal but tolerated.
FranceIllegalNeo-AbolitionismSelling is legal, but buying, organizing, solicitation illegal. Loopholes exist.
GambiaIllegalProhibitionismStill widespread.
GeorgiaIllegalProhibitionismStill widespread.
GhanaIllegalProhibitionismStill widespread.
GrenadaIllegalProhibitionismForbidden by law, but known to exist.
GuyanaIllegalProhibitionismStill widespread.
HaitiIllegalProhibitionismStill widespread.
IcelandIllegalNeo-AbolitionismSelling is legal, but buying, organizing, solicitation illegal. Still widespread.
IranIllegalProhibitionismRepeat offenders may be executed.
IraqIllegalProhibitionismBuyer, seller, & organizer all liable. Steep penalties.
IrelandIllegalNeo-AbolitionismSelling is legal, but buying, organizing, solicitation illegal.
IsraelIllegalNeo-AbolitionismSelling is legal, but buying, organizing, solicitation illegal.
JamaicaIllegalProhibitionismIllegal but tolerated.
JordanIllegalProhibitionismIllegal but tolerated.
KuwaitIllegalProhibitionismStill widespread.
LaosIllegalProhibitionismProstitution is illegal and punishable.
LibyaIllegalProhibitionismStill widespread.
LithuaniaIllegalProhibitionismStill widespread.
MaldivesIllegalProhibitionismStill exists, but not prevalent.
MoldovaIllegalProhibitionismStill widespread.
MongoliaIllegalProhibitionismStill widespread.
MoroccoIllegalProhibitionismStill widespread.
MyanmarIllegalProhibitionismStill widespread.
NepalIllegalProhibitionismProstitution is illegal but common and often tolerated.
NigerIllegalProhibitionismStill widespread.
North KoreaIllegalProhibitionismPrevalence unclear
NorwayIllegalNeo-AbolitionismSelling and brothels are legal, but purchasing illegal. Loopholes exist.
OmanIllegalProhibitionismProstitution is illegal and punishable.
PakistanIllegalProhibitionismStill common despite steep penalties.
PalestineIllegalProhibitionismReportedly still legal in city of Ramallah
Papua New GuineaIllegalProhibitionismIllegal but tolerated.
PhilippinesIllegalProhibitionismIllegal but tolerated.
QatarIllegalProhibitionismSteep penalties.
RussiaIllegalProhibitionismProstitution is illegal, but it is often tolerated in practice.
RwandaIllegalProhibitionismStill widespread.
Saint Kitts and NevisIllegalProhibitionismForbidden by law, but known to exist.
Saint LuciaIllegalProhibitionismForbidden by law, but known to exist.
Saint Vincent and the GrenadinesIllegalProhibitionismForbidden by law, but known to exist.
SamoaIllegalProhibitionismStill widespread.
Saudi ArabiaIllegalProhibitionismSteep penalties.
SomaliaIllegalProhibitionismProstitution is illegal and punishable.
South AfricaIllegalProhibitionismStill widespread.
South KoreaIllegalProhibitionismIllegal but tolerated.
Sri LankaIllegalProhibitionismProstitution is illegal and punishable.
SurinameIllegalProhibitionismStill widespread. Lax enforcement.
SwedenIllegalNeo-AbolitionismSelling and brothels are legal, but purchasing illegal. Loopholes exist.
SyriaIllegalProhibitionismLax enforcement.
TaiwanIllegalProhibitionismTechnically legal in "special zones" ... none of which exist.
TanzaniaIllegalProhibitionismStill widespread.
ThailandIllegalProhibitionismForbidden by law, but known to exist.
TunisiaIllegalProhibitionismLegal in two small areas of country only.
TurkmenistanIllegalProhibitionismStill widespread.
UgandaIllegalProhibitionismStill widespread.
UkraineIllegalProhibitionismIllegal but tolerated.
United Arab EmiratesIllegalProhibitionismSteep penalties.
UzbekistanIllegalProhibitionismLax enforcement.
VanuatuIllegalProhibitionismStill widespread.
VietnamIllegalProhibitionismProstitution is illegal, but it is often tolerated in practice.
YemenIllegalProhibitionismStill widespread.
ZimbabweIllegalProhibitionismStill widespread.

Closure

Prostitution laws, regulations and social attitudes to sex work are diverse around the world. While support for the legalization of prostitution is growing in some countries, opposition remains strong in other areas. However, dynamic changes are expected in the coming years as countries adapt to growing tourism, the fight against human trafficking and the legal demands of sex workers. In addition, in many parts of the world, activists and civil organizations are increasingly campaigning for the decriminalization of sex work and the rights of prostitutes, which puts further pressure on lawmakers to pass regulations favorable to sex workers. You can read more about the most important such organizations in our article entitled “The Main Organizations Striving for Prostitution Legalization”.

Was this article helpful?
YesNo
Do you have a comment?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts
en_USEnglish