Many highly developed countries such as Germany, Switzerland, or Australia legalized prostitution for the most part and treat it as a job like others. Spain has decriminalized it.

However, We find that there are many highly developed countries that make prostitution illegal. Such countries include USA, Norway, Sweden or Japan.

Non-highly developed countries are also split on this matter. While some allow it, many also disallow it.

Usually, almost all highly developed countries agree on one matter. For example, homosexuality is accepted in highly developed countries, while forbidden in other countries.

But when it comes to prostitution, they have a complete different opinion. I was wondering why is that so?

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    The why of law probably is better at history.se or politics.se. The answer is Democracy.
    – user9389
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 21:01
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    I agree that politics.se would be a better forum. Historically, prostitution was banned as a public health measure (e.g. to reduce the spread of STDs), to protect women from exploitation (on the assumption that lots of prostitutes are really working under duress for pimps), and to protect marriages. But, the black market for prostitution has led to different abuses of prostitutes in part arising from lack of regulation, and lack of recourse to the courts for problems, while it hasn't prevented prostitution from occurring.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 21:20
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    @ohwilleke I suspect those were post-hoc justifications and the original reason for the ban is a moralistic one.
    – Dale M
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 21:28
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    @DaleM Protecting marriage isn't moralistic?
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 21:38
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    @DavidGrinberg and everywhere else, it's just called an "escort service".
    – user1530
    Commented Mar 25, 2017 at 5:39

9 Answers 9


There is first a moral question: Should people (mostly men) be allowed to openly pay other people (mostly women) for having sex? What makes this moral question more interesting is that often the same thing happens less openly, with the only difference being that instead of open pay there are gifts handed over, life style is financed, other advantages are granted, and sometimes there is pretense of some kind of relationship. Different governments have a different attitude.

The next question is whether (a) prostitutes, (b) their customers and (c) the general public should be protected. Again, different governments have different attitudes.

But finally there is the question how prostitutes, customers, and general public would be protected best. And there politicians who agree that they should all be protected will disagree how that should happen. Every legislation you could think of will have advantages and disadvantages, and different well-meaning governments will come to different conclusions what is the best legislation.


The theory behind decriminalization of prostitution is that it avoids the problem of dragging women into the legal system and helps avoid other related crimes. Indeed, a few years ago one such report found a decline in reported rapes in Rhode Island (where it was legal at the time)

The decline in the number of rapes was so large that Cunningham and Shah felt obliged to examine their data with three separate statistical methods, but the effect persisted. The authors were eventually persuaded that their result was not a fluke, and that imposing criminal sanctions on prostitutes and their clients might cause violence against women. "The human costs are so big, if this is in fact a very real causal effect," Cunningham said. "I think we have convinced ourselves that we have done everything we can do rule out alternative explanations."

The problem with legalized prostitution, however, is it tends to run hand-in-hand with a far more serious (and much less accepted practice): human trafficking (a close cousin of sex slavery). It's well known that most prostitutes have a boss, known colloquially as a pimp, who take most of their earnings. But what's less known is that many pimps "groom" the women under them via rape, after having kidnapped them. They use their status as prostitutes against the women (sometimes girls) to convince them to remain in their profession. Indeed, one charge levied against legalized prostitution is that it makes prosecuting human trafficking difficult, if not impossible

Rhode Island police are stymied by the lack of laws enabling them to investigate effectively in order to identify victims and prosecute traffickers. Prostitution was decriminalized in the state as a result of a lawsuit brought by a prostitutes’ rights group in 1980. Since then, Rhode Island has had no laws against prostitution so long as no solicitation occurs outdoors. Outdoor solicitation remains illegal as a form of loitering for indecent purposes. Rhode Island has laws against sex trafficking and pimping (pandering, transporting, and harboring for prostitution, and deriving support and maintenance from prostitution). But without a predicate prostitution crime, state police lack the grounds to intervene and interview likely victims. Enforcement of federal sex-trafficking laws is also severely hampered. Consequently, there have been no federal or state prosecutions for sex trafficking and no state prosecutions for pimping for many years.

There's not an easy answer here. If you focus laws against "Johns" (prostitution clients) you run the risk of human trafficking running unabated. If you make the prostitute herself a criminal, you run the risk that she herself is a victim, forced into a world she did not choose. Either way, prostitution is not a victim-less crime, and any laws need to protect women first.

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    Regarding prostitution and human trafficking: I also heard the reverse argumentation: Legalized prostitution allows forced prostitutes to go to the police and report their pimp, because they haven't committed a crime. But this of course requires that they haven't committed any other crimes (like illegal immigration) and that they are actually aware of the option to do this (a "good" pimp usually has a high degree of psychological control over his prostitutes).
    – Philipp
    Commented Mar 25, 2017 at 17:22
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    Ya, Pimps are always gonna exist, it's just that with legalised prostitution, the girls have certain rights their boss cannot violate: they can't force them into sex, they have to get payed/get other job-related benefits, etc. Plus, if something does go wrong, they have a court system that isn't gonna punish them for coming forward.
    – Tirous
    Commented Mar 26, 2017 at 6:27
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    Please stop spreading ridiculous propaganda from prohibitionists. It may be difficult for some to understand that others willingly have sex for money (as I find it difficult to understand why people clean toilets for little money), so please take time to listen to actual sex workers rather than repeating such misinformation (there are plenty of outreach resources easily found). Note that those who get paid to make scandalous unsupported claims for prohibitionist groups are not reliable sources. Also, how exactly do you expect rape and abduction to be so endemic were prostitution legal? Commented Mar 28, 2017 at 20:05
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    @pluckedkiwi I'm not quoting any propaganda. Those are real trends observed under real legalization. If you have your own metrics you should post your own answer. I think you're also assuming that there's no black market under a legalized society. The core argument of legal prostitution is that women have choices. There are still going to be clients who prefer things legal prostitutes won't do.
    – Machavity
    Commented Mar 28, 2017 at 20:11
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    "It's well known that most prostitutes have a boss, known colloquially as a pimp, who take most of their earnings." Is that indeed so?
    – gnasher729
    Commented Dec 26, 2017 at 10:22

Good laws reflect the opinions and practices of the people in the country. The political systems in countries is the best way we know of to create good laws taking into account the general view of the inhabitants.

As to prostitution-- in Sweden it is illegal to buy sex, but not to sell. In the common mind, prostitutes are mainly female victims, drug addicts or victims of trafficking. It then makes sense to protect these victims from further abuse. The abuse happens when sex is paid for, hence the illegal part is on the buyer.

In other countries, the common opinions may be different and different emphasis put on the various aspects of prostitution. Maybe it is seen as liberal to allow people to sell sex, maybe it is seen as reducing rape or whatever. Hence, good laws do reflect these differences. Of course, over time, views change and then laws should reflect that change.

  • How the hell paying someone is victimizing them is another story alltogether
    – user4951
    Commented Apr 25, 2018 at 5:25
  • @J.Chang Other way around - they're victimized first, and that causes them to get paid. Commented Apr 29, 2018 at 20:59

We find that there many highly developed countries that make prostitution illegal. Such countries include USA, Norway, Sweden or Japan.

Prostitution is not illegal at the federal level in the United States. It is illegal in most states. It is not illegal in certain counties in Nevada.

Some reasons to make prostitution illegal:

  1. Can contribute to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
  2. The sanctity of marriage.
  3. Prostitution can be associated with human trafficking.

Some reasons to make prostitution legal:

  1. Can regulate STD testing.
  2. Save law enforcement effort or money.
  3. Can collect taxes.
  4. Illegal prostitution can be associated with other crimes. Johns may not report robberies, etc. if they know they were already doing something illegal. Similarly, prostitutes may not want to report violence against them.

Note that at least in Nevada, prostitution is heavily regulated to protect customers from STDs. So there are really more choices than just legal/illegal.


The answer is simple: because prostitution doesn't have a strong lobby. Common people are not going to march on the streets holding "We want legal prostitution" or "Let's have more brothels" signs. Even in countries where prostitution is legal it's considered uncouth to admit in public that you're a "John" and likewise many a political career have been ended for having been caught in the company of prostitutes.

Homosexuality in your example is a completely different scenario. Even in developing countries many citizens believe that one should not be arrested or punished for being a homosexual and it isn't considered improper to voice that opinion. In developed countries people go one step further and many are willing to march for wider gay rights such as marriage or adoption. Admitting that you're gay or serving as a gay politician hasn't been a big deal for at least 20 years now in the West, so naturally it's easy to pass laws in favour of gay people.

You can find the same explanation for many seemingly illogical rules - in the US it's illegal to drink before you're 21 because no one past the age of 21 is willing to protest against the practice. But millions of people have strongly protested against drafting recruits into the army before they are eligible to vote, so nowadays the minimum legal age for voting is 18 in the US. Build a strong lobby and you can pass any law you want. Have no lobby and you're at the mercy of the lobbying of your opponents - in the case of prostitution those would be churches, feminist groups, "family values" supporters, "think of the children" campaigns, etc.

  • An answer that starts by stating that “the answer is simple” is suspicious from that alone. :-)
    – chirlu
    Commented Dec 26, 2017 at 12:24
  • “Random decisions by local politicians” come from somewhere, too. And it’s simply untrue that there is no lobbying involved in decisions about prostitution. While there may not be any mass demonstrations by (current or prospective) customers, there certainly are churches, feminist groups, social work organizations, and associations of prostitutes who all give their (wildly different) opinions. Journalists are also a factor. Since prostitution is also an economy, there may be less public lobbying going on, too (e.g. by a landlord who wants to open a brothel when that becomes legal).
    – chirlu
    Commented Dec 26, 2017 at 12:41
  • @chirlu answer fixed Commented Dec 26, 2017 at 12:55
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    There actually are pro-prostitution lobby organizations. They are often organized by the prostitutes themselves. A relevant one is the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe. This of course only works well where prostitution is already decriminalized.
    – Philipp
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 17:39
  • @Philipp those are prostitute organizations though. You don't see clients coming out in support, as is the case with marijuana legalization for example. Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 18:05

Here is an article in The Guardian with interviews with sex workers in New South Wales in Australia. Things that come over from this:

  • Prohibition is used to harass and persecute sex workers, not to protect them. The police can be the worst offenders.

  • Sex workers feel that the rest of society sees them as less deserving of rights and protection. A sex worker who is assaulted or robbed is blamed for being the victim.

  • Some forms of sex work can be positive. One interviewee specialised in disabled clients, and another in fellow geeks. Both are groups who feel marginalised and excluded from sex.

  • The phrase "safe space" got used a lot. It covered sex workers and their clients.

  • Female sex workers have a difficult relationship with mainstream feminism. On one hand the feminist ideals of empowerment fits well with the positive reasons that some women choose sex work, but on the other hand feminist thought insists that sex work is necessarily a part of the patriarchal power structure imposed by men. This denies the experiences and perspectives of women who have made a positive decision to do sex work.

The interviews are clearly cherry-picked; they include a number of high profile individuals and there is no evidence that they are typical experiences for the majority of sex workers. However it is important to see that there is a breadth of experience among sex workers, with a trafficked slave at one end and these people at the other. The mistake is to lump all sex work into a single moral or legal category.


A part of it is cultural/historical. Acceptance/rejection of prostitution have come and gone again and again over the ages. It's a matter of perspective if you want to see society's stance on prostitution as the result of a law, which is based on reasonable arguments for and against prostitution, or if you want to see the arguments for and against prostitution as ways to defend/propose a law, which reflects society's stance on prostitution.

The actual arguments have already been delivered by other answers, and the summary is that there are sufficient valid and sensible arguments to make the case for either choice.

Your main question: Why is there no consensus on prostitution among developed nations, while "usually, almost all highly developed countries agree on one matter"? Is easy to answer by dismantling the premise of the question.

Other, arguably as important questions without consensus:

  • How to use armed forces? (homeland defense/proactive liberation)
  • How to provide health care?
  • What should a foreigner do to become a citizen?
  • What are appropriate punishments in a fair justice system?
  • After having served jail time, should there be additional punishment? (e.g. sex offender registry)
  • Should social security guarantee nobody has to be homeless begging on the street?
  • Should there be a minimal wage?
  • Should the police be armed? How should the police be armed?
  • Should civilians be armed? Under what circumstances should civilians be armed?
  • Should the state sponsor/run media? Should the state sponsor/run media that strive to be neutral and unbiased?
  • Is waving a Nazi flag a crime?
  • On which side of the road do we drive?
  • Should the price on the shelf be the price we pay to acquire the goods with or without taxes?
  • How should we tax?
  • Which language is best?
  • If people download a "free" movie from the internet through unofficial channels, are they liable for damages? How much damages? Liable to whom?

This is actually very easy to answer if you look at the backgrounds of the countries which made prostitution illegal.

  1. USA: Prostitutes were either salves or treated as slaves. So, it was made illegal to uplift the status of slaves.

  2. Norway: According to Wikipedia It was argued that human trafficking was fuelled by a demand for sex and that therefore a ban was necessary, and whether solicitation was offensive.

  3. Sweden: both commission reports together as a Violence Against Women Act (Kvinnofrid),[37] including criminalization of purchase in the prostitution provisions[38] and measures to combat sexual harassment in the workplace.

  4. Japan: to protect purity of Japanese race and to protect Japanese women from harassment of allied soldiers.


"Allowing prostitution" has a different name legally: "Enforcing prostitution contracts." It's easy to imagine the various reasons judges, district attorneys, legislators, executives, governors, and the public might not want to enforce prostitution contracts.


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