Looking at the map of countries that legalized prostitution one can see a paradox - Sweden seems to be one of the harsher countries in Europe, even though they're leading the world in terms of overall liberalism. Why is this the case? Is there something in Swedish culture that strongly disapproves of "sinful" entertainment?

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    Comments deleted. Whether or not prostitution should be legal and how it affects human trafficing (just one sub-aspect of many) is not the subject of this question. An answer to this question should be mostly about the arguments proponents of the prostitution ban in Sweden used to justify the law.
    – Philipp
    Commented Dec 25, 2017 at 20:43
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    I don't understand why you named the link to the social progress index to "overall liberalism". There is not a single mention of liberalism in that wikipedia page.
    – Alex
    Commented Dec 25, 2017 at 21:14
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    Also the notion of liberalism is probably different in the US than in other parts of the world.
    – jjack
    Commented Dec 25, 2017 at 22:01
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    The question's presupposition that progressiveness and the legalization of prostitution go hand in hand is unfounded, to put it mildly. As a result, answers will be oblique. Questions are better formed when they avoid making such presuppositions and simply ask "Why?" Commented Dec 26, 2017 at 17:58

3 Answers 3


There are of course general concerns regarding prostitution, like trafficking and bad social implications, different countries has reached different conclusions here.

The thing with Sweden is that we have a strong culture, at least in regards of media, to search for injustices and oppression. Strongly connected to this is the common view that women in general are victims of male privilege and oppression, where for example phenomena like the #metoo campaign gain huge traction and is on the front page of news papers for months.

In this context, the idea that women can be seen as a sexual commodity to be bought by men is often seen as a preposterous. The gender factor in regards of prostitution is also a contributing factor to why it is illegal to buy but not to sell sex in Sweden: Male buyers are seen as taking advantage of vulnerable and distressed women, while female prostitutes are seen as victims of male privilege and oppression.

Simply put, prostitution is strongly looked down upon in Sweden specifically because we have strong feminist movements (in different flavors and types) while prostitution is seen as both symptomatic and reinforcing of a structural male oppression and sexualization of women.

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    This argument is invalid because male prostitution in Sweden is also illegal for the buyer.
    – user14429
    Commented Dec 26, 2017 at 13:40
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    @DraifKroneg Yes, but due to the nature of us humans, the buyer is almost always male and the seller is most often female. I wouldn't expect the lawmakers to think that the nuance here would motivate a law that explicitly makes a difference based on gender. Laws that make something illegal or not depending on what gender you belong to are difficult in many aspects.
    – Alex
    Commented Dec 26, 2017 at 14:50
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    The main flaw in this logic is the presumption that once something is made illegal, it won't exist. Prostitution will always exist because there are always woman who want to do it and there are always man who want to buy. By making it illegal you only promote organized crime. Legalization would bring benefits to both state and prostitutes (e.g. health care, HIV prevention). The main argument against this is tradition and morality.
    – Sulthan
    Commented Dec 26, 2017 at 19:15
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    I believe it's important to emphasise that Sweden punishes the solicitor, not the sex-worker. In many other countries where prostitution is unlawful, the sex-worker or both are prosecuted, which is a different attitude. This would clear the confusion of the OP's question IMO
    – PeteW
    Commented Dec 26, 2017 at 20:18
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    @Sulthan That might be the case, and I want to make it clear that I'm only trying to explain how the issue is perceived in Sweden. It's not nesessarily my own personal opinion.
    – Alex
    Commented Dec 26, 2017 at 21:25

The Wikipedia article Feminist views on prostitution summarizes the position of those who are opposed to prostitution as follows:

Anti-prostitution feminists hold that prostitution is a form of exploitation of women and male dominance over women, and a practice which is the result of the existing patriarchal societal order. These feminists argue that prostitution has a very negative effect, both on the prostitutes themselves and on society as a whole, as it reinforces stereotypical views about women, who are seen as sex objects which can be used and abused by men.

(Other views exist, too – see the article for more details. Furthermore, there are of course positions on prostitution that are not feminist in nature.)

It is this view, of prostitution being harmful to prostitutes and to society as a whole, that dominates in Swedish politics. Accordingly, paying for sexual acts (Swedish sexköp) is considered behaviour comparable to assault and is therefore banned. (Note that offering sexual acts for payment is not a crime.) It is no matter of liberalism, because there is no right to harm others.


The core problem with legalizing prostitution is that in countries like Germany that have legalized prostition a significant portion of the prostitutes are still victims of human trafficing. The German newspaper Spiegel describes the situation:

According to various studies, including one by the European Network for HIV/STI Prevention and Health Promotion among Migrant Sex Workers (TAMPEP), 65 to 80 percent of the girls and women come from abroad [to Germany]. Most are from Romania and Bulgaria.


Axel Dreher, a professor of international and development politics at the University of Heidelberg, has attempted to answer these questions, using data from 150 countries. The numbers were imprecise, as are all statistics relating to trafficking and prostitution, but he was able to identify a trend: Where prostitution is legal, there is more human trafficking than elsewhere.


The Netherlands chose the path of legal deregulation two years before Germany. Both the Dutch justice minister and the police concede that there have been no palpable improvements for prostitutes since then. They are generally in poorer health than before, and increasing numbers are addicted to drugs. The police estimate that 50 to 90 percent of prostitutes do not practice the profession voluntarily.

Similar observations that a significant amount of the prostitutes in Sweden get mistreated led Sweden to forbid prostitution again in 1999 after having allowed it before 1999.

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    Human trafficking has always been an issue in Germany, before legalization and after. What seems (at least has a stronger correlation to my untrained eye) to strongly have increased human trafficking cases is the addition of Romania and Bulgaria to the EU, not the legalization, which made the trafficking easier, see stats for Germany: imgur.com/a/wz4Cl
    – janh
    Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 14:45
  • @janh : The stats you cite show how many cases the police could go after. Legalization made it a lot harder to go after human trafficking for the police because trafficking is a lot harder to prove than prostitution.
    – Christian
    Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 15:24
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    note that these are not indictments, but cases worked by the police: they don't require any proof, only reasonable suspicion (mostly: somebody to report it). There is, to my knowledge, no data available on how many of these went to trial and how many of those ended with a guilty verdict. Also note that you had to prove trafficking before legalization as well, so legalization didn't really change anything on that front.
    – janh
    Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 15:36
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    Out of interest, I looked at other Western European countries. The Netherlands legalized p. in 2000 and saw little to no increase in trafficking until the EU expansion starting in 2004 with strong increases after 2007 (source page 92). Denmark hadn't criminalized prostitution, so you'd expect no changes in human trafficking. Alas, the same pattern as in Germany and the Netherlands arises: strong increase since 2007
    – janh
    Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 17:03
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    @jjack It was not legal in Sweden when the EU expanded, yet they saw the same increase. I understand your reasoning, but the data does not support it. It's not possible to deduct causation from statistics, obviously, but at least we can see the lack of a strong relationship between legalization and human trafficking in NW Europe. This might be different for other parts of the world, though.
    – janh
    Commented Dec 28, 2017 at 2:44

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