Prostitution and other commercial sex activities

Warning:  Explicit content.  Viewer discretion advised.

"Buying sex is a particularly gendered act. It is something men do as men. It is an act in which the actor conforms to a social role that involves certain male-gendered ways of behaving, thinking, knowing and possessing social power."

- Sigma Huda, UN Special Rapporteur

Globally, prostitution and other commercial sex activities such as stripping, lap dancing, sex tourism, etc. disproportionately involve men using women and (mostly girl) children for sexual use or titillation.  Despite the rhetoric from advocates, these activities are not a level playing field.  Overwhelmingly, they:
  • exist to sexually privilege men
  • have their roots in gender inequality
  • reinforce attitudes and beliefs around male sexual entitlement and female sexual servitude
  • are predicated on unequal power and economic structures, where men want sex or sexual titillation and have the means to pay for it, and women/children want money or ‘in kind’ payment
  • reduce women and children to their orifices, available to rent by men
  • corrode men’s connection to themselves and to others
  • exploit, denigrate and harm women and children. 
If there were no demand by men, there would be no supply of women and children.  Challenging male demand is critical to effective reduction of prostitution and other commercial sex activities.  

Men who buy sex from children engaged in commercial sexual activity are primarily prostitute users, rather than paedophiles.


Reducing demand

Men who buy sex or sexual titillation report that their sex buying behaviour is influenced by factors such as effort, convenience, having the money, risk of prosecution,and a belief that is a harmless activity.  

Most sex buyers are not that committed, observes international human trafficking expert Brian Iselin.  The key to taking buyers out of the sex markets is to make the casual buyer think before acting; to interrupt the transaction. 


  • Increase the effort needed to buy.  
  • Increase the inconvenience for buying.   
  • Push up price.  
  • Normalise the illegality. 
  • Provide information. 
In recent years some "progressive" countries have done just that - exploring how best to increase effort, inconvenience and price, normalise the illegality and educate the public towards greater gender equality. Others have done the reverse.
Countries' responses

Progressive countries that have said
to sex buying behaviour
to reinforcing sexist attitudes
to accommodating gendered violence
to entrenching gender inequality
 by criminalising the buying of sex
and providing exit support to sellers  

Sweden Norway Iceland Northern Ireland
Canada France Ireland  


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Countries' responses

Liberal countries that have said
to sex buying behaviour
to reinforcing sexist attitudes
to accommodating gendered violence
to entrenching gender inequality
by decriminalising or legalising prostitution 

Netherlands  ♦  Germany  ♦  Australia  ♦  New Zealand
                                                                          Read more >


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Prostitution:  Elevating or reducing the status and dignity of women?

Men - in their words...

"At ... members interact with one another in real time discussion boards to keep each other informed and up to date on the best places in the world to get pussy. Newbies learn from the experienced pros as to where they too can get 18 year old girls for less than the price of a good steak ... Your wife will never know ..." 

          - Online prostitution guide for sex buyers

- "I came all over her beautiful face, and with time to spare I came in her mouth." 
- "Finished off with me pissing into her mouth for a full minute or more."
- "Ending with her swallowing and nearly choking on a week’s worth of my seed."

          - British sex buyers' reviews for fellow buyers (many of 
            whom seek out acts their wives/girlfriends won't provide)

“You can do all the things you’d never dare ask your girlfriend for, and there’s no chance she can say she got a headache, or just want to 'cuddle'... it’s all about YOU and what YOU want."
     - British sex tourist on a European stag party


 Stag Party
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Steak & Tits

One of the most popular activities

“Amsterdam was like going through a turnstile into a fairground ride: two minutes and you’re out.
The idea that the women had been with five men in the last hour or 20 men in a day was a big turn off.”

           - British sex buyer, visiting Amsterdam

"Some look for the cheapest sex possible either because they have limited funds or because they don't like to spend more money as necessary for a wet hole.
      One of the countries that is said to be the cheapest sex vacation destination is Cambodia... "
         - Online brothel guide (inc photo) for sex buyers

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Men - in their words...

"It is time to adopt a new code on what it means to be a man.
     Being a man does not mean buying sex with women or children. We can still run a hundred miles, watch the footy, continue to barbecue, even still not take too seriously the clothes we buy. We are not talking about making men less masculine, but deciding it is both a strength and a virtue to not prey on and abuse others."

- Brian Iselin, international human trafficking expert

“Johns should feel guilty when they buy women. Guilt can be healthy...
     Buying women is wrong not because of a society's repressive moral code or its effects on an individual's psychological process. It is wrong because it creates a world in which people get hurt. And the people who get hurt the most are women and children, the people with the least amount of power.”

- Robert Jensen, professor of journalism and author

“Those who patronize this industry debase themselves and deepen the misery of others.”

- Former US President, George W Bush

"The 'pleasure' men get from launching crumpled-up dollar bills at a naked woman’s vagina in places like Al’s Diamond Cabaret has nothing to do with sex. But it has a lot to do with feeling power, with feeling superiority to the person you can commission to degrade herself onstage for you..." 

- Rob Horning, author/blogger on popular culture

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"Acceptance of prostitution is one of a cluster of harmful attitudes that encourage and justify violence against women. Violent behaviours against women have been associated with attitudes that promote men’s belief that they are entitled to sexual access to women, that they are superior to women, and that they are licensed as sexual aggressors. Men who use women in prostitution strongly endorse such attitudes toward women."
- Women's Support Project, Scotland. source

Sustaining the exploitation of women

Volkswagen, Germany. 

Company slush funds supported a corporate culture of prostitution, brothels and free Viagra.  While on business in Portugal one senior manager is reported having ordered a Brazilian prostitute, a "young and lively dark-skinned girl". article

Munich Re, Germany.  

A division of one of the world's biggest reinsurers rewarded its top 100 top salesmen with a prostitute orgy in Budapest, Hungary.  
     Not only does such a misogynistic "boys' club" corporate culture enable its men to sexually exploit impoverished women, it is hostile to and marginalises its female staff at all levels.  article


big thumbs down to Germany for having legalised prostitution, entrenching the misogynistic behaviours and attitudes evident in corporations such as Volkswagon and Munich Re. 
New Zealand.

"Do you want to move overseas, but you are not quite sure to which country? Consider New Zealand, which in addition to its spectacular nature and an overall laid back vibe, offers legal prostitution." - International marketing publication for retirees

A big thumbs down to New Zealand, now a sex tourist destination as a consequence of decriminalising prostitution. 
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Supporting respect for women

Swedish men.

A big thumbs up to Swedish men, whose support for criminalising men who buy sex jumped from 20% in 1996 (three years before Sweden's law change to criminalise the purchase of sex) to 60% in 2008 (nine years after the law change). article  at p.148.
     A 2005 online sex survey by Durex revealed that of men and women in 34 countries surveyed, Sweden had the lowest percentage of respondents who had paid for sex (3%). source 

Icelandic men. 

A big thumbs up to Icelandic men, 57% of whom in 2007 favoured introducing the “Swedish model” to criminalise the buying of sex in brothels and clubs.  The law took effect in 2009.  
     Further, in 2010 Iceland became the first country for feminist rather than religious reasons, to ban strip clubs and any business profiting from the nudity of employees. article

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Putting it bluntly...

 Prostitution reduces women and girls to three orifices. 
It treats women and children as public toilets.
It can never be made respectful.


Click on the question below for the answer.

What about men’s sexual "needs"?

The "male sex drive discourse", which holds that men are perpetually interested in sex and that once they are sexually stimulated they need to be satisfied by orgasm (Holloway, 1984, 1989), is often touted in support of prostitution.  However, as O’Connell Davidson (2001) observes: “The idea that men have sexual ‘needs’ (as opposed to socially constructed ‘wants’) may be widely accepted, but in practice, there is no biological imperative to orgasm any set number of times a day, week or year.”

Isn't prostitution an acceptable solution to poverty?

“Some prostitution supporters argue that prostitution is an acceptable solution to poverty.  What they mean, but do not say, is that prostitution is an acceptable solution for women living in poverty.  Seldom do we see proposals that poor men should make their way out of poverty by welcoming the insertion of penises and other objects into them on a regular basis or dance naked on a stage in front of ogling and masturbating males.

The prostitution industry exploits to its advantage the fact that most women and children who are in prostitution come from the most oppressed and vulnerable groups in society.” 

- Gunilla Ekberg, Policy Adviser, Swedish Division for Gender Equality

See also "Sex is not work and our bodies are not for sale" - speech by Ruchira Gupta, Founder of Apne Aap Women Worldwide, India, presented at the 4th World Forum on Human Rights.

What about "choice"?

The vast majority of women and girls engaged in prostitution do so out of little or no economic choice.  Most entered prostitution as physical or emotional children, with histories of physical and sexual abuse, neglect or violence.  Many entered prostitution under the control of a pimp or ‘minder’.  If not at the time of entry, many become substance-dependent.  Some are homeless.  The cycle of hopelessness, desperation and poverty offers little or no choice to escape a lifestyle where violence, abuse and exploitation are the norm.  For many, globally, prostitution is a means of survival.  It is not a choice.

The number of women who have freely chosen prostitution from amongst other equal income-generating alternatives is so small it is unrepresentative of the prostitution industry.  For those (often vocal) few to claim that their experience is the norm is misleading, if not dishonest.  In any event, their choice to engage in prostitution frequently requires them to cognitively distort and minimise the violence, abuse and threats that even they are subjected to (see the New Zealand example in the FAQ “What about women’s ‘agency’, ‘empowerment’ and ‘sex work’”?)  This small group of women who sell sex without any economic driver to do so, collude with sex buyers; reinforcing men's belief in an entitlement to be provided with sex on demand, and further entrenching the harms and gender inequality inherent to the industry, to the detriment of the vast majority of women and children in prostitution.

Doesn't decriminalising or legalising prostitution provide safety to women in prostitution?

Decriminalisation or legalisation of prostitution does not provide safety to women in prostitution; rather, it merely provides mechanisms to report incidents of violence. 

In those countries where prostitution has been made lawful through legalisation or decriminalisation, women in prostitution across both indoor and outdoor sectors continue to be physically assaulted, threatened with violence, held against their will, raped, and verbally abused by the men paying them for sex. 

NZ example >

What about women’s "agency", "empowerment" and "sex work"?

"Civilised" countries denounce behaviours such as physical or sexual assault, threats of violence, being held unwillingly, rape, and verbal abuse by men who have intimate access to women.  It is commonly called domestic or partner abuse.  Women are urged to leave such harmful situations.

The mere addition of cash in such a situation alters nothing, despite those who seek to accommodate, trivialise and cognitively distort the violence and its ever present threat, and reframe it with rhetoric around “agency” and “empowerment” for women. 

No industry that is inherently predicated on gendered violence, inequality and degradation should be elevated to the status of “work”.  Neither should it be legitimised by the State.  


Relationship characteristics

Opponents of prostitution

Supporters of prostitution

Physical and sexual assaults, abuse, and
threats of violence by intimate other

Not tolerated
Denounced as abuse
Recognised as harmful

Not tolerated
Denounced as abuse
Recognised as harmful

Physical and sexual assaults, abuse, and
threats of violence by intimate other/s + cash

Not tolerated
Denounced as abuse
Recognised as harmful

Elevated to "work" status
Considered empowering





Isn't it possible to be "for" prostitution but "against" sex trafficking?

From a "demand" perspective, no.  When addressing "demand" factors, it is meaningless to attempt a distinction between demand for women in prostitution and demand for trafficked women in prostitution, as explained below:

"Without buyers‘ demand for prostitution there would be no trafficking for the purpose of prostitution. The fact that most buyers have not been involved in the trafficking process does not mean that they are unaware of the vulnerable state of the women they use or of the likelihood that these women are controlled by a third party. Rather, it implies that the demand of the vast majority of buyers is not specifically for a victim of trafficking... it is therefore meaningless to separate demand for prostitution from demand for prostitution provided by trafficked persons..." Tackling the demand that fosters human trafficking p.iv.

The fact that buyers seek out a smorgasbord of women of varying ages, ethnicities, characteristics, and "willingness" to perform various sex acts, means intermediaries (pimps/traffickers) constantly need to supply "fresh goods".

"Recruiting was ongoing, not only because of turnover, but also because repeat customers wanted variety and new faces had to be continually supplied. One [pimp] said that every six months he would 'clean house'"  From Victims to Victimisers p.5.


Is your country considering Prostitution Law Reform ?

Check out our example: New Zealand

BE PROGRESSIVE.  Say NO to legalising or decriminalising prostitution.  Say YES to tackling male demand.

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Find out more, from a list of resources on demand and men who buy sex.


Check out the organisations that are tackling male demand in prostitution.


Bookmark our prostitution News Updates page and stay informed.



In 2003 New Zealand decriminalised prostitution. 

Some pro-prostitution advocates claim it is a model to follow.  

But what has been the real impact of decriminalisation?  

Click through and find out.


Stop Demand's focus is on the cumulative, endemic gendered sexual violence, sexual exploitation and sexual denigration committed by men against women and (mostly girl) children around the world.  Countless lives are shattered! 
It is not inevitable.  It CAN stop.

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