The legal status and the principles underlying the laws pertaining to the buying and selling of sexual services vary from place to place (Shaver, 2009). In most countries, including the United States, prostitution is considered an immoral activity and is illegal under criminal laws, except for some areas in Nevada. (Weitzer, 2007). In Sweden and some other Nordic countries, prostitution is viewed as a social ill and a form of violence against women (Mansson, 2009). Therefore, the purchase, not the sale, of sexual services is a crime: Sex workers are not arrested, but their customers may be and can receive up to 6 months in jail if convicted. Also, assisting others to purchase sexual services—procuring customers or running a brothel—is illegal under criminal law (Mansson, 2009).
In the United States a shift to prosecuting buyers of sexual services is developing (Burleigh, 2012). In Illinois men arrested for soliciting sex must pay a fine up to $1,000. Across the United States about 40 education programs emphasize the consequences and human rights issues of sex work and sex trafficking for men arrested for soliciting. Some locations publish the names and photos of men arrested for solicitation in newspapers as an attempt to deter men from purchasing sex (Salario, 2011).
In a few places, including some areas of Nevada, the Netherlands, and Germany, prostitution has been legalized but continues to be regulated under criminal laws. With legalization, sex work is usually viewed as morally repugnant, but an inevitable activity between consenting adults. Some advantages accrue for prostitutes under legalization when regulations for worker benefits include pensions, sick leave, and unemployment benefits and when brothel regulations emphasize safety and better working conditions (Weitzer, 2007). Generating tax revenues is a benefit for governments that legalize prostitution. For example, the tax revenues from legalized prostitution in the Netherlands are estimated to be $57 million per year (Global Agenda, 2003).
In contrast, New Zealand, New South Wales, and parts of Australia have decriminalized sex work, in large part due to public health concerns and the advocacy of sex worker organizations. The ministry of health, police, other governmental organizations, and citizens consulted in order to develop decriminalization standards. The basis for decriminalization is the tenet that sex work is a private matter between consenting adults. Therefore, the appropriate role of government is to establish policies to protect public health and to improve the health and safety of sex workers. Under decriminalization in New Zealand, sex work is no longer a crime but is governed by regulations that promote public health and working conditions of sex workers. Sex workers now have the same employment, legal, health, and safety rights and responsibilities that other workers have. When a sex worker wants to leave sex work for another occupation, she is not burdened by a criminal record that makes finding new work very difficult. She is also able to take advantage of education and training provided for sex workers who want out of the industry. However, prostitution of anyone under 18 years of age, coercing someone into prostitution, and sex trafficking are still illegal under criminal law.
New Zealand completed a 5-year follow-up study of the impact on public health and the welfare of sex workers since the decriminalization in 2003 (Gillian et al., 2009). The report clarified the benefits of decriminalization. First, sex workers had a high
level of condom use and safe sex practices, which supports both the sex worker and public health by reducing the incidence of sexually transmitted infections. Regulations require sex workers and customers to use condoms during sex, with a $2,000 fine for noncompliance. A sex worker was able to go to court and successfully sue a customer who secretly slipped off his condom prior to intercourse with her. Sex workers, whether working on the street or in brothels, reported having a greater ability to control their work environment to increase their safety. They were more able to refuse individual clients and to decline to engage in specific activities. They could work on well-lit streets and could utilize police as a resource for their protection instead of fearing arrest or harassment. They could declare their income and pay taxes and be involved in political activism for sex workers without fear of revealing their occupation. One aspect of sex work did not change: The social stigma of sex work remained the same. However, some sex workers were able to maintain a psychological distance between their sex work and their personal lives and to feel less stigmatization (Abel, 2011).
In spite of concerns raised by some prior to decriminalization in New Zealand, no overall increase in the number of sex workers or underage sex workers occurred (Gillian et al., 2009). The research findings about decriminalization of sex work in New Zealand indicate quite strongly that the most significant risks to the health and safety of sex workers are caused by sex work’s criminal status rather than by the work itself. Based partially on New Zealand’s experience, the Canadian government declared anti-prostitution laws unconstitutional in 2010 (Ansari, 2012). A report compiled from interviews with public health advocates, 450 sex workers, and 40 law enforcement officials recommended that sex work be decriminalized in order to protect the social, psychological, and physical rights of sex workers (Shaver et al, 2011).
from Hong Kong, Japan, the Pacific islands, and many other Asian places (Brotto et al., 2005). Similarly, Muslims in the United States originate from more than 60 countries, and the Hispanic population comes from 22 different countries. Many of these subgroups within the Muslim, Asian American, and Hispanic populations consider themselves culturally distinct from one another. However, in spite of the intragroup differences, when research looks at patterns, some inter-group differences emerge. For example, Asian Americans, on the whole, have more conservative sexual attitudes and are less likely to engage in premarital intercourse than are Hispanic Americans, African Americans, or Americans of European descent (Benuto & Meana, 2008; Woo et al., 2011). Again, Hispanic culture, on the whole, often endorses sexual exploration for males but places a high value on chastity before marriage for women (Deardorff et al., 2010).
The degree of acculturation—that is, replacing traditional beliefs and behavior patterns with those of the dominant culture—also creates differences within subcultures. Recent immigrants tend to be close to the traditional values of their places of origin, but most individuals whose families have lived in North America for several generations are well assimilated. Films such as My Big Fat Greek Wedding, American Desi, and Monsoon Wedding depict the conflicts that can arise in immigrant families when the younger generation becomes more Americanized.
Perspectives on Sexuality
Adapted from Douglas (1999) and Wyatt (1997).
Some health professionals prefer to call these conditions sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs.