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January 15, 2008

Ignore the Swedes. I can see nothing wrong with paid sex between consenting adults

If you’re male and well endowed, then the next time you’re in Stockholm Mimmi would like you to call. “I’m an elegant sexy Swedish woman,” she tells visitors to her website, “that [sic] is turned on by seducing men…” The rate for each seduction is €560 per hour, so the large bulge needs to be in the region of the wallet.

I know what you’re thinking. Didn’t you read somewhere that Sweden had made the purchase of sex illegal, and that so successful had this policy been that the British Government was contemplating similar legislation in this country? Mimmi, therefore, shouldn’t exist, let alone boast a blog in which you can see her completing the Gothenburg half-marathon dressed in lacy underwear. Mimmi, however, understands the law. “I am not selling sexual services,” she reassures would-be, er, friends, “but offer company and intercourse. Since it is very difficult to prove what two people are doing when they are alone in a room, meeting with me is relatively safe…”

In January 1999 the Swedes made it illegal to pay for sex (but not to sell it). The punishment for the crime of obtaining casual sex for compensation could be as high as six months in Scando-clink, though a fine would be more usual. The sex can be any kind of sexual act involving contact and encompasses homosexual as well as heterosexual encounters. To prosecute the (usually) male clients successfully, the Swedish police must produce evidence of a prior agreement for compensation – which need not be financial. The word “casual” here leaves open the intriguing possibility that men or women who pay their spouses for sex are deliberately exempted.

Mimmi’s invitation indicates one kind of problem with the law. But the Swedish authorities are, nevertheless, evangelical about their unique policy; their representatives claim massive reductions in street prostitution since 1999. One often-used statistic – repeated in this country – is that by 2004 Sweden had only 500 street prostitutes, while Denmark, which is half the size, had between 6,000 and 8,000. And it could be, with the opening yesterday of the Suffolk murders trial and the current concern over human-trafficking, that the British people might support measures that would lead to such a reduction.

If it’s true. But what literature I can uncover suggests that, at the very least, the Swedes are gilding the lily. Take the Danish comparison. The Danish figures turned out to be for all prostitutes, whether working on the streets or, as the vast majority do, working from home, massage parlours or visiting the clients. There are almost certainly thousands of them in Sweden. At her rates Mimmi probably never sets foot in a street, except on a fun run, but some academic studies, as well as all the organisations representing sex-workers, indicate that the laws have made prostitution in Sweden more dangerous and subterranean.[]

Even so, a number of Labour MPs have been so seduced by the imagined Swedish experience that they have co-sponsored an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill that would allow councils and police chiefs to set up zones in which persons buying sex could be prosecuted. And Labour’s deputy leader and Minister for Women, Harriet Harman, has launched a consultation suggesting that an adoption of the Swedish system could “tackle the demand” that lies behind the sex trade. Their belief seems to be that there is something inherently bad and socially unacceptable about the purchase of sex, quite beyond the issues of trafficking and safety.

This was certainly the view the Swedes took in the run-up to their new laws. The study that gave a philosophical base to the changes, begun in 1993, regarded paid sex as automatically bad sex, which engendered in the purchaser an unhealthy attitude towards sex and women, allowing men to lose themselves in sexual fantasy without the need for genuine human relationships, and which allowed women to be objectified.

No man, the study suggested, could be a healthy, good man at the point of having paid sex, and no woman could possibly want to offer it if she were in possession of any half-decent alternative. To these reasons could be, and were, added a host of semi-extraneous objections: that paid sex spreads disease, that it encourages trafficking, that it is the last resort of women who are drug addicts or who have been sexually abused.

I don’t buy it. We should have, and do have, laws already to stop trafficking, punish sexual abuse and to stop the sale of illegal drugs. Despite the rhetoric, it is of no use whatsoever to a woman who has been sexually abused in childhood to tell her that years later she may not offer hand-jobs for a living. And it is a fair guess that any Swedification of the law in Britain will drive the street prostitutes and low-income clients from their familiar haunts to God knows where, while leaving

London Mimmi and her brothers and sisters to offer their unprovable services to richer men on the internet. Overt offers of sex will be replaced by massages undertaken by “caring” or “friendly” masseuses (much to the detriment of genuinely caring and friendly therapists). The policing, of course, would be wonderful, especially if, like the Swedes, we eschew entrapment.

All to stop people having sex in a way of which we disapprove. Search my conscience as hard as I can, I cannot think of anything in principle wrong with a man or a woman choosing to pay for sexual contact, or to charge for it. As long as there is no coercion and no harm to others, I cannot see why I would be entitled to replace their judgment with mine. Experience – and the internet – suggests to me that there is enormous variation in human sexual appetites and interests, and that, yes, there are women who much prefer sex work to cleaning, and men who keep themselves afloat on the fantasies that they buy. I may not know why, any more than I understand why this gal is married to that loser, or why some women think running 13 sweaty miles in lace is attractive.

Oh, and Harriet. What do you think happens to that “tackled demand” once you’ve tackled it?



as a marxist, my responce to those moralising bigots is simple, pay women the same money to give up prostitution. of course taxes would have to rise but i’m sure those rich women -mctaggert.harman et al would be happy to do this and help out their working class sisters, or i am being naive

peter schevtschenko, bury, uk

Judy from Liverpool – the sex industry is largely run by women, they are actually paid more and are largely in control of their destiny. In the SM scene, women very much hold the whip hand, although it’s less of a contact sport. The danger of this kind of silly prosletising legislation is that the women who do need help and support are further marginalised and criminalised. No amount of hypocritical law making is going to disengorge people’s delightful baser instincts and nothing Harriet Harman does will send the oldest profession into receivership

Ruth, Hastings, East Sussex

Brilliant article. Sweden is the only EU country where it is illegal to pay for sex. It would be a serious mistake for this country to follow their example. The justification that this is the way to tackle human trafficking is fundamentally flawed. As has happened in Sweden, prostitution would be driven underground and those involved would be rendered more exposed to danger and exploitation as well as even making it more difficult to identify trafficking!

Tom George, Cambridge,

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Agree with article.

Legalise and tax prostitution.

Stop the “Nanny State” which is lecturing and moralising on who adults should behave.

Joe, london,

The only thing that prostitution does is entirely debase women and give the impression to men that they are just to be used. There is absolutely no excuse for columns such as this and what kind of human being defends the sale of a woman’s body to the highest bidder? A not very nice one I assume. The comments from men in here make me despair. Your attitudes towards women are appalling and need to change quickly. Why are men not educated to respect and not use?

Judy , Liverpool, england

It may seem to some that Sweden bases this legislation on moral and ethical values. Unfortunately it is a question on whether the State can benifit from it , i.e. through taxes. This country has a punitive tax system and anything that cannot be taxed is prohibited. Any recognition for reducing “illegal” activities is secondary. I believe that in some European countries prostitution is legal, controlled and taxed like any other service which is far more honest and pragmatic.

Paul, Stockholm,

I agree with the fact that there are some women in prostitution who have chosen to be there who havent been abused, coerced, groomed, forced, duped or fallen into it out of sheer despiration…but these women are in the minority.

As many as 75% of women in prostitution in the UK entered before their 18th birthday, 81% of women in London brothels are thought to be trafficked…there is growing evidence that British girls as young as 11 & 12 are being groomed into prostitution…

It’s a complicated issue with no easy answers. To criminalise buying sex would surely inconvenience some people… but I have to ask whether we should support a structure which leans to the convenience of the few at the expense and abuse of the majority.

Cerys, London,

I give 51 % to David Aaronovitch ‘ the defender of prostitutes’.

Because we live in a Godless world where drugs, bullying,guns, crime, global warming and much more of the destruction is made ” The Norm”. It is primitive though as the subject itself – prostitution. In such a world are; traffikers, drug dealers and a minority of suffering girls and a majority destructive ‘girl power’.

The 49% is given for: Hope of a World of Mankind instead of enimies of each other.

Anthony, London,

Uh, Isadora, there’s a book that will answer your questions. It’s called “The History of Human Social Relations Since Time Immemorial.” It’s a quick read, but I think it will be illuminating for you.

James, columbus, ohio

Just out of interest who is the government minister for men?

Bob, Shrewsbury,

Like Isidora’s friends I often find sex with my wife a chore. However unsatisfying this may be, I stay with her and I resent the temptation to stray that is provided by professional women of easy virtue. These predatory females should be banned from exploiting the loneliness and naive hopes of weaker men. Surely the seflishness and irresponsivility of these women is more than evident in that they evade paying tax, are a well for infections and apparently have nothing better to do with their high fees than spens them on drink and drugs? The quicker these women and their corrupting trade are put out of business the better.

Edward, Kings Lynn, England

What is it about women? We talk of the degradation of prostitution, the spiritual damage it causes, and a host of other female-orientated issues. As if it were a crime committed on women to have intercourse.

If any woman wants to pay me to have sex, I doubt very much whether I would feel used and degraded afterwards. In fact, I spend most of my social life trying to give it away.

It would seem to be that most women fundamentally do not want, like or even tolerate sex. In which case, those who do should be allowed to give it away (which they are) or sell it if they so desire.

On the other hand, pimps and sex-trafficking should attract punishments that became unfashionable when they gave Pierrepoint his P45.

Mike Poulsen, Reading, Berkshire

Legalise it, tax it! Now that we are criminalised for smoking in public people are giving up. There is going to be huge hole in the tax generation for the government soon. What will happen? They’ll stick it on fuel duty..

So legalise, police and tax prostitution. Then maybe we can fuel that is under £1.08 a litre………..


The usual misconceptions in the responses.

1. Street workers are a minority of sex workers. Between 10-15%

2. The proposed legislation is to reduce demand and reduce trafficking which is mainly in brothels.

3. Just because you don’t enjoy being a sex worker, is the same as I don’t enjoy being a shop worker. Working as a sex worker is far more lucrative and requires far less hours. Remove supply by making sure no one works in povety.

4. Many sex workers pay tax

I would not want a brothel next door to me, so zoning of brothels would be a good idea. Edinburgh is advanced in this. There is no one area where brothels congregate, but they are all around the center of edinburgh, normally in busy non residential streets mixed in with the rest of commerce. All closed by 11.pm

Allow brothels for safety and non nuisance.

Maglor, Aylesbury, Bucks

The problem isn’t the punters or the prostitutes: It’s the pimps.

Anyone who argues otherwise is ignoring the power equation between a thug male and a street walker.

Women are ‘seduced’ into drug use by pimps to make them compliant and dependent.

Draconian laws against coercive pimps, full legal protection against violence and intimidation for prostitutes and zero tolerance of unlicensed kerb-crawling in residential areas.

Then everyone can just get on with it, instead of using it as another excuse/justification for ye olde British hyocrisye…

AndrewGMooney, Malvern, England

Richard Marriott Far better to legalise prostitution and regulate it – that is the way to remove the worst abuses (and control the spread of disease)

Its already legal, HH wants to take that right away. What needs to be legal is safer working conditions (i.e. brothels and not the street) Brothels that are registers and monitored for abuses. We don’t want full licensing of prostitutes this could lead to stigmatization and difficulties in later life when they want to move into another career.

Already prostitution is more disease free then the general sex that takes place amongst teenagers and the young. Most prostitutes in brothels and independents do practice safe sex. The rise in STDs and prenancies is amongst the general young population who have failed to take on the attitudes of safe sex.

Steve Blasdale, Aylesbury, Bucks

This is all a moral crusade which saddens me.. Focus on where the problems really are, ie drugs, underage and trafficking..

All the media spiel of late by Harriet Harman, Fiona Mactaggart and Vera Baird have been manipulated heavily with all the stats being shown..All it shows is the street scene which is minor in this industry..

Fiona MacTaggart said at the opening of the 3rd reading on the 8th of January that there are hundreds of thousands of trafficked women in the UK and they all serve 40 clients a day.. That to a normal person who can do maths mean that there are about 1 million men having sex with a trafficked woman every day. Oh yes, that just makes the debate seem slightly biased!! Then Vera Baird, 95% of all prostitutes are on drugs.. Again we are talking about the street scene.. The majority and I should know as I am one, are independent escorts all working from flats happy with what we do and not on drugs.. I have done this for 3 years and I have never been abused..

Escort, Bedford, Bedfordshire

It’s too easy to say “two adults are conseting to have sex, so what if it’s paid for” etc… As many have said in the comments, the majority of prostitues don’t work out of choice and the human trafficking angle of the trade is probably the most distressing aspect.
Around July 05 Ed Vulliamy from the Observer wrote one of the best pieces I’ve ever read about girls from Eastern Europe being kidnapped and brought to the west to work on the streets, truly harrowing. In it he mentions the Swedish system of prosecuting those who pay for sex. Recommended reading and a sober reminder to people like Aaronovitch of the realities of prostitution.

John , london,

For once, I am in complete agreement with David Aaronovitch – trying to ban the oldest profession is a crazy as it is ridiculous. Far better to legalise prostitution and regulate it – that is the way to remove the worst abuses (and control the spread of disease).

Richard Marriott, Kidderminster, England

When I was a child in the 1970s I travelled to Sweden and was shocked that they had child pornography on public display in the windows of newsagents even in the most remote areas of the country. There was evidently a backlash which resulted in the current prostitution legislation.
Money is the draw of prostitution it is money (or goods or power) which is being exchanged for sex. When this takes place in the institutional frame of marriage it is generally considered “good”, when simply for sex and money bad. When a happy hooker is claimed, she is a liar, when a happy marriage is claimed they are role models. Do we think Sarko would have married yesterday had he been homeless?

Heiko Khoo, London, UK

This is an age old debate and those that are in control feel they know best, but what is the harm in a women or man offering sex for money? Every weekend you have men and women up and down the country in bars, clubs even restaurants seeking casual sex. So what is the difference between chatting someone up, spending money on drinks all evening on the chance that you may just end up having drunken casual sex or chosening to forego the drinks and chat-up lines in favour of just parting with cash anyway! The only reason our govenments around the world chose (mainly) not to legalise prostitution is because they are moral hippocrites, whose attitudes are driven by old taboos and religious dogma, there is a large sex industry throughout the world merely because there is a demand for it, a demand which has been around for thousands of years and although governments can legislate against open provision of the ‘problem’, no amount of legislation will reduce the demand.

Les, Southport, England – a country, not a state!

Two of my happily married women friends, one a mother of two, the other trying to start a family, confessed to me that they selected their husbands on the basis that they would be good father/provider material. For people who wish to have children, this seems like a good idea for all parties involved.

Both ladies also confessed that sex with their husbands is sometimes a chore but they fulfill the obligation since it is part of the overall social/economic package. As it is, no doubt, for millions. My only question is, why do we persist in regarding short term ‘transactions’ as immoral and degrading to women, but regard such longer term arrangements as acceptable?

Isadora, London,

What Harriet does not understand cannot be explained to her.The trouble with the propsed law – what the hell is it to do with government ? Is there anyhting that these frustrated socialists will not meddle with?

robert everitt, wolverhampton,

I agree. Prostitution is said to be the oldest profession, but surely sex is also the origin of hypocrisy. It is still surrounded by it, and no more obviously than in the matter of prostitution. I don t know what may be the logic behind the Swedish law, or indeed what actually it is. I rather suspect that it isn t intended to stop paid for sex but to drive it off the streets. The obvious solution to the matter of prostitution is licensing. You have to have a license to trade for anything else, so why not sex? I think it certainly was for religious reasons, but those can hardly be a present issue. They have had such arrangements in Europe, but this country has remained unscrupulous and hypocritical over the matter of sex for sale, for reasons which reflect the manner in which we are generally governed.

Henry Percy, London, UK

“Most prostitutes are street walkers, and often have drug habits and/or don’t work voluntarily (trafficking, pimping etc.)”

Where does Mr Richards get this “fact” from? From whence in the air has he plucked it?

Since he appears to be in favour of paid sex why on earth lessen his argument with tosh like this?

Allan, Skipton, UK

I would like brothels to be set up near David Aaronovitch’s home. I would like to see Mr Aarononvitch deal with whatever problems that will crop up with the brothels and he must never leave or sell up his home if there are any problems with the brothels. Please advertise your address, Mr Aaronovitch, so that all prostitutes and their horrible clients can go to your area. Otherwise, you will be just another coward, sitting in a cosy armchair, pontificating.

Carolyn, Surbiton,


No, I would not mind my daughter doing it for a living as long as she made it out of choice. And I do have a daughter.

Would you mind your daughter working in a mosquito-infested paddy field 12 hours a day to harvest rice? Yes? Then let’s make rice illegal. Yet rice harvesters (not to mention 1001 even less attractive occupations) often have no choice.

David, Wallingford,

The people who say there is nothing wrong with women or men selling themselves are pathetically naive – (and just think that it is cool to validate prostitution – like cocaine use. Hampstead intellectuals sicken me) Lots of people do it out of economic necessity who hate it; it’s a loathsome way to earn a living and is spiritually damaging; you end up only caring about how much money people can give you and nothing else – it reduces people to economic units – slaves really; and you end up by despising the men who pay – and the people who pay despise the prostitute. I can’t understand how people can’t understand this. Buying people’s bodies for entertainment? I don’t think so.

dandy, London , UK

Legalise it, tax it, sort it out, take away the dangers.. Probably solved…

Adam Webb, Mk, UK

It is interesting David does not mention Germany or Australia (where I presently am). Before I came to Australia, I had no real opposition to legalised prostitution. Having now watched women working from dawn until dusk, under the ever watchful eye of the (male) pimp, I am completely opposed.

To walk down Darlinghurst Road, Sydney is to see women completely dehumanised and degraded. In essence, the women become vessels; objects to take a man where he wants to go, for a fee. What kind of society legitimises this harm?

Tom, Sydney,

At last an article that shows balance. By changing the law to criminalize prostitution will not reduce mens sexual desires in any way. To deprive a man or woamn for that matter of the most basic of human instincts will result in the stigmatization of sex in an already confused so called liberal society. Labour, you are not having adding yet another law to stop people from being human and I for one can see this ciminalization as being one of the final nails in the coffin of democracy. People no longer have choice and if prostitutes want to work then let them and if human trafficking is apparent then stop them, simple.

Maxwell, Manchester, Cheshire.

Bill from Sheffield – you seem to be suffering from the common misapprehension that the laws of the land should directly embody our personal beliefs and desires. Follow this thinking to it’s logical conclusion and you legislate against anything that you personally wouldn’t do. This is the path to facism and the oppression of minorities.

It is entirely consistent to disapprove of an activity and have no wish to partake in that activity without wanting to outlaw it. What we wish for our offspring is not a basis for lawmaking. Frankly, there are all kinds of professions that I would prefer my daughter not to end up in and outlawing them all would probably bring the country to it’s knees. That said, if push came to shove I would always support her choice.

Simon Carter, London,

There is nothing wrong with prostitution. It is the pimps, traffickers and drug dealers that are the problem.
Again it goes around to the immigration issue.
A lot of prostitutes working in the UK are from overseas. Many have been trafficked into the UK and are working here against their will. This is an issue that is as complicated as it is repugnant.
Before we condemn the men buying the sex (it is the oldest proffession after all), we should condem the people forcing these girs into this business and start handing out proper punishment for their crimes.
For more information on this issue, please visit the UK human trafficking website http://www.ukhtc.org

E R Mann, Warwick, U.K

I agree. Women are adults and responsbile for themselves. If they don’t want to sell sex, don’t do it. Simple as that.

jo, london, uk

I also believe that is nothing inherently wrong with paying for sex, but it is impossible to generalise about prostitution in the way that Harriet Harman and others appear to be doing.

Happy hookers/escorts do exist, but there are not that many of them. Most prostitutes are street walkers, and often have drug habits and/or don’t work voluntarily (trafficking, pimping etc.)

I don’t believe there is any justification for prosecuting someone who uses the services of an independent escort, but it is possible in the case of men who take advantage of vulnerable/exploited women (possibly they don’t want to or cannot pay the relatively high [but fair] fees that escorts charge).

It also shouldn’t be surprising that most escorts are extremely concerned about the dark side of their profession and are actively involved in trying to get rid of it (and not because they just want to protect their market).

There is a problem that needs to be dealt with, but we need pragmatism instead of ideology.

Mark Richards, London,

Well, while we at it, why don’t we make masturbation illegal as well?

Graham Palfrey, Littlehampton,

I’m afraid to say that Laurence is completely wrong.

My best friend offers paid-for sexual services and I can assure you she is happy, well-adjusted and very much enjoys what she does. She isn’t an alcoholic or a drug-addict, she wasn’t sexually abused as a child, nor has she been trafficked from Eastern Europe (ironically, she’s from Sydney actually)! She has a professional, full-time job too and does this as a hobby!

There are two classes of women who get paid to provide sexual services. Those that do it for desperation and to fund their habits, and those who genuinely enjoy the sex, meeting people, and acting as a bit of a psychologist.

The trouble with the proposed law is that it fails to make the distinction. Whilst there are many women who would never consider selling sexual services, it is puritanical of them to try and impose their sexual moral standards on those that enjoy it and don’t see it as a problem.

stuart, St Albans, UK

Seems to me the problem isn’t prostitution but the related activities like physical abuse, drug abuse, slavery etc. Why not legalise it, then it could be regulated and taxed.

P Robbins, Cornwall,

‘I can see nothing wrong with paid sex between consenting adults’

You wouldn’t mind your daughter doing it for a living then? No, thought not.

Bill, Sheffield,

Perhaps it’s hopelessly utopian of me, but I can’t help but think the world would be a better place if there were some more significant sanctions that could be taken against men who knowingly buy sex from the vast majority of prostitutes who aren’t doing it as a career choice.

It’s lovely to believe in the myth of the happy hooker but the truth is that drug addiction, abuse and human trafficking are rife in the sex industry and morally it seems horribly wrong that men are free to take advantage of this as far as their won consciences allow. Obviously enforcement is a thorny issue but it’s plain to see that existing laws are not sufficient to stop the problem growing.

Laurence Davison, Sydney, Australia

No man, the study suggested, could be a healthy, good man at the point of having paid sex, and no woman could possibly want to offer it if she were in possession of any half-decent alternative.

At that point, I agree with the Swedish study. Unfortunately moral problems like these don’t have quick fixes. Last century women used to be prostitutes to feed their children. That issue has now been resolved, but the practise has not gone away, in fact it has probably got worse, because benefits won’t pay for drugs.

Malcolm McLean, Bradford, UK

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