Prostitution & Traveling: The Risks and Realities

It may shock some travelers to realize that prostitution is not only common in many parts of the world—it’s completely legal. Heck, it’s technically legal in the US (looking at you, Nevada). Prostitution is a complicated topic with a lot of strong opinions on both sides, but as far as prostitution and traveling go, it’s better to be informed about the risks and realities involved in the world’s oldest profession.

The information on prostitution is actually pretty cut and dried. People all over the world visit prostitutes whether they’re legal or not. But when prostitution is legalized both the sex workers and their clients enjoy safer workplaces and lower rates of STI and HIV infection.

Here’s what you might want to know about HIV Infection.

Several studies show that legalizing prostitution leads to better, safer working conditions for sex workers and their clients. Regulating sex work leads to a dramatic drop in human trafficking, STI and HIV infection rates, physical violence, and the darker side of prostitution—like child prostitution and the drug trade. Sex workers around the world (including the US) are fighting for legalization to acquire the same protections that sex workers in places like Amsterdam and New Zealand have. (And yes, prostitution is completely legal in New Zealand as of 2014).

Even Amnesty International, the United Nations, and the World Health Organization have all called for the decriminalization of prostitution. So, argue with those experts if you disagree.

Even in places where it’s legal, you should still be cautious of abiding by the rules. While living in Madagascar, for example, I learned it was common for foreign men (mostly French and Italian) to travel to Madagascar to have sex with local women. Although legal, it wasn’t well regulated and underage girls were too often taken advantage of and involved in this industry. In most hotels, you would see public service announcement posters warning about underage sex workers and encouraging travelers to check their sex partner’s ID to verify their age.

Legality aside, getting involved in prostitution is an ethically hairy act. In Madagascar’s case, it’s not well regulated and carries a skewed (global) power dynamic.

If you intend to visit a brothel or “massage parlor” only do so in countries where the practice is legal (obviously), and at regulated establishments. Soliciting street prostitutes or unregulated brothels not only promotes unsafe working conditions and underage prostitution, but exposes you to additional risks. Using regulated establishments will dramatically decrease your risk of contracting any STIs, as registered sex workers are routinely tested for HIV and STIs.

Prostitution Within the LGBTQI+ Community

Sex workers have been a long standing part of our community so I think it’s really important to have a discussion about what it means to engage with sex workers when abroad. First off, there are certainly countries where sex work is legalized, regulated, and even LGBTQ-oriented as well. In such countries, it’s common sense then to keep to the system for the sake of your health, safety, and criminal record. When we enter in countries with anti-LGBTQ and/or anti-prositution laws, it becomes a whole different ball game.

Whether you support or are against the criminalization of prostitution, it’s important to remember that LGBTQ individuals, and adolescents, are disproportionately represented in sex trafficking, and can’t be separated from ethical discussions around LGBTQ sex work. Also, often times, unregulated sex work can come in the form of solicitations on dating apps, which especially in countries with anti-LGBTQ/prostitution laws can be a risk to your health and life. In other words, it’s best to not play with fire in countries that can throw you in jail for trying and to keep such fantasies confined to where sex work is regulated and most importantly where sex workers are respected.