Regulation: Legalized Prostitution

The Ideology of Regulation

This ideology stems from the underlying premise that prostitution is necessary for a stable society, but should nevertheless be subject to control as a means to protect public order, morality, and health. Some jurisdictions use legalization/regulation as a way of reducing the crimes often associated with prostitution, such as child prostitution, sex trafficking, and drug use.

In regulated societies, prostitution is controlled by the government, legal only under certain conditions. The primary indicators of legalized regimes are “prostitution-specific controls and conditions” specified by the government. These controls often include licensing, registration, and mandatory health checks. Individual prostitutes or brothels without the necessary permits are subject to criminal penalties.

It is important to note that when discussing generalized legalization, underage and coerced prostitution are not included, as these activities are criminal even when disregarding the actual selling of sex.

Present-Day Examples

Prostitution has been legalized in countries such as the Netherlands, Germany, Iceland, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, Greece, Turkey, Senegal, Australia (Victoria, Queensland, and the Northern Territory), and in the state of Nevada in the United States.


The prostitution regime in Germany is a form of legalization functioning through regulation. In Germany, prostitution is regulated under the 2001 Prostitution Act. Neither selling nor buying sex are prohibited, but zoning restrictions and registration requirements allow for government regulation of prostitution. Previous legislation allows for local laws to protect public decency; these laws make it possible to limit hours of operation for prostitutes. [1]

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A 2000 article written by Geraldine Coughlan regarding the legislation passed. Dutch OK sex for sale, Geraldine Coughlan, 2000, BBC.

The Netherlands

In the Netherlands, legal prostitution takes place in sex clubs and red-light districts. The prostitution approach in the Netherlands is described as active tolerance – a form of “liberal realism.” Reforms were passed in 2000 that made it legal to operate or own a brothel as well as participate in individual sex work with a license from local authorities.

Local authorities are allowed to regulate prostitution. Common local regulations include restricting the location and number of brothels, imposing criminal background checks on prospective owners and managers, implementing health, hygiene, and safety requirements, and limiting who can be employed at a brothel. These regulations help ensure that sex workers benefit from the rights accorded to other workers. [2]

The United States (Nevada)

Nevada is the only US state to have formally legalized a type of prostitution. Using state criminal laws, administrative laws, and local ordinances, the prostitution industry is governed through a series of regulations. Most counties regulate the number of brothels in their boundaries as well as control individual sex workers through mandatory registration and licensing. [3]



[1] Mossman, Elaine. 2007. “International Approaches to Decriminalizing or Legalizing Prostitution.” 2007 Report for the New Zealand Ministry of Justice, pp. 3-42.

[2] Outshoorn, Joyce. 2004. “Voluntary and forced prostitution: the ‘realistic approach’ of the Netherlands." In The Politics of Prostitution: Women’s Movements, Democratic States and the Globalization of Sex Commerce, pp. 185-204.

[3] Barnett, Laura, and Lyne Casavant. 2011. "Prostitution: A Review of Legislation in Selected Countries." Background Paper for the Library of Parliament, Canada, pp. 1-28.