Many international locales have garnered a significant amount of infamy from their systems surrounding sex work, and the tourism that accompanies the legality, which manifested in 19th century France, and still remains relevant in modern iterations of sex work.



Parent-Duchatelet discusses the ways in which Paris became a central location for sex tourism, and Europeans would come specifically to Paris to solicit sex, as it was not permitted, more closely regulated, or yielded higher stakes in their home cities. Parent-Chatelet examines the nationalities of the women engaged in prostitution, and found that many of them were neither French, nor European, showing the draw to city when attempting to do this work. He says, “[i]f we put aside the years 1816 and 1817, which can not often be taken into account when attempting to decide the rates in question respecting French prostitutes, because of the two invasions and the famine which in the latter period ravaged Europe, we shall see that there was always at least one prostitute a month who came to Paris—that the number was generally two and never three” (32).[1] The consistent influx of sex workers shows the significance of the city in terms of international recognition of prostitution happenings. The public health ramifications of this reality is significant, in that any attempts at regulating the health statuses of those involved in the industry are thwarted by the constant influx and outflux of both sex workers and sex solicitors. 



Due to the fact that sex work is highly criminalized and regulated in most parts of the world, the few cities and nations in which it is permitted often yield high levels of sex tourism. Amsterdam is one city that is widely recognized for these occurrences. In 2000, prostitution in the Netherlands was officially legalized with some provisions. Coercion is illegal and minors are ineligible to work in the sex trade. In addition to state mandated provisions, most cities limit the number of brothels that can operate within their limits.  Local governments are also responsible for devising and enforcing additional regulations. The ban on brothels was replaced with a licensing system, in which all brothels were required to register with the government. Such regulations were instated to increase workers’ protection for exploitation. In fact, prostitutes have their own trade union to ensure equal protection.[2] For decades, Amsterdam has pulled much of its tourism from its liberal drug and sex policies. However, in recent years, these phenomena have lead to a decline in tourism, with the city dropping from the 4th to 7th most popular tourist destination in Europe.[3] Many attribute this to the increase in young people populating the city to experience the legal, explicit goods that they may be unable to find in their home nations. This increase has led to a decrease in older generations’ visits to the city. Young people have the tendency to spend minimal amounts of money and thus, though this tourist demographic has increased, monetary gains have decreased.[4] There is a significant discrepancy between those who frequent the city for “sex tourism” and those who choose to visit Amsterdam for its historical, cultural heritage. Prostitution, in general, has a highly stigmatized background. Much in line with the thoughts of those involved in transactional sex, it is thought of as dirty, and for only serving “undesirables.” Surprisingly, despite the ubiquity and strong associations of sex work with Amsterdam, many Dutch people do not approve of such acts.[5]

The extreme stigma surrounding sex workers is apparent both within the community itself, and in the communities in which discourse surrounding sex workers is common. As it became increasingly clear that tourism would be affected, either positively or negatively, by this change in legislation, the Dutch government attempted to frame the legalization in a highly specific manner. Tourist attractions are almost entirely determined by the manner in which certain areas are advertised. As Amsterdam attempts to attract tourists that will be more likely to spend money on goods that will support the city, advertisers have focused on other neighborhoods in the city as locales that showcase the Netherlands’ “relaxed and cozy atmosphere, the cultural heritage and the canals”.[6] The international awareness of the Red Light District, however, forces officials to advertise this neighborhood and to provide resources for its exploration. “The 'Visitors Guide' refers to it as the world-famous red light district; the Wallen... Ask at the VVV tourist office about the special guided tours of the Wallen district”.[7] The high numbers of sex workers are completely understated, in order to reach as many tourists as possible. The public results of this are also significant, in that the regulated nature of places like Amsterdam and Nevada make it imperative that all involved in the industry are in some way bound to interact with public health initiatives.

What has stayed the same: 

The most prominent similarity between the two eras of sex work as a tourist industry is the very existence of the industry. In both cases, the city (or cities) in question were well known for the laissez faire treatment of prostitution, and as such, foreign nationals from a variety of countries would come to the city, both in search of work, and in search of sex workers from whom they would solicit sex. Similarities also manifest in stigma associated with contraction of HIV or syphilis, but a lack of desire to actual make strides to prevent such scares. Just as Bangkok and Amsterdam are the sex tourist destinations of today, Paris was the same for the 19th century elite, traveling class.

What is different: 

As is a theme through much of this exhibit, a significant difference between modern and historical iterations of sex tourism with regards to public health is the very existence of health related technologies. In cities such as Amsterdam in the 21st century, preventive devices are widely available, and condom use is often required in legalized brothel situations. In France, conversely, doctors were still largely unaware of the realities of public health scares, and of methods to prevents such threats, thus yielding less regulation.


[1] Translation by Emilie Lozier '17, FREN 311 2016.

[2] Weitzer, R. J. (2012). Legalizing prostitution: From illicit vice to lawful business. New York: New York University Press. p. 149.

[3] Rawding, C. (2000). Tourism in Amsterdam: Marketing and Reality. Geography, 85(2). p. 167.

[4] Ibid, p.168.

[5] Weitzer, R. J. (2012). Legalizing prostitution: From illicit vice to lawful business. New York: New York University Press. p. 148.

[6] Rawding, C. (2000). Tourism in Amsterdam: Marketing and Reality. Geography, 85(2). p. 168.

[7] Ibid, p.168.