Prostitution Statistics [2022]: Analyzing the World’s Oldest Profession

We’ve gathered all interesting prostitution statistics and facts to learn how big the industry is, its risks, and why di people become prostitutes. Read on:

prostitution statistics

As long as people have had currency, they’ve used it to pay for sex. Though it’s illegal in many places and taboo in most, prostitution is present in most societies. 

Prostitution is a natural human institution, but most of us rarely give sex work a second thought. Prostitutes face higher risks of disease, addiction, and violence than workers in most professions, and society does little to alleviate the risks. 

Despite this, millions of people seek them out and pay them for sex. Demand for sex work is always high, and regard for sex workers is typically low. To understand the industry, we have to understand the data.  

To that end, we’ve compiled the following research and statistics on modern prostitution.

These stats highlight some of the most interesting facets of the industry:

  • 16% of American men say they’ve paid for sex at least once, and 0.5% do so at least once per year. 
  • 97% of people arrested for buying prostitutes in the U.S. are male. 
  • Between 70,000 and 80,000 people are arrested for prostitution each year in the U.S.; these arrests cost taxpayers about $200 million.
  • About half of American men think it should be legal to accept (51%) and pay (50%) money for sex. 
  • 57% of Americans think paying for sex and accepting money for sex is morally wrong. 
  • The average street prostitute has sex 22 times per week. 
  • Only about one-third (33.99%) of prostitutes who have experienced client violence have reported it to the police.
  • On average, it’s cheaper to get a prostitute in Colombia than in most other countries in the world. 

How Big Is the Prostitution Industry?

You won’t be surprised to learn that the prostitution industry is enormous, even in countries where it’s illegal. 

Here’s what our sources have to say on its fiscal scope. 

  • Worldwide prostitution revenue is estimated to be $186 billion. (Havocscope, n.d.)1
  • Available data puts prostitution revenue for individual countries at the following amounts: (Havocscope, n.d.)1
    • 1. China – $73 billion
    • 2. Spain – $26.5 billion
    • 3. Japan – $24 billion
    • 4. Germany – $18 billion (legal industry)
    • 5. United States – $14.6 billion
    • 6. South Korea – $12 billion
    • 7. India – $8.4 billion
    • 8. Thailand – $6.4 billion
    • 9. Philippines – $6 billion
    • 10. Turkey – $4 billion
    • 11. Switzerland – $3.5 billion
    • 12. Indonesia – $2.25 billion
    • 13. Taiwan – $1.84 billion
    • 14. Ukraine – $1.5 billion
    • 15. Bulgaria – $1.3 billion
    • 16. United Kingdom – $1 billion
    • 17. Netherlands – $800 million (legal industry)
    • 18. Italy – $600 million
    • 19. Cambodia – $511 million
    • 20. Israel – $500 million
    • 21. Ireland – $326 million
    • 22. Czech Republic – $200 million
    • 23. Jamaica – $58 million
    • 24. Australia – $27 million.

How Many Prostitutes Are There?

There are millions of prostitutes around the world, but they don’t always list their profession on censuses and surveys. However, data collected by the UN and other sources give some pretty good estimates. 

  • An estimated 40 to 42 million people work as prostitutes worldwide. (Le Figaro, 2012)2
  • 80% of prostitutes are female, and 75% are between the ages of 13 and 25. (Le Figaro, 2012)2
  • The United Nations gives the following prostitute data by country: (The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), 2021)3
    • Brazil – 1,400,000 (as of 2013)
    • Nigeria – 874,000 (2019)
    • India – 657,800 (2016)
    • The Democratic Republic of the Congo – 350,300 (2018)
    • Indonesia – 278,000 (2019)
    • Colombia – 248,000 (2021)
    • Mexico – 240,000 (2019)
    • Philippines – 229,400 (2021)
    • Pakistan – 228,800 (2016)
    • Sudan – 212,500 (2012)
    • Kenya – 197,100 (2020)
    • Madagascar – 191,200 (2018)
    • Liberia – 163,100 (2017)

    • United Republic of Tanzania – 155,500 (2014)
    • South Africa – 146,000 (2021)
    • Bangladesh – 140,000 (2015)
    • Iran (Islamic Republic of) – 138,000 (2018)
    • Uganda – 130,000 (2019)
    • Zambia – 126,000 (2020)
    • Dominican Republic – 100,700 (2021)
    • Côte d’Ivoire – 87,900 (2020)
    • Ukraine – 86,600 (2018)
    • Vietnam – 86,000 (2019)
    • Ethiopia – 85,000 (2016)
    • Guatemala – 84,000 (2020)
    • Cuba – 82,500 (2017)

    • Argentina – 74,900 (2014)
    • Morocco – 72,000 (2017)
    • Cameroon – 70,500 (2018)
    • Haiti – 70,300 (2015)
    • Spain – 70,300 (2011)
    • Peru – 67,800 (2018)
    • Nepal – 67,300 (2016)
    • Myanmar – 66,000 (2015)
    • Niger – 55,100 (2021)
    • Cambodia – 55,000 (2019)
    • Angola – 54,000 (2017)
    • Yemen – 54,000 (2011)
    • Ghana – 51,900 (2011)

    • Burundi – 51,500 (2013)
    • Papua New Guinea – 50,800 (2021)
    • El Salvador – 45,000 (2016)
    • Thailand – 43,000 (2017)
    • Zimbabwe – 40,500 (2016)
    • Benin – 40,200 (2021)
    • Malawi – 36,100 (2020)
    • Ecuador – 34,400 (2014)
    • Chad – 33,800 (2021)
    • Azerbaijan – 31,900 (2018)
    • Sri Lanka – 30,000 (2018)
    • Togo – 29,400 (2021)
    • Mozambique – 27,300 (2012)

    • Guinea – 26,600 (2021)
    • Netherlands – 25,000 (2011)
    • Syrian Arab Republic – 25,000 (2011)
    • Tunisia – 25,000 (2011)
    • Egypt – 23,000 (2014)
    • Honduras – 22,800 (2016)
    • Malaysia – 22,000 (2018)
    • Senegal – 22,000 (2018)
    • Uzbekistan – 22,000 (2012)
    • Burkina Faso – 21,900 (2017)
    • Australia – 20,500 (2012)
    • Kazakhstan – 20,300 (2019)
    • Switzerland – 20,000 (2011)

    • Jamaica – 18,700 (2014)
    • Belarus – 18,600 (2020)
    • Mali – 18,000 (2019)
    • Tajikistan – 17,500 (2018)
    • Lao People’s Democratic Republic – 15,900 (2020)
    • Republic of Moldova – 15,800 (2020)
    • Nicaragua – 15,400 (2021)
    • Rwanda – 13,700 (2018)
    • Bolivia (Plurinational State of) – 13,500 (2018)
    • Czechia – 13,000 (2014)
    • Uruguay – 13,100 (2020)
    • Sierra Leone – 11,500 (2021)
    • Afghanistan – 11,000 (2019)

    • Bulgaria – 10,000 (2011)
    • Congo – 9,700 (2017)
    • Paraguay – 9,000 (2020)
    • Panama – 8,700 (2021)
    • Mauritania – 8,500 (2020)
    • South Sudan – 8,400 (2019)
    • Armenia – 8,100 (2021)
    • Guinea-Bissau – 7,900 (2017)
    • Lesotho – 7,500 (2018)
    • Kyrgyzstan – 7,100 (2013)
    • Eswatini – 7,000 (2020)
    • Botswana – 6,700 (2017)
    • Georgia – 6,500 (2014)

    • Mauritius – 6,200 (2014)
    • Mongolia – 6,000 (2019)
    • Guyana – 5,300 (2016)
    • Singapore – 4,900 (2019)
    • Gambia (Republic of) – 4,700 (2018)
    • Lebanon – 4,300 (2018)
    • Bosnia and Herzegovina – 4,000 (2012)
    • Namibia – 4,000 (2019)
    • Central African Republic – 3,900 (2019)
    • Serbia – 3,900 (2011)
    • Somalia – 3,700 (2016)
    • North Macedonia – 3,600 (2011)
    • New Zealand – 3,500 (2018)

    • Costa Rica – 3,000 (2017)
    • Suriname – 2,200 (2011)
    • Saint Lucia – 1,700 (2017)
    • Timor-Leste – 1,700 (2014)
    • Eritrea – 1,600 (2013)
    • Vanuatu – 1,400 (2011)
    • Comoros – 1,000 (2018)
    • Grenada – 1,000 (2017)
    • Estonia – 1,000 (2016)
    • Tonga – 1,000 (2016)
    • Ireland – 1,000 (2011)
    • Greece – 900 (2014)
    • Fiji – 900 (2014)

    • Antigua and Barbuda – 800 (2014)
    • Solomon Islands – 700 (2017)
    • Bhutan – 600 (2019)
    • Seychelles – 600 (2015)
    • Gabon – 400 (2011)
    • Samoa – 400 (2016)
    • Marshall Islands – 300 (2016)
    • Micronesia (Federated States of) – 300 (2016)
    • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines – 200 (2018)
    • Kiribati – 100 (2016)
    • Sao Tome and Principe – 100 (2014)
    • Cook Islands – 50 (2016)
    • Palau – 40 (2016)
    • Tuvalu – 10 (2016)

Prostitute Demographics

Prostitutes come from all walks of life, and studies show some interesting trends in their demographic. 

A majority haven’t completed high school and have other jobs aside from sex work. Here’s a look at the data.

  • A study of active and prior sex workers found that most have not completed high school. (University of Victoria, 2001)4
    • Less than a high school education – 27.5%
    • Some high school (finished grade 10 and/or 11) – 33.5%
    • Completed high school – 39%
  • The sexual orientation of prostitutes breaks down into the following percentages: (University of Victoria, 2001)4
    • Heterosexual – 60.7%
    • Bisexual – 31.9%
    • Homosexual – 5.5%
    • Two-spirited – 1.8%
  • In 2001, the median income for sex workers was $18,000 per year ($20,000 for females and $10,000 for males). Prior sex workers in the study had a median income of $11,446 per year from their current non-sex work. (University of Victoria, 2001)4
  • 15.6% of sex workers had another paid job. Females were more likely than males to have a job outside of the sex trade. (University of Victoria, 2001)4
    • 57.4% of respondents who left sex work said they were not currently working for a salary or wage. 
    • 40.9% of females and 44.4% of males who exited sex work were employed. 
  • Current sex workers were far more likely to have no permanent address than those who left sex work. (University of Victoria, 2001)4
  • Active and prior sex workers reported the following levels of stability in their living situations: (University of Victoria, 2001)4
    • Stable (rent/own house, apartment, or live at home) – 77.1%
    • Relatively unstable (hotel/motel) – 3.5%
    • Unstable (hostel, shelter, squat) – 18.9%
    • Very unstable (living on the street) – 0.5%

Who Pays for Prostitutes?

You might never have purchased a prostitute, but at least 1 in 10 men have. Men pay for sex far more often than women do, and they make up most of the prostitution arrests in the U.S.  

Studies and FBI data show the following stats on the people who pay for prostitutes. 

  • 16% of American men say they’ve paid for sex at least once, and 0.5% do so at least once per year. (Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2020)5
  • 9.5% of male respondents in one study said they’d ever paid for sex. (Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2020)5
  • The FBI breaks down the data on prostitution arrests by gender and age: (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2020)6
    • Male – 97% of prostitution arrests
    • Female – 3%

  • Arrests by age:
    • Female:
      • 25-29 years old – 20%
      • 30-34 years old – 18%
      • 35-39 years old – 12%
      • 45-49 years old – 7%
      • 23 years old – 6%
      • 40-44 years old – 6%
      • 24 years old – 4%
      • 55-59 years old – 4%
      • 19 years old – 3%
      • 21 years old – 3%
      • 65 years old and over – 3%
      • 17 years old – 2%
      • 20 years old – 2%
      • 22 years old – 2%
      • 13-14 years old – 2%
      • 18 years old – 1%
      • 50-54 years old – 1%
      • 60-64 years old – 1%
      • 15 years old – 1%

    • Male:
      • 35-39 years old – 15%
      • 30-34 years old – 14%
      • 40-44 years old – 13%
      • 25-29 years old – 13%
      • 45-49 years old – 10%
      • 50-54 years old – 8%
      • 55-59 years old – 6%
      • 65 years old and over – 5%
      • 60-64 years old – 5%
      • 24 years old – 2%
      • 23 years old – 2%
      • 22 years old – 2%
      • 20 years old – 2%
      • 21 years old – 1%
      • 19 years old – 1%
      • 18 years old – 1%
      • 17 years old – 0.23%
      • 16 years old – 0.13%
      • 15 years old – 0.08%

  • Arrests by race:
    • White – 67%
    • Black or African American – 24%
    • Asian – 5%
    • Unknown – 2%
    • Native Hawaiian – 1%
    • American Indian or Alaska Native – 1%

When Do Prostitutes Start Working?

Sex work is an adult industry, and most workers start in their early twenties. Though data is scarce, a couple of studies found the average ages that prostitutes begin their careers.  

  • A U.K. study found that the average age of prostitutes who worked outside was 19.6, but for those who worked indoors, it was 22.7. (British Medical Journal, 2001)7
  • Another study found that parlor (brothel) prostitutes started sex work at an older average age (23.1) than street sex workers (20.8). (BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 2007)8

How Expensive Are Prostitutes?

An hour with a prostitute will cost you at least $100 in most places and often much more than that. However, prices have been dropping steadily since the early 2000s. We found the following numbers on prostitution prices throughout the world:

  • The price per hour for sex with a female prostitute has been steadily dropping. The average cost was $340 in 2006, but by 2014 it was only $260.(The Economist, 2014)9
  • By country, the average hourly rates of prostitutes in 2019 are as follows: (Pasion Erotica, 2019)10
    • 1. Australia – $350
    • 2. Germany – $350
    • 3. Singapore – $350
    • 4. UK – $350
    • 5. Poland – $320
    • 6. Belgium – $300
    • 7. France – $300
    • 8. Japan – $300

    • 9. New Zealand – $300
    • 10. South Africa – $300
    • 11. Czech Republic – $290
    • 12. Finland – $260
    • 13. Norway – $250
    • 14. United States – $250
    • 15. Israel – $240
    • 16. Austria – $230

    • 17. China – $230
    • 18. Ireland – $230
    • 19. Italy – $230
    • 20. Spain – $230
    • 21. Cyprus – $210
    • 22. Belarus – $200
    • 23. Brazil – $200
    • 24. Canada – $200

    • 25. India – $200
    • 26. Russia – $200
    • 27. Sweden – $200
    • 28. Switzerland – $200
    • 29. Croatia – $180
    • 30. Netherlands – $180
    • 31. Panama – $180
    • 32. Portugal – $175

    • 33. Egypt – $170
    • 34. Greece – $170
    • 35. Costa Rica – $150
    • 36. Cote d’Ivoire – $150
    • 37. Mexico – $150
    • 38. Nigeria – $150
    • 39. Paraguay – $150
    • 40. Peru – $150

    • 41. Thailand – $150
    • 42. Ukraine – $150
    • 43. Bulgaria – $140
    • 44. Philippines – $140
    • 45. Romania – $125
    • 46. Bolivia – $120
    • 47. Chile – $120
    • 48. Argentina – $100

    • 49. Ecuador – $100
    • 50. El Salvador – $100
    • 51. Nicaragua – $100
    • 52. Venezuela – $100
    • 53. Guatemala – $80
    • 54. Honduras – $80
    • 55. Uruguay – $80
    • 56. Colombia – $50

Prostitution Arrests in the U.S.

Despite the high demand for it, prostitution remains illegal in most places in the U.S. Law enforcement makes thousands of arrests per year – mostly prostitutes, not their customers or pimps – which costs taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. 

FBI crime data and outside sources paint a troubling picture of the size and scope of anti-prostitution efforts. Here’s a look at the numbers.

  • From 2010 to 2020, the FBI reports tens of thousands of arrests for prostitution, with varying charges. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2020)6
    • Prostitution and Commercialized Vice – 326,191
    • Prostitution and Commercialized Vice – Prostitution – 42,995
    • Prostitution and Commercialized Vice – Assisting or Promoting Prostitution – 7,011
    • Prostitution and Commercialized Vice – Purchasing Prostitution – 4,019

  • In 2020 alone, the FBI reported the following arrests for prostitution violations: (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2020)6
    • Prostitution and Commercialized Vice
      • Female Arrests by Age (7,546 female arrests):
        • 25 – 29 years old – 1,521
        • 30 – 34 years old – 884
        • 35 – 39 years old – 548
        • 21 years old – 529
        • 20 years old – 488
        • 22 years old – 434
        • 19 years old – 387
        • 23 years old – 368
        • 40 – 44 years old – 365
        • 24 years old – 349
        • 18 years old – 293
        • 45 – 49 years old – 272
        • 50 – 54 years old – 213
        • 55 – 59 years old – 137
        • 60 – 64 years old – 53
        • 65 years old and over – 23
        • 17 years old – 22
        • 16 years old – 16
        • 15 years old – 6
        • 13 – 14 years old – 4
      • Male Arrests by Age (5,349 male arrests):
        • 25 – 29 years old – 815
        • 30 – 34 years old – 813
        • 35 – 39 years old – 679
        • 40 – 44 years old – 576
        • 45 – 49 years old– 435
        • 50 – 54 years old– 327
        • 55 – 59 years old – 258
        • 65 years old and over – 190
        • 60 – 64 years old – 171
        • 24 years old – 150
        • 21 – 135
        • 23 years old – 130
        • 22 years old – 119
        • 20 years old – 93
        • 19 years old – 87
        • 18 years old – 34
        • 17 years old – 10
        • 16 years old – 7
        • 13 – 14 years old – 7
        • 15 years old – 6
        • 10 – 12 years old – 1
      • Arrestee Race:
        • White – 6,307
        • Black or African American – 4,856
        • Asian – 605
        • Native Hawaiian – 67
        • Unknown – 66
        • American Indian or Alaska Native – 56

    • Prostitution and Commercialized Vice – Assisting or Promoting Prostitution
      • Female Arrests by Age (392 female arrests):
        • 25-29 years old – 78
        • 30-34 years old – 65
        • 35-39 years old – 62
        • 40-44 years old – 40
        • 45-49 years old – 25
        • 50-54 years old – 17
        • 21 years old – 15
        • 55-59 years old – 14
        • 22 years old – 13
        • 18 years old – 12
        • 23 years old – 11
        • 24 years old – 11
        • 20 years old – 10
        • 19 years old – 8
        • 60-64 years old – 5
        • 15 years old – 2
        • 16 years old – 2
        • 65 years old and over – 2
      • Male Arrests by Age (707 male arrests):
        • 30-34 years old – 119
        • 25-29 years old – 105
        • 35-39 years old – 92
        • 40-44 years old – 72
        • 45-49 years old – 59
        • 50-54 years old – 50
        • 55-59 years old – 43
        • 65 and over years old – 40
        • 60-64 years old – 27
        • 21 years old – 18
        • 23 years old – 16
        • 20 years old – 13
        • 22 years old – 13
        • 19 years old – 12
        • 24 years old – 12
        • 17 years old – 5
        • 18 years old – 4
        • 16 years old – 3
        • 15 years old – 2
        • 13-14 years old – 2
      • Arrestee Race:
        • White – 592
        • Black or African American – 422
        • Asian – 42
        • Unknown – 27
        • American Indian or Alaska Native – 11
        • Native Hawaiian – 5

    • Prostitution and Commercialized Vice – Prostitution
      • Female Arrests by Age (4,047 female arrests):
        • 25-29 years old – 862
        • 30-34 years old – 618
        • 35-39 years old – 401
        • 21 years old – 284
        • 40-44 years old – 255
        • 20 years old – 231
        • 22 years old – 227
        • 24 years old – 199
        • 23 years old – 196
        • 45-49 years old – 188
        • 19 years old – 158
        • 50-54 years old – 147
        • 18 years old – 107
        • 55-59 years old – 89
        • 60-64 years old – 36
        • 17 years old – 19
        • 65 years old and over – 13
        • 16 years old – 12
        • 15 years old – 3
        • 13-14 years old – 2
      • Male Arrests by Age (1,763 male arrests):
        • 30-34 years old – 280
        • 25-29 years old – 255
        • 35-39 years old – 246
        • 40-44 years old – 200
        • 45-49 years old – 174
        • 50-54 years old – 123
        • 55-59 years old – 103
        • 65 years old and over– 71
        • 60-64 years old – 64
        • 24 years old – 43
        • 22 years old – 41
        • 21 years old – 39
        • 23 years old – 39
        • 20 years old – 31
        • 19 years old – 23
        • 18 years old – 15
        • 17 years old – 5
        • 13-14 years old – 4
        • 15 years old – 3
        • 16 years old – 3
        • 10-12 years old – 1
      • Arrestee Race:
        • White – 2,958
        • Black or African American – 2,434
        • Asian – 325
        • American Indian or Alaska Native – 40
        • Unknown – 30
        • Native Hawaiian – 26

    • Prostitution and Commercialized Vice – Purchasing Prostitution
      • Female Arrests by Age (35 female arrests):
        • 25-29 years old – 8
        • 24 years old – 3
        • 30-34 years old – 3
        • 65 and over years old – 3
        • 21 years old – 2
        • 23 years old – 2
        • 13-14 years old – 2
        • 55-59 years old – 2
        • 15 years old – 1
        • 17 years old – 1
        • 19 years old – 1
        • 20 years old – 1
        • 22 years old – 1
        • 35-39 years old – 1
        • 40-44 years old – 1
        • 45-49 years old – 1
        • 50-54 years old – 1
        • 60-64 years old – 1
      • Male Arrests by Age (456 male arrests):
        • 30-34 years old – 70
        • 40-44 years old – 69
        • 25-29 years old – 60
        • 35-39 years old – 56
        • 45-49 years old – 46
        • 65 years old and over – 29
        • 55-59 years old – 27
        • 50-54 years old – 24
        • 60-64 years old – 17
        • 23 years old – 13
        • 20 years old – 12
        • 24 years old – 11
        • 22 years old – 7
        • 21 years old – 6
        • 19 years old – 5
        • 18 years old – 2
        • 16 years old – 1
        • 13-14 years old – 1
      • Arrestee Race:
        • White – 303
        • Black or African American – 132
        • Asian – 32
        • Native Hawaiian – 13
        • Unknown – 9
        • American Indian or Alaska Native – 2

  • Prostitutes in the U.S. get arrested more often than pimps or purchasers of prostitutes. (HG Legal Resources, n.d. )11
  • Between 70,000 and 80,000 people are arrested for prostitution each year in the U.S.; these arrests cost taxpayers about $200 million. (HG Legal Resources, n.d. )11
  • 70% of arrests are female prostitutes and madames, 20% are male prostitutes and pimps, and 10% are purchasers/customers. (HG Legal Resources, n.d. )11

Prostitutes and Relationships

Like any profession, prostitutes have intimate relationships with people they care about. Few report abuse in these relationships, though their median length is relatively short. 

Data from a Canadian study provides further insight:

  • A study of prostitutes found that 60.1% of female and 46.3% of male prostitutes were in intimate relationships, and active sex workers were no less likely to be in a relationship than retired ones. (University of Victoria, 2001)4
    • The median length of these relationships was 1.5 years. 
    • Only 3 of 201 active or retired sex workers said their current relationship was abusive.

Prostitutes and Pregnancy

Contraception is typically effective, but having sex dozens of times a week greatly increases a person’s odds of pregnancy. A Canadian study analyzed the pregnancy rates of sex workers with the following results:

  • Over 90% of female prostitutes (active or former) in one study said they had been pregnant at least once. (University of Victoria, 2001)4
    • The average number of pregnancies among these women was 3.19. 
    • 52.8% of these women had an abortion at least once. 
    • 18.4% of active sex workers and 42.6% of former sex workers said they had a dependent child. 

How Does America Feel About Prostitution?

Though it’s been illegal for decades (in most places), over half of American men and nearly a third of American women think prostitution should be legal. 

Even among those who think it should be illegal, most believe punishments should be as light as community service. Here’s what surveys found on how America views prostitution:

  • One survey asked Americans whether they thought it should be legal to accept money for sex: (YouGov, 2016)12
    • Gender:
      • Male:
        • Legal – 51%
        • Illegal – 36%
        • Not sure – 13%
      • Female:
        • Legal – 30%
        • Illegal – 50%
        • Not sure – 20%
    • Total:
      • Legal – 40%
      • Illegal – 43%
      • Not sure – 17%

  • The same survey asked if it should be illegal or legal to pay money for sex: (YouGov, 2016)12
    • Gender:
      • Male:
        • Legal – 50%
        • Illegal – 37%
        • Not sure – 13%
      • Female:
        • Legal – 29%
        • Illegal – 52%
        • Not sure – 20%
    • Total:
      • Legal – 39%
      • Illegal – 45%
      • Not sure – 17%

  • Participants in the survey who said prostitution should be illegal were also asked what the punishment should be: (YouGov, 2016)12
    • Punishment for paying money for sex
      • Prison – 20%
      • Community service – 42%
      • Small fines – 22%
      • Not sure – 16%
    • Punishment for accepting money for sex
      • Prison – 20%
      • Community service – 41%
      • Small fines – 22%
      • Not sure – 17%

  • When asked if they think prostitution is moral or not, Americans responded with the following: (YouGov, 2016)12
    • Paying money for sex
      • Morally acceptable – 24%
      • Morally wrong – 57%
      • Not sure – 19%
    • Accepting money for sex
      • Morally acceptable – 24%
      • Morally wrong – 57%
      • Not sure – 19%

How Much Do Prostitutes Work?

A prostitute’s job can be demanding, and most work outdoors on the streets rather than in designated brothels or parlors. 

Studies show that they work often, having sex about 2-3 times per day on average (depending on where they work). This number can be higher or lower, but the following studies provide the averages:

  • A study of 1,969 sex workers from 1967 to 1999 found that most worked on the street. Only 126 (about 6.4%) worked in massage parlors, and many of them also worked in the streets. (American Journal of Epidemiology, 2004)13
    • 91% engaged in local prostitution, and 4% said they only worked elsewhere. 
    • 56% said they worked locally for only a few days or weeks per year. 
    • 18% said they solicited for many weeks to months each year. 
    • 26% worked for years, even if it wasn’t continuous. 

  • Parlor and street sex workers were asked how frequently they had sex with the following results: (BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 2007)8
    • Parlor sex workers
      • Number of times had sex in the last week:
        • Mean – 14
        • Median – 10
        • Range – 0 to 60
      • Number of different men in the last week:
        • Mean – 11
        • Median – 9
        • Range – 0 to 40
      • Number of new men in the last week:
        • Mean – 8
        • Median – 5
        • Range – 0 to 30
      • Condom used on every occasion by service:
        • Hand relief – 11%
        • Oral stimulation – 91%
        • Vaginal intercourse – 100%
        • Anal intercourse – 100%
    • Street sex workers
      • Number of times had sex in the last week:
        • Mean – 22
        • Median – 20
        • Range – 1 to 80
      • Number of different men in the last week:
        • Mean – 19
        • Median – 17
        • Range – 1 to 73
      • Number of new men in the last week:
        • Mean – 13
        • Median – 17
        • Range – 0 to 70
      • Condom used on every occasion by service:
        • Hand relief – 26%
        • Oral stimulation – 55%
        • Vaginal intercourse – 86%
        • Anal intercourse – 100%

Causes of Death Among Prostitutes

Prostitution can be incredibly risky, especially in places where it’s illegal. Sex workers often have to hide their activities from police, putting them at risk for violence that they may not be able to report. 

They also deal with an increased risk of addiction and disease, which can be fatal. A study spanning three decades recorded the causes of deaths of prostitutes in the U.S. and discovered the following:

  • A three decades-long study (1967-1999) of 1,969 American prostitutes in Colorado Springs recorded their causes of death: (American Journal of Epidemiology, 2004)13
  • Homicide:
    • Number of deaths – 21
    • The specific cause of death:
      • Gunshot wound – 8 prostitutes
      • Knife wound – 3 prostitutes
      • Strangulation – 4 prostitutes
      • Other – 6 prostitutes

  • Suicide:
    • Number of deaths – 5
    • The specific cause of death:
      • Gunshot wound – 2 prostitutes
      • Drowning – 1 prostitute
      • Drug intoxication – 1 prostitute
      • Hanging – 1 prostitute

  • Accident:
    • Number of deaths – 13
    • The specific cause of death:
      • Motor vehicle accident – 7 prostitutes
      • Drowning – 1 prostitute
      • Exsanguination – 1 prostitute
      • Smoke inhalation – 2 prostitutes

  • HIV/AIDS:
    • Number of deaths – 9
    • The specific cause of death:
      • Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia – 2 prostitutes
      • Other opportunistic infections – 3 prostitutes
      • Other complications – 4 prostitutes

  • Drug-related health:
    • Number of deaths – 20
    • The specific cause of death:
      • Chronic drug use –- 3 prostitutes
        • Cocaine – 6 prostitutes
        • Heroin – 3 prostitutes
        • Multiple drugs – 4 prostitutes
        • Other – 4 prostitutes

  • Alcohol-related death:
    • Number of deaths – 10
    • The specific cause of death:
      • Acute intoxication – 2 prostitutes
      • Chronic alcoholic cirrhosis – 8 prostitutes

  • Cancer:
    • Number of deaths – 9
    • The specific cause of death:
      • Breast cancer – 3 prostitutes
      • Cervical cancer – 1 
      • Vulvar cancer – 1 
      • Uterine cancer – 1 
      • Pancreatic cancer – 1 
      • Carcinoid growth – 1 
      • Unknown primary cause – 1 

  • Leukemia:
    • Number of deaths – 3
    • The specific cause of death:
      • Lymphocytic leukemia – 2 prostitutes
      • Acute myelocytic leukemia – 1 

  • Coronary artery disease:
    • Number of deaths – 4
    • The specific cause of death:
      • Acute myocardial infarction – 2 prostitutes
      • Complications of diabetes – 2

  • Cerebrovascular disease:
    • Number of deaths – 6
    • The specific cause of death:
      • Cerebral hemorrhage – 3 prostitutes
      • Not specified – 3

  • Other causes:
    • Number of deaths – 11
    • The specific cause of death:
      • Morbid obesity – 1 prostitute
      • Pancreatitis – 1 
      • Pneumonia – 1 
      • Pulmonary edema – 1 
      • Pulmonary embolus – 1 
      • Renal failure – 2 prostitutes
      • Seizure disorder – 1 
      • Aspiration pneumonia – 1 
      • Adult respiratory distress syndrome – 1 
      • Acute liver failure – 1 

Violence Toward Sex Workers

When a sex worker is a victim of violence, there is often no legal recourse; reporting the crime often means admitting to prostitution, which is a crime in many places. 

Because of this, most prostitutes have experienced violence from their clients. Sources ranging from academic journals to United Nations studies have all recognized that this is a problem, yet very little – if anything – is being done to address it.  

  • In a British study, 63.75% of prostitutes had ever experienced violence from a client. (British Medical Journal, 2001)7
    • 37.5% reported client violence in the past six months. 
  • Prostitutes reported the following types of violence from clients: (British Medical Journal, 2001)7
    • Prostitutes working outdoors
      • Slapped, punched, or kicked – 47%
      • Threatened with physical violence – 39%
      • Robbery – 37%
      • Attempted robbery – 26%
      • Beaten – 27%
      • Threatened with a weapon – 24%
      • Held against will – 29 (25%)
      • Attempted rape (vaginal or anal) – 28%
      • Strangulation – 20%
      • Kidnapped – 20%
      • Forced to give client oral sex – 17%
      • Raped (vaginal) – 22%
      • Attempted kidnap – 12%
      • Slashed or stabbed – 7%
      • Raped (anal) – 5%
    • Prostitutes working indoors
      • Slapped, punched, or kicked – 14%
      • Threatened with physical violence – 14%
      • Robbery – 10%
      • Attempted robbery – 5%
      • Beaten – 1%
      • Threatened with a weapon – 6%
      • Held against will – 15%
      • Attempted rape (vaginal or anal) – 17%
      • Strangulation – 6%
      • Kidnapped – 2%
      • Forced to give client oral sex – 3%
      • Raped (vaginal) – 2%
      • Attempted kidnap – 1%
      • Slashed or stabbed – 0%
      • Raped (anal) – 6%

  • Only about one-third (33.99%) of prostitutes who have experienced client violence have reported it to the police. (British Medical Journal, 2001)7
  • From 1967 to 1999, the homicide rate for prostitutes in Colorado Springs was 204 per 100,000 persons per year – many times higher than standard occupations. (American Journal of Epidemiology, 2004)13
  • Compared to women of similar age and race, active prostitutes are almost 18 times more likely to be murdered. (American Journal of Epidemiology, 2004)13
    • Of 21 murders in the study, 9 happened in the first three years of prostitution. All 9 were active prostitutes, and 8 were soliciting when they died. 
  • 60% of female sex workers in Adma, Ethiopia, reported violence while working. (The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), 2014)14
    • This number is 79% in Mombasa, Kenya
    • 16% in Hunan, China
    • 9% in Karnataka, India

Prostitution and Drug Use

Because of the illegal nature of prostitution in many places, it often goes hand-in-hand with illegal drug use. On average, prostitutes start using drugs in their teens, and many of them suffer from addictions. 

They report that it helps them feel better, connect with people, and cope with their work. Here’s a look at the research.

  • On average, prostitutes’ first drug use is at 15.44 years old. (Journal of Drug Issues, 2000)15
    • Number of drugs addicted to (average) – 1.54
    • Drugs increase confidence – 2.47
    • Drugs increase control – 2.32
    • Drugs increase closeness to others – 2.20
    • Drugs decrease guilty feelings – 2.35
    • Drugs increase the ability to be open – 2.30
    • Drugs reduce sexual distress – 2.11
  • 80.42% of British prostitutes report using an illegal drug in the past six months. (British Medical Journal, 2001)7
    • 25% said they had injected drugs in the past month. 

  • When asked what drugs they used, British street and parlor prostitutes responded with the following: (British Medical Journal, 2001)7
    • Prostitutes working outdoors
      • Heroin – 78%
      • Other opiates – 39%
      • Tranquilizers – 37%
      • Crack cocaine – 32%
      • Amphetamine – 11%
      • Cocaine – 17%
      • Cannabis – 61%
    • Prostitutes working indoors
      • Heroin – 5%
      • Other opiates – 10%
      • Tranquilizers – 79%
      • Crack cocaine – 4%
      • Amphetamine – 30%
      • Cocaine – 15%
      • Cannabis – 50%

HIV Risks From Prostitution

HIV is the disease that leads to AIDS and is a currently uncurable global health crisis. This crisis adversely affects prostitutes, who are at much greater risk of contracting the disease than the general population. 

Especially in developing countries, sexual protection is not always required, and prostitution is unregulated, leading to HIV rates at high as 50%. Here’s what the UN has found on the relationship between sex work and HIV:

  • HIV prevalence is 12 times higher in sex workers than in the general population, even in countries that already have high HIV prevalence. (The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), 2014)14
    • A 2012 analysis of 16 sub-Saharan African countries showed an HIV prevalence of over 37%. 
    • The average HIV prevalence among prostitutes is around 12% in low- and middle-income countries. 
    • In Nigeria and Ghana, sex workers are 8 times more likes to have HIV than the rest of the population. 
    • Reports from 27 countries show an HIV prevalence of 14% among male sex workers. 

  • The UN estimates the total number of prostitutes in the following countries, as well as percentages who have HIV. (The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), 2014)14
    • India – 868,000 sex workers (2.8%)
    • Brazil – 546,858 sex workers (4.9%)
    • Mexico – 237,798 sex workers (7.0%)
    • Nigeria – 236,146 sex workers (24.5%)
    • Haiti – 176,400 sex workers (8.4%)
    • Thailand – 123,530 sex workers (3.2%)
    • Morocco – 85,000 sex workers (2.0%)
    • Ukraine – 80,000 sex workers (7.3%)
    • Cameroon – 38,582 sex workers (36.8%)
    • Cambodia – 37,000 sex workers (14.7%)
    • Burundi – 27,546 sex workers (22.5%)
    • Rwanda – 12,278 sex workers (50.8%)

Why Do People Become Prostitutes?

In places where prostitution is illegal or taboo, it may seem odd that anyone chooses to be a sex worker. Many people simply want to be, while others feel they have no other option. 

Here’s what one British study found on why prostitutes chose their profession.

  • Prostitutes in a British study (both parlor and street workers) gave the following reasons for becoming sex workers. (British Medical Journal, 2001)7
    • Prostitutes working outdoors
      • Household expenses and children – 28%
      • To pay for drugs – 63%
      • To save up for something – 4%
      • Other – 5%
    • Prostitutes working indoors
      • Household expenses and children – 74%
      • To pay for drugs – 1%
      • To save up for something – 18%
      • Other – 6%

Conclusion

Prostitution has been called the world’s oldest profession, and it has endured longer than most other jobs imaginable. This is because humans will always want sex, and there will always be a demand for sex workers to meet their needs. 

The industry makes billions of dollars each year and employs tens of millions of people worldwide. Conservative estimates suggest 1 in 10 men have paid for sex, but other sources assert a higher percentage. This can cost as little as $50 per hour or as much as hundreds of dollars, depending on the prostitute and location.  

A majority of prostitutes haven’t finished high school, and nearly one in five say they have an unstable living situation. Most begin their careers in their early twenties, and nearly all have been pregnant at least once. 

In many places, prostitution is illegal. This often means they get no protection from law enforcement and are often persecuted by them instead. Tens of thousands of prostitutes are arrested each year in the U.S. alone, while their customers and pimps typically avoid prosecution. 

This makes prostitutes vulnerable to violence and drug addiction. As a result, they are far more likely to be murdered, attacked, or contract HIV than the general population. This tragedy is well-known, but governments take little to no action to rectify the situation. 

Our society demands paid sex work, whether we make it legal or not. This demand will always exist, but the mistreatment and disenfranchisement of sex workers need to end. As long as prostitution is illegal, prostitutes will have no legal protection from abuse. 

On the other hand, legal prostitution would make sex work safer, reduce the demand for human trafficking, and increase the quality of sex work. Prostitutes risk life, limb, and health to meet our needs for pleasure and intimacy – it’s time we started treating them better.

For more interesting sex studies and statistics, head over to our guide here.

Footnotes

  1. Havocscope, n.d. An article on the total revenue from legal and illegal prostitution worldwide, as well as individual revenues per country.
  2. Le Figaro, 2012. An article on the number of people who work as prostitutes worldwide and how the industry operates.
  3. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), 2021. A population atlas with information on prostitutes by country.
  4. University of Victoria, 2001. A study of 201 active and prior sex workers to differentiate between common myths and the realities of prostitution.
  5. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2020. A study on the differences between men who pay for sex and men who don’t using data from 15,186 Swedish adults.
  6. Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2020. A crime data explorer providing statistics on crimes in the U.S.
  7. British Medical Journal, 2001. A survey of 240 female prostitutes in the U.K. to determine violence from clients in different work settings.
  8. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 2007. A study on the health needs of parlor prostitutes and street prostitutes.
  9. The Economist, 2014. An article on the results of an analysis of 190,000 female sex worker profiles across 84 cities in 12 countries.
  10. Pasion Erotica, 2019. An article on the prices of prostitution in various countries around the world in 2019.
  11. HG Legal Resources, n.d. An article on the legal issues and considerations concerning prostitution in the U.S.
  12. YouGov, 2016. Data chart from a survey of 998 American men and women about their opinions on prostitution.
  13. American Journal of Epidemiology, 2004. A study on the mortality rate of prostitution using data from 1,969 American women in Colorado Springs.
  14. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), 2014. A 2014 gap report by the United Nations on sex workers.
  15. Journal of Drug Issues, 2000. A study on psychological distress from drug use in 203 African-American prostitutes.
Dainis Graveris

Dainis Graveris

Over last 4 years Dainis have helped millions of people through his advice on this site (200+ guides and 1M+ visits/monthly). His work & advice has appeared on sites like: Healthline, Vice, Cosmopolitan, Men's Health, WomensHealthMag, MindBodyGreen & more. Read More

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