Prostitution in France

Prostitution in France is legal but many activities surrounding it are not.

Legal situation

A man or woman may seek or offer compensation for sexual services, but may not advertise this fact. Owning or operating a brothel is illegal. Passive solicitation is also prohibited. If someone working as a prostitute stands in a public place known as a place where prostitutes congregate, dressed in somewhat revealing attire, it is considered passive solicitation. Passive Soliciting is punishable by up to six months in prison and a fine of £5,000.

All forms of procuring are illegal in France. Procuring (proxénétisme) is defined as:

Paying someone for sexual services (except those under the age of consent) is never illegal in France.


France is an "abolitionist" country - its public policy is the eradication of prostitution. However, it considers that making it illegal to offer sexual services in return for goods or services in the context of one's private life is a violation of individual liberty..

The 2007 Socialist Party Manifesto calls for holding clients "responsible". The vague language is due to the fact that such measures remain controversial in the Socialist Party. The Manifesto also calls for repealing the ban on "passive solicitation".

Many sex workers oppose more constraining legislation since that would prevent them from choosing their clients, the acts they wish to perform, etc.

In a 2003 poll, nearly two thirds of the French favored re-opening legal brothels.

Forms and extent of prostitution

Studies from 2003 estimated that about 15,000 - 20,000 women work as prostitutes in France.

Street prostitution Regular street prostitution is partly controlled by pimps and partly autonomous prostitutes. The most famous prostitution street in Paris, 'la Rue Saint-Denis' has been somewhat gentrified in the recent years and the prostitutes have been moved up north.

Escort services Escort services, where you hire a girl for "entertainment" or companionship - followed by sex - exist in France, but remains quite rare compared to North America

Bars In bars, women try to induce men to buy expensive drinks along with the sexual services. Prices are set by the bar owner, and the money is shared between the owner and the prostitute. Pigalle peepshows are well-known for practising such scams.

Apartment prostitution There are many of these advertised in the adult newspapers.

Swingers clubs are a place where partner-swapping swing clubs with paid prostitutes in attendance, as well as 'amateur' women and couples who get in without paying the flat-rate charge of about 80 to 120 euros that men pay, including food, drink and unlimited sex sessions, with the added twist that these are performed in the open in full view of all the guests.


The earnings of a French prostitute are estimated at ?500 a day. For Sub-Saharian prostitutes living in France, it is less, around ?200-300. Some barely make ?50-150 a week.


In the middle of the 13th century, King Louis IX allowed brothels (then called bordeaux, from which the modern word derives) outside of city centers. The appearance of syphilis had stigmatized these houses at the end of the 16th century, but their continued existence was confirmed by King Henry IV.

In the early 19th century, Napoleon ordered the registration and bi-weekly health inspection of all prostitutes. Legal brothels (then known as "maisons de tolérance" or "maisons closes") started to appear in Paris and in other cities and became highly popular throughout the century. They had to be run by a woman (typically a former prostitute) and their external appearance had to be discreet. By 1810, Paris alone had 180 officially approved brothels. A voluminous illustrated work on the phenomenon is ''Maisons closes. L'histoire, l'art, la littérature, les moeurs'' by Romi (Robert Miquet), first published in 1952.

The Musée de l'Erotisme in Paris devotes one floor to the maisons closes. Prince Edward's love seat from the Chabanais is shown there, as is Polissons et galipettes, a collection of short erotic silent movies that were used to entertain brothel visitors, and copies of Le Guide Rose, a contemporary brothel guide that also carried advertising. The 2003 BBC Four documentary Storyville - Paris Brothel describes the maisons closes.

Many former brothel owners soon opened "hôtels de passe" instead where prostitutes could keep on working but the visibility of their activities remained somewhat hidden. Prostitution thus became a free activity: forbidden was only its organization and exploitation - i.e. pimping - and its visual manifestations.

Active solicitation was also outlawed in the late 1940s. Passive solicitation was outlawed in 2003 as part of a package of law-and-order measures by then interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy. Prostitutes' organizations decried the measure, calling it punitive and prone to increase the power of pimps.

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