Nearly a third of men in Spain have had paid sex

by Lorraine Williamson
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MADRID – Prostitution in Spain is in legal limbo: it is both legal and illegal. It takes place on the streets, in flats and clubs, but is increasingly ‘sold’ on the internet. Nearly a third of men in Spain admit to having paid for sex.

Of all men, between 4 and 6% are ‘recent clients’: those who, according to estimates from a new study quoted by RTVE.es, have paid for sex in the past year. Apart from major cities like Madrid and Barcelona, ​​prostitution is mainly concentrated in the areas along the Mediterranean. 

The debate has erupted in full force in Spain in recent weeks. It is about whether there should be legislation to abolish paid sex or not. This is the case in Sweden and where the prostitution client is prosecuted. Alternatively, whether it should be regulated, as in Germany where it is legal. 

Debate without including the situation of prostitution 

On Thursday, Parliament will vote on the “only yes is yes” law. Ultimately, this happens without any mention of prostitution. The PSOE has withdrawn the amendment that proposed prosecuting prostitution customers and imposing heavy fines. Subsequently, a new bill on this was presented in the margins. 

RTVE’s team of data analysts has mapped prostitution in Spain based on figures. Therefore, the situation of prostitution is examined taking the following into account;

  • an overview of the number of ‘customers’
  • an estimate of the number of women in a prostitution situation
  • the postcodes where the greatest activity in that area is concentrated

1. How much do men pay to have sex in Spain?

About a third of the men (32.1%) admitted to having paid money to have sex. They did so in 2008, the last time the Centre for Sociological Research (CIS) asked about prostitution consumption in Spain 2008. Furthermore, 10.2% said they had paid for sex only once in their life. Whereas, 21.9% acknowledged having been more often. 

Prostitution consumption among women is still a rarity. Consequently, the results are analysed in men in order of age. Furthermore, it is men aged 65 and older who have paid more throughout their lives to have sexual relations. Moreover, this equates to almost four in ten men.

2. What is the ‘consumption’ of prostitution among young people?

The most recent national-level survey was conducted by INJUVE for the Youth in Spain 2020 report. 10.6% of young people aged 15-29 admitted to having used prostitution (4.8% more than once in their lifetime). Moreover, 3.9% of boys aged 25 to 29 replied that they had done it more than once.

3. How many men usually ‘consume’ prostitution?

Researchers also wanted to know how many men ‘usually’ use prostitution and have done so recently. Antonio Ariño, professor of sociology at the University of Valencia and author of the report Prostitution in the Valencian Community (a sociological perspective), was commissioned by the Valencian Forum for the Abolition of Prostitution to research this. He states that the estimate of between 4% and 6% of current customers who regularly pay for sex is “very reasonable”, both for the Valencia region and the whole of Spain. 

Furthermore, this range is in line with the figures given in various reports in recent years. In 2008 CIS cited, 4.6% of men admitted to having paid for intercourse in the 12 months before the study. However, for young people between the ages of 18 and 24, this rises to just 5.3%. Whereas, among the over-65s it drops to 2.4%. 

See also: Spain is a paradise for forced prostitution 

That same year, a study by the Carlos III Health Institute on the prevalence of condom use among men visiting prostitutes concluded that 5.7% of men had paid for heterosexual sex in the past year. The 2003 Survey of Health and Sexual Habits by the National Institute of Statistics INE found recent consumption of prostitution at 6.7% of men and total lifetime consumption at 27.3%, almost a third.

4. How many prostitutes are there in Spain?

It is difficult to figure out the number of men who use prostitutes. Therefore, it is even more difficult to figure out how many women are prostitutes in Spain. In a report on the situation of human trafficking for sexual exploitation, the Interior Ministry’s Intelligence Centre against Organised Crime (CITCO) estimated about 45,000 women were in this situation in 2012. 

Sociologist Antonio Ariño points out that these figures only concern women who are in a sit human trafficking. The closest data to reality estimates between 100,000 and 120,000 women in Spain. “If you add up the data that almost all the Autonomous Communities have collected to figure out the realities of prostitution [on their territory], it comes closer to those numbers,” than others that have also been widely disseminated in recent years and moving towards 300,000 and 600,000 women,” said Ariño. 

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Impact of prostitution on the economy 

As early as 2005, a study commissioned by the Department of Labour estimated the “possible impact a potential professional normalization of prostitution would have” on supporting the pension system. In addition, under regulation, approximately 113,100 women would be able to register with social security. The author, Graciela Malgesini, estimated at the time that the majority of prostitutes worked in clubs (42,500) and flats (41,000). However, 24,000 worked in roadside clubs and 5,600 women on the street.

5. The Leap of ‘Offer’ from Prostitution to the Internet

Ariño’s, with the collaboration of data scientist Rubén Rodríguez Casañ, examined more than 440,000 advertisements on six websites about prostitution services. It shows the change that has taken place over the past 10 to 15 years due to the advent of the Internet and smartphones. 

“The search for women can now take place on the Internet […] Before, the person had to go where women were – clubs, flats, massage centres, etc… – to establish the relationship. Now everything related to contact has been transferred to the internet, which is being responded to with lavish digital marketing of prostitution “with details about the services and characteristics of the prostitutes,” says Ariño. 

The internet has also fostered new forms of prostitution and has enabled the existence of forums where men who pay for sex comment and rate the prostitutes or the place where they work. 

Mediterranean area 

The analysis of advertisements also shows the existence of a “Mediterranean corridor of prostitution” where “there is almost no zip code” without a place, flat or club where sexual services are offered for a fee, explains the sociology professor at the University of Valencia out.

6. Barcelona and surroundings, a hotspot of prostitution

The study by Ariño and Rodríguez has also tracked and localized the comments of clients of prostitutes in recent years. This shows that the postal code in Spain with the most responses in the past five years (2017-2021) was 08015 in Barcelona. It corresponds to the neighbourhoods of Sant Antoni and La Nova Esquerra. The analysis of this data allows us to conclude that the postal code in Spain with the most comments in the last five years (2017-2021) was 08015 in Barcelona, ​​​​​​which corresponds to the neighbourhoods of Sant Antoni and La Nova Esquerra de l’Example. 

“It is striking that most clubs are located directly on highways and on the outskirts of the cities. While massage centres and ‘hotels’ where men have an appointment with a prostitute are mainly located within city centres,” said Rodríguez Casañ.

7. How much money is involved in prostitution?

The very characteristics of prostitution in Spain – where autonomous prostitution is in legal limbo and pimps are punishable – make it impossible to know exactly how much money is involved in the exploitation of sexual services. 

Since 2014 and forced by European regulations, INE includes in the GDP calculation the estimate of the impact of the flows of illegal activities on the Spanish economy. “In total, illegal activities represent 0.87% of GDP. Prostitution represents 0.35% and drug trafficking 0.50%,” the INE statement said. If Spain’s GDP in 2021 was €1.2 trillion, 0.35% of this is €4.2 billion.

8. Crime related to prostitution and sexual exploitation

Speaking about prostitution is speaking about human trafficking and about women who are sexually exploited against their will. Between 2017 and 2020, Spanish authorities arrested 883 people for sex trafficking and 824 for sexual exploitation in Spain. This is according to data from the Intelligence Centre against Terrorism and Organised Crime (CITCO), of the Ministry of the Interior. The number of victims associated with these arrests was 737 in the case of human trafficking and 1,872 in the case of sexual exploitation. 

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