Article Text

Download PDFPDF
The many faces of sex work
  1. C Harcourt1,
  2. B Donovan1,2
  1. 1Sydney Sexual Health Centre, Sydney Hospital, Sydney, Australia
  2. 2School of Public Health, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
  1. Correspondence to:
 Christine Harcourt
 Sydney Sexual Health Centre, Sydney Hospital, PO Box 1614, Sydney, NSW 2001, Australia;


Objective: To compile a global typography of commercial sex work.

Methods: A Medline search and review of 681 “prostitution” articles was conducted. In addition, the investigators pooled their 20 years of collected papers and monographs, and their observations in more than 15 countries. Arbitrary categories were developed to compile a workable typology of sex work.

Results: At least 25 types of sex work were identified according to worksite, principal mode of soliciting clients, or sexual practices. These types of work are often grouped under the headings of “direct” and “indirect” prostitution, with the latter group less likely to be perceived or to perceive themselves as sex workers. In general, policing sex work can change its typology and location but its prevalence is rarely affected. The public health implications of sex work vary widely.

Conclusion: Developing comprehensive sexual health promotion programmes requires a complete understanding of the types of sex work in a particular area. This study provides a checklist for developing appropriate and targeted programmes.

  • sex work

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.


  • Conflict of interest: none.