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Sex work in Tallinn, Estonia: the sociospatial penetration of sex work into society
  1. S O Aral1,
  2. J S St Lawrence1,
  3. A Uusküla2
  1. 1Division of Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Atlanta, GA, USA
  2. 2Departments of Public Health and Dermatovenerology and Venerology, University of Tartu, Estonia
  1. Correspondence to:
 Sevgi O Aral
 PhD, Division of Sexually Transmitted Disease, National Centers for HIV, STD and TB Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1600 Clifton Road NE, Mailstop E02, Atlanta, GA 30333, USA; saral{at}


Background: It is important to describe and understand the underlying patterns and dynamics that govern sex work in societies undergoing rapid political and social changes, its heterogeneity across populations, and its evolution through time in order to inform future research, sound policy formation, and programme delivery.

Objectives: To describe the socioeconomic and cultural determinants, organisational structure, distinct categories, and spatial patterning of sex work in Tallinn, Estonia, and identify recent temporal changes in sex work patterns.

Methods: In-depth interviews with key informants; naturalistic observations of sex work and drug use venues, geo-mapping of sex work sites, review of media, public policy, and commissioned reports, and analyses of existing data.

Results: Sex work takes place in a hierarchy of locations in Tallinn ranging from elite brothels and “love flats” to truck stops. These sites vary in terms of their public health importance and social organisation. There are full time, part time, and intermittent male and female sex workers. Among others, the taxi driver, madam and the bartender are central roles in the organisation of sex work in Tallinn. Cell phone and internet technology enable sex work to be highly dispersed and spatially mobile.

Conclusion: Future research and programmatic service delivery or outreach efforts should respond to the changing profile of sex work in Tallinn and its implications for STD/HIV epidemiology.

  • HSV, herpes simplex virus
  • STD, sexually transmitted diseases
  • STI, sexually transmitted infections
  • sex work
  • sexually transmitted disease
  • economic transition
  • newly independent states
  • sexual behaviour
  • sex trafficking

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