The Development of Norwegian Prostitution Policies: A Marriage of Convenience Between Pragmatism and Principles


The article describes and analyzes debates on prostitution policies in Norway from 1970 until the introduction of a ban against the purchase of sexual services in 2009. Throughout these decades, it has varied whether prostitution as such, that is in principle, has been considered a problem and if so, whether it has been seen as predominantly a legal or a social problem. In some periods, only particular forms of prostitution have been considered problematic, while prostitution as such has not been considered in need of legal intervention. In other periods, prostitution per se has been considered the problem, and in these periods attempts to differentiate between different forms of prostitution have been resisted. The coming together of the pragmatic and principled concerns of various political actors was an important reason for the actual passing of the legal reform criminalizing the purchase of sexual services. The effective coming together of principled and practical concerns must be simultaneously understood in the context of other developments, both locally, nationally, and internationally.

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  1. 1.

    These three parties were at the time and are still the parties in government in Norway.

  2. 2.

    These records give a skewed presentation of contemporary debates as not all major newspapers were included in the database. For the 1970s, the only searchable newspaper is VG which, even though it is among Norway’s largest, is a tabloid not necessarily presenting current affairs in the same manner as other newspapers. Also today, VG often covers the issue of prostitution differently than other newspapers in terms of whom and what is represented. For the 1980s, more newspapers are included in the database, with a notable exception of radical leftist newspaper Klassekampen and the widely read newspaper Dagbladet. The tabloid newspaper VG is, even though more newspapers were included in the database after 1980, heavily over-represented, which indicates that coverage of the issue of prostitution was selling newspapers. This bias is corrected somewhat by the inclusion of newspaper clippings from newspapers not included in the database for the 1980s and 1990s from my own and other scholars’ records.

  3. 3.

    The former names of the capital of Norway, which is today named Oslo.

  4. 4.

    In Norwegian: “menneskehandel,” the same term human trafficking is translated to today.

  5. 5.

    For details of how feminist organizations have related to prostitution in Norway, see Strøm (2009).

  6. 6.

    Translated and published internationally with the title Backstreets in 1992 (Høigård and Finstand 1992). The book is a standard reference in international prostitution research and has been particularly influencial on the study of the consequences of prostitution.

  7. 7.

    The Norwegian word still often used at the time was the word “hore.” Even though it shares the etymology of the English term “whore,” I would argue that it is more comparable to the term “hooker.”

  8. 8.

    The year 2000 also marks the full decriminalization of prostitution in Norway, as the law against soliciting existed until 2000, but this change did not draw attention. The paragraph had not been used for several decades but seems to have been used as a threat on occasions.


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Skilbrei, ML. The Development of Norwegian Prostitution Policies: A Marriage of Convenience Between Pragmatism and Principles. Sex Res Soc Policy 9, 244–257 (2012).

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  • Prostitution policy
  • Gender
  • Human trafficking
  • Legislation
  • Social work
  • Media representations