Decriminalization of Sex Work Is Not Associated with More Men Paying for Sex: Results from the Second Australian Study of Health and Relationships


It has been claimed that the decriminalization of sex work may result in its proliferation, but there is no evidence to prove or disprove this claim. We investigated whether decriminalization was associated with the prevalence of paying for sex. A representative national sample of 8074 Australian men interviewed by telephone reported whether they had paid for sex ever and in the last 12 months. Cross-sectional associations between paying for sex in the last 12 months and their jurisdiction’s legal approach to sex work (criminalized, licensed, or decriminalized), were examined with logistic regression analysis, controlling for demographic variables and relationship status. Overall, 2.2 % of the men reported paying for sex in the past year—a proportion that was not statistically different by state or territory (P = 0.26). The only variable that was associated with paying for sex was not having a regular sexual partner, or to a lesser extent, not living with a regular partner. Being aged 16–19 years was associated with lower odds of paying for sex. Being a male without a regular partner was associated with paying for sex. The legal approach to sex work in the respondent’s state of residence was not associated with having paid for sex.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to C. Rissel.

Ethics declarations


This study was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (grant number: 1002174).

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committees of the authors and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Conflict of Interest

All authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Participant Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


CR, JR, RdV, AG, and JS were involved in the design and conduct of the survey. BD and AY contributed to the design and conduct of the analysis. All the authors were involved in the writing, editing, and review of the manuscript.

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Not commissioned, externally peer reviewed

Additional information

Key Messages

• There was no association between rates of men paying for sex in Australia and criminalized, licensed, or decriminalized legislative approaches to sex work.

• The only variable that was associated with paying for sex was not having a regular sexual partner.

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Rissel, C., Donovan, B., Yeung, A. et al. Decriminalization of Sex Work Is Not Associated with More Men Paying for Sex: Results from the Second Australian Study of Health and Relationships. Sex Res Soc Policy 14, 81–86 (2017).

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  • Sex workers
  • Government regulation
  • Legislation as topic
  • Cross-sectional studies
  • Prostitution/legislation and jurisprudence
  • Prostitution/statistics and numerical data
  • Sexual behavior
  • Men
  • Australia