Back and Forth: Germany Can’t Decide Whether To Reopen Brothels

Respekt und Rechte Sexarbeit Berlin

These days, the brothels in Germany’s Rhineland-Palatinate would have been reopened along with the open-air swimming pools and massage parlours. A comprehensive hygiene plan from an industry association was at hand and the authorities gave a go-ahead. But populist politicians bowed to the pressure. The victims? Well, mainly sex workers again.

There is hardly anyone who is hit by the Corona measures and closures as comprehensively and defencelessly as the world’s oldest industry. Sex workers all over the globe were, like many self-employed people, on the brink of ruin. Unfortunately, due to discriminatory and hypocritical attitudes on the part of politicians in most countries – and in Germany as well – there was and is no government support for sex workers or brothel businesses. Like many self-employed in the field of culture and events, they were cynically relegated to unemployment benefits (Hartz-4).

For many observers it was clear that the red light market would probably be one of the last to reopen. Due to the physical proximity to the customer, which is oviously unavoidable, there was no doubt that this was to be a long problem for the industry. People moved closer together and hoped for a quick end to the Corona epidemic. Numerous brothel operators waived the room rents for the sex workers’ immediate needs in order to avoid homelessness, some even supplied their tenants with food.

Since no help came from the state, however, many sex workers were simply faced with the prospect of having their livelihood destroyed or having to resort to illegality, which is not only risky because of the risk of infection.

When it became clear that some members of the German Bundestag wanted to use the fight against COVID-19 to ban prostitution and sex work completely and not let the brothels re-open at all, it caused a brief outcry. On Twitter there were many voices against a total ban on paid sex, and the retrograde justifications of the politicians driven by populist sexophobia were demasked as what they were.

The recommendations of the Federal Association of Sexual Services (BSD) for hygiene guidelines under corona conditions seemed well thought out. Even though it would certainly have caused difficulties if certain practices such as oral sex could no longer be offered or if all customers had to be registered by name for any necessary tracing of the chain of infection. A feasible plan that could at least have served as a basis for discussion.

Rhineland-Palatinate now wanted to set a good example and put an end to the immediate economic hardship of sex workers. If there was no state aid money, the affected people should at least be able to go back to work.

Other, more conservatively governed states and populist voices within Rhineland-Palatinate politics, however, thwarted this. They said that hygiene regulations could not be implemented, sex work was a breeding ground for infections, and in addition, they feared sex tourism from other federal states if Rhineland-Palatinate went on its own.

The Bild Zeitung made sure in advance that a great storm of indignation broke out over those responsible for the reopening of the brothels on 10 June, by publishing a big smug announcement alongside the unfunny joke that brass bands would also be allowed to practice again. The responsible authorities and politicians paddled back and caved in. Brothels and sex work will thus remain banned in Rhineland-Palatinate for the time being. Nevertheless, there are no alternative means of assistance.

The burden is on the weakest, the forgotten victims of the Corona crisis: the sex workers in the country. It is to be hoped that the federal states will quickly find a common solution to reopen the brothels and allow prostitution to resume. Anything else would be a scandal and an abuse of the Infection Protection Act.

Here is the wording of the open letter from the Federal Association of Sexual Services to the 16 members of the Bundestag who want to abuse the Corona crisis for a general ban on sex work:

Dear Mrs Breymaier, Mrs Winkelmeier-Becker, Mrs Leikert, Mrs Widmann-Mauz, Mrs Tillmann, Mrs Flachsbarth, Mrs Heil and Mrs Magwas
Dear Mr Gröhe, Lauterbach, Heinrich, Fechner, Ullrich, Brand, Patzelt, Henrichmann,

In your letter to the 16 state governors, you called on them to use the current corona lockdown and the resulting closure of all prostitution sites to introduce a general ban on sex buying.

Apart from the fact that nowhere in the world a ban on sex buying has brought protection to sex workers or reduced the need for prostitution, and that you want to use the corona emergency of sex workers for your backward-looking, morally insane, degrading and disrespectful, attention-seeking politics, you are putting a lie into the world with your statement, which is not proven by anything.

»Prostitution has the epidemiological effect of a super spreader: social distancing is usually incompatible with sexual activity.« »It would be obvious.«

Where does this insight come from? How many brothels have you visited? Are you an expert on prostitution? Do you have any personal experience?

Obviously not. Because there is no such thing as ONE prostitution. Just as there is no such thing as the prototypical sex worker.

We are an enormously diverse industry, similar to the hospitality sector: there are small apartments where only one sex worker works, or apartment brothels, studios, bars, so called »Laufhäuser« and wellness oases. Prostitution facilities are sometimes large – sometimes small businesses.

Some offer only sexual services:
– behind closed doors,
– in a 1 : 1 scenario = 1 sex worker*in and 1 customer.
… similar to a masseur or beautician.

Others also have a restaurant offer, for example, sell drinks, like a pub or are screening movies. But orgies, cramped conditions such as in a discotheque or at a concert or wild enthusiasm such as on the football field are clearly the exception.

Why should sex workers*, customers and brothel operators not be able to comply with corona protection measures? Do you think they are stupider than the rest of society?

On the contrary, sex workers have a vested interest in hygiene and their health, which is their capital. They have always been trained to work in compliance with protective measures and use, for example, condoms against sexually transmitted diseases (STIs and HIV) and carry out regular health checks.

Of course, like other industries, we have developed a corresponding hygiene concept and presented it to the politicians (, because the health of all people is very important to us.

To use the term »super spreader« in this context is not only extremely offensive but also wrong. Obviously you want to discredit an entire industry in order to enforce your real goal, the ban on sex trade.

Unfortunately, this defamation and this false assertion reminds us of a time long believed to be behind us, the beginning of the AIDS hysteria, where, among other things, sex workers* were accused of passing on this sexually transmitted infection. In the following time it turned out that they were less affected by it and hardly had higher infection numbers than the general population. The reason is, of course, that sex workers have always known how to protect themselves and their clients out of self-interest alone.
There have always been attempts to put the responsibility for the health of the general population on sex workers. The following perspectives are missing: where do sex workers get the infection from? And why are they alone responsible for it?

It is always easy to blame someone else.

A further closure of the brothels and a ban on prostitution are not justified by anything – on the contrary: the sex industry must be allowed to generate income again and to offer a good service to the customers, which is humane, stabilizing and existential for them, especially during Corona times.

If you are not yet stuck in your attitude and open to other experiences, we would like to invite you – after the reopening – to a visit to a brothel. You can get an impression of the processes in the different segments and engage in dialogue with sex workers.

Notes on the wrong numbers given by you:
Our position on the ban on sex buying:

Further information can be found on the BSD website.



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