Already in the 1990s, Prague had become a famous – or perhaps infamous — destination for stag parties and sex tourists, and a favored film location for shooting porno. Today, the side streets of Wenceslas Square are riddled with bordellos catering to straight and gay men alike.
But while sex clubs continue to do a brisk business largely thanks to the tourist trade, prostitution has steadily moved from the flash brothels into the living rooms of private residential apartments (known as priváty) to cater to Czech clients, says the head of a non-profit group that aims to protect women in the sex trade.
“Recently, there is a new phenomenon. In place of erotic clubs, there has been a rise in the number of large priváty, apartments with many rooms, which have their own managers. They offer discreet non-stop service, so the client can zip in for example during his lunch break,” Markéta Malinová, manager of the non-profit Bliss without Risk (Rozkoš bez rizika), told the daily Mladá fronta Dnes. ‘Recently, there is a new phenomenon. In place of erotic clubs, there has been a rise in the number of large priváty.’
Although organized prostitution is technically illegal in the Czech Republic, brothels operate freely throughout the country and women advertize their sexual services openly, and explicitly, without hiding behind classic fronts like “massage parlors” or the offer of “companionship.” According to the Czech Ministry of the Interior, there are over 860 brothels in the Czech Republic, of which 200 are in Prague.
But Malinová says the sex industry is stagnating, and the bordellos have been compelled to come up with gimmicks to entice new clients and ensure return visits– including offering happy hours, loyalty discount cards and a wide range of massages.
According to Bliss without Risk’s research, while 20 years ago half of the prostitutes in the country were foreign women, today four in five are Czechs. “At the same time, the share of Czech customers has risen; about 80 percent of them are married or in a long-time relationship, don’t want to end it, and figure it’s a cheaper way of satisfying their needs than having a lover,” said Hana Malinová, the group’s founder and director (and mother of Markéta), told Mladá fronta Dnes. ‘At the same time, the share of Czech customers has risen.’
Bliss without Risk says that in the past, nearly a third of the Czech capital’s prostitutes worked in the clubs in the city center, but now they have dispersed to the inconspicuous apartments throughout Prague, which the locals favor, and only about seven percent of sex workers ply their trade in the streets.
Brothels that cater to day tourists from Austria and Germany can still be found in border towns and along motorways, such as the infamous E-55. According to Wikipedia, there are over 200 websites for prostitution services in the Czech Republic, up from 45 in 1997, which enable sex tourists to book their travel and appointments to buy sex acts before they leave home.