Spaces for Sex: Regulation or Disregard?

The local administration in Nuevo Laredo designated twelve hectares of the city as a “Tolerance Zone”—colloquially “Boy’s Town”—where prostitution is legal. From its inception, the “Tolerance Zone” was designed as a way of inspecting prostitutes offering their services to the “boys”—visiting American soldiers. Today, a government-run clinic provides tests for sexually-transmitted diseases. Even so, a study conducted in 2005 by the Mexican National Council for Prevention and Control of AIDS, revealed that the Nuevo Laredo area “reported the highest rate of infection due to heterosexual contact,” with over 200 new HIV cases.

Nuevo Laredo’s systematic regulation contrasts with the haphazard growth of prostitution in San Salvador. Traditionally, brothels in San Salvador were located in the centre, in old art-deco-styled houses. These houses, painted with subdued pastel-colors during the day, were covered with bright neon signs at night. In a recent study published in El Diario de Hoy, the local newspaper, sociologist Juan José Garcia elucidated: “No longer does the customer go to the prostitute. It’s the sex market that comes to the customer.” Today, low-end prostitutes are solicited outside the haute Intercontinental Hotel, transvestites can be found around the national monument—a statue of Christ the Redeemer.

The government’s unwillingness to regulate zoning for prostitution is paired with ambivalence towards sexual healthcare. “The main problem is that the government is ashamed of talking about the problem. For them, ‘sex’ is a vulgar word,” Marcela Vásquez, a representative for Fundación Alma, explained to the Globalist. According to Vásquez, “Only until last year did the government recognize ‘men who have sex with men’ as an ‘at-risk’ category, yet 35 percent of commercial sex is offered by homosexuals or transvestites.” Recognition by city authorities that there is a problem with unorganized prostitution could increase awareness that wider issues concerning ‘sexual policy’ must be addressed.

Both Nuevo Laredo and San Salvador have attempted to adopt different strategies to isolate issues regarding prostitution from the main stage of public discourse. Either by containing prostitution to a secluded location or ignoring the problem, cities refuse to discuss prostitution. Ultimately, introducing prostitution to public debate would require a reevaluation, not only of cultural norms, but of the social and economic factors that force many into the trade.