GDP: the sex sector
By Richard C. Morais
Below is a rough estimate of the world's legal porn business. The key word: legal. Economists increasingly talk of a "sex sector": a massive, broadly defined and mostly underground economy that includes activities like illegal prostitution. Prostitution, according to new European Union reporting rules, must now be included in national statistics. The Centre for Economics & Business Research Ltd., a London-based think tank, figures illegal prostitution is a $2-billion-a-year business in Britain alone, averaging $16,500 a year in tax-free income for 115,000 prostitutes. Since the cost of inputs is minuscule, this sum drops to the bottom line of national income statistics.
The global playground
world sales* ($bil)
|Internet (sales and memberships)
||$ 56 Billion 4
sales. 1 Majority accounted for by approximately 2,500
U.S. strip clubs. 2 Includes Playboy, Penthouse, Hustler
and numerous other titles more explicit than Hustler. 3Includes
The Playboy Channel, Spice, Adam & Eve and hotel pay-per-view. 4Illicit markets not
Source: Private Media Group, Inc.
Lin Lean Lim of the International Labor Office in Geneva points out in her book, The Sex Sector, that businesses (like tour operators and go-go bars) feeding off the prostitutes make the real money. Add such service providers to the pot, and the sex sector is a global economic force that's probably in excess of a half-trillion dollars. Says Lim: "Like it or not, legal or not, the sex sector is an economic activity of such massive proportions in many countries it must be measured in terms of GDP."
Consider Thailand, the fleshpot that attracts some 500,000 sex tourists every year. A study by a Thai university estimated the sex sector at around $25 billion, or 12% of the country's gross domestic product. Some 4.6 million Thai men use an estimated 700,000 prostitutes annually, a third of whom are minors and children. Consider this decadent twist: A chief surgeon in Bangkok, according to press accounts, claimed Thailand had become the preeminent country in the world for sex changes, with 35,000 transsexuals on surgeons' waiting lists. The doctor argued the sex change business, if properly developed, could help Thailand's economic recovery.
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