Love and Lust: American Men in Costa Rica
survey with sex workers, it is very probable that most of them underreported the amount of unsafe sex,
drug consumption and misrepresented their reasons for engaging in sex work.
We did not find in our 2000 Survey a total commitment to safe sex. As a matter of fact, unsafe sex was
high. Nevertheless, it is to be expected that if we factor in the underreporting – especially with regard
to condom and drug use - the risk index would have been much higher.
Information-gathering and illegality
In Costa Rica, sex work is legal and the country has a strong tradition of tolerance toward prostitution.
In 1894, the first laws (Ley de Profilaxis Venérea and Reglamento de Prostitución) were enacted to
regulate and control the activity under the rationale that it was important for guaranteeing ?hygiene and
public morals.? From then on, sex workers were subject to a weekly medical check-up in order to
detect sexually-transmitted diseases (STD‘s). Prostitutes had to register with the police and those who
failed to do so, could be sentenced to a maximum of 10 days in prison. Women who were infected were
forbidden to work and were subject to longer prison terms. Sex workers were prohibited from living
200 meters from schools and in cases of scandalous behavior, were expelled from their neighborhoods.
Sex workers were listed in the public registry and could only be removed if they were married or had
proof of a ?respectable job.? In the 1943-1944 Penal Code, supervision of sex workers was handed to
social workers. This proved to be problematic as the sex workers evaded the officials. In the present
Penal Code of 1970, it is again the Ministry of Health that is responsible for periodically testing
registered sex workers. Those who do not comply are subject to arrest by the police. 2
The Costa Rican Penal Code of 1894 was emulated by the Netherlands in its 1911 Code that legalized
prostitution. The Dutch penal code defined the broader context for prostitution laws and regulations in
their colonies: brothels were banned throughout the kingdom and the active promotion of prostitution,
as in Costa Rica, was criminalized. Nevertheless, prostitution was considered a necessary social evil,
and sex work itself was not criminalized, allowing some forms of tolerance of sex work and the legal
existence of the social category of the prostitute. In Dutch colonies such as Curazao and Aruba, there
was greater tolerance than in the Netherlands, and brothels –like the famous Campo Alegre- were set
up. This led to government intervention in and regulation of prostitution and provided an active role for
the police in guaranteeing that sex workers were ?free of disease.? Thus, the states that legalized
prostitution and took it upon themselves to protect ?society from prostitution‘s evil influence,? became
directly involved in the sex trade.3
2 Asamblea Legislativa de Costa Rica. Código de la niñez y la adolescencia. Ley N°
7739. San José, Costa Rica, 1998.
________________. "Código Penal", Ley N° 4573. San José, Costa Rica, 1970.
3 Kamala Kempadoo, Sexing the Caribbean. Gender, Race, and Sexual Labor, Routledge: New York and London, 2004,
Information gathering and illegality