by Harsh Shah on Dec 10, 2022


All persons have the right under international human rights law to control and freely decide on matters relating to their sexuality; to be free from violence, coercion, or intimidation in their sexual lives; to have access to sexual and reproductive health care information, education, and services; and to be protected from discrimination based on their sexuality.

Human Rights Watch has conducted sex work research in Cambodia, China, Tanzania, the United States, and, most recently, South Africa. The research, which included extensive consultations with sex workers and organizations working on the issue, shaped Human Rights Watch's sex work policy: Human Rights Watch advocates for the complete legalization of consensual adult sex work.

The right to sexuality includes the right to express one's sexuality as well as the right to be free from discrimination based on sexual orientation. It is specifically concerned with the human rights of people of various sexual orientations, including Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) people, and the protection of those rights, though it also applies to Heterosexuality. The right to sexuality and the freedom from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is based on the universality of human rights and the inalienable nature of rights that every human being possesses.

There is no explicit right to sexuality in international human rights law; rather, it is found in several international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights

According to UNAIDS, public health experts, sex worker organizations, and other human rights organizations, criminalizing sex work has a negative impact on sex workers' right to health. In one case, Human Rights Watch discovered in a 2012 report titled "Sex Workers at Risk: Condoms as Evidence of Prostitution in Four US Cities" that police and prosecutors used a sex worker's possession of condoms to support prostitution charges. For fear of being arrested, sex workers were reluctant to carry condoms, forcing them to engage in sex without protection and putting them at a higher risk of contracting HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases.

Other human rights suffer as a result of criminalization. Sex workers are less likely to be able to organize as workers, advocate for their rights, or work together to support and protect themselves in countries where sex work is prohibited.

How Does Legalizing Sex Work Protect Sex Workers?

Decriminalizing sex work increases sex worker's legal protection as well as their ability to exercise other important rights, such as the right to justice and health care. The legal recognition of sex workers and their occupation increases their safety, dignity, and equality. This is a significant step toward decriminalizing sex work.

Is decriminalizing sex work encouraging other human rights violations like human trafficking and child sexual exploitation.

Sex work is defined as the voluntary exchange of sex between adults. Human trafficking and child sexual exploitation are two distinct issues. They are both serious violations of human rights and crimes that should always be investigated and prosecuted.

Laws that clearly distinguish sex work from crimes such as human trafficking and child sexual exploitation help to protect both sex workers and crime victims. Sex workers may have important information about crimes such as human trafficking and child sexual exploitation, but unless the work they do is not considered criminal, they are unlikely to feel safe reporting this information to the police.

These are known as sexual rights, or simply sexual rights, and the governments of all countries around the world are required to respect, protect, and fulfill these fundamental human rights.

  • States must respect human rights by not interfering with or limiting their enjoyment.
  • States must protect individuals and groups from human rights violations.
  • States must take proactive steps to make basic human rights more accessible.

The right to sexual and reproductive health, when combined with the right to education and the right to non-discrimination and equality between men and women, entails the right to comprehensive, non-discriminatory, evidence-based, scientifically accurate, and age-appropriate sexuality and reproduction education.


Sexual rights (Human Rights Concerning Sexuality) address a wide range of issues and frequently intersect with other rights. Sexual rights issues include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Complete Sexuality Education
  • Criminalization Of Safe Abortion And Other Restrictions
  • Discrimination Based On Gender
  • Early And Compelled Marriage
  • Genital Mutilation In Women
  • Violence Against Women
  • Gender Parity
  • Gender Expressions And Identities
  • AIDS / HIV
  • Morbidity And Mortality Among Mothers
  • Reproductive Freedom
  • Intersex People's Rights
  • Sex Workers' Rights
  • Sexual Preference
  • Young People's Sexual Rights
  • International Treaties

Sexual rights are part of existing human rights and fundamental freedoms, such as the right to life, the right to privacy, the freedom of thought and expression, the freedom from violence, the right to education and information, the right to equality, the freedom from all forms of discrimination, and the right to the best health possible.

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