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The Spanish economy may be dangerously close to meltdown this week but one area at least — prostitution — appears to be doing very nicely, thank you. It is an advertisement for the city's biggest and best-known brothel. Cut to a Saturday night inside the said Don Jose "club" — three storeys high, flashing neon lights, two bars, a VIP zone and some 70 sex workers, clad in everything from nightgowns to G-strings to the very briefest of shorts — and, according to local regulars, business is booming.
Then later on, there are hordes of or year-olds, just there to have a laugh and, if they want, have a quick lay as well. This is no exaggeration. Prostitution is so popular and socially accepted in Spain that a United Nations study reports that 39 per cent of all Spanish men have used a prostitute's services at least once. A Spanish Health Ministry survey in put the percentage of one-time prostitute users at 32 per cent: lower than the UN figure, perhaps, but far higher than the 14 per cent in liberal-minded Holland, or in Britain, where the figure is reported to oscillate between 5 and 10 per cent.
And that was just those men willing to admit it. To meet this vast demand, an estimated , prostitutes are working in Spain — everywhere from clubs in town centres to industrial estates, to lonely country roads to roadside bars, the last often recognisable by gigantic neon signs of champagne bottles or shapely females, flashing away in the darkness.
And recently, on the French border, Club Paradise opened with sex workers, making it the biggest brothel in Europe. As the clubs get larger, the clients get younger. According to studies carried out for the Spanish Association for the Social Reintegration of Female Prostitutes Apramp , back in the typical client was a year-old married male.
By , however, the average age had dropped to 30 — and it appears to be getting lower. There is no single reason, though, why prostitution should be so popular in Spain. Historically it has long been seen as an expression of individual freedom — first as a pressure valve for the strait-laced family-focused environment of the Franco years when prostitution was quietly ignored , and then consolidating itself after the dictator died. Then, as now, brothels would be listed in the yellow pages, albeit under the coy title of "nightclubs", and nobody batted an eyelid.