When In Zurich, Why Not Try the Drive-In Sex Boxes?

ZURICH, Switzerland—In case no one's noticed, most European governments are a lot saner about sex than ours. As long as no kids or coercion are involved, prostitution is legal in just about every EuroZone country but Ireland and Sweden (who'da thunk?), though only "tolerated" in France. Indeed, some countries have even gone out of their way to help the pros earn a living—and now we can add Switzerland to that list.

As of this evening at 7 p.m. Swiss time, the city of Zurich opened Switzerland's first drive-in "sex boxes": Nine carport-like structures, each with three walls and a cot in the Sihlqai district on the city's outskirts, where men can drive along a marked route, check out the 40 or so gals plying their trade at roadside, negotiate a price, then drive one to one of the open-air bungalows and engage in some bunga-bunga to their heart's content.

It's the same sort of arrangement that various German cities have had for about a dozen years, and came in quite handy in Munich when part of the World Cup Soccer Tournament was held there in 2006. More recently, besides its own sex boxes, Bonn had initiated a system where streetwalkers can pay their nightly prostitution taxes at curbside meters erected especially for the evenign trade. And now the Swiss have jumped on board.

"Prostitution is a business," recognized Zurich social services director Michael Herzig. "We cannot prohibit it, so we want to control it in favor of the sex workers and the population. If we do not control it, organized crime and the pimps will take over," as has happened in a few other cities who use the box concept.

But Zurich's boxes, which were approved by just over half of the city's voters in March, built for €1.7 million (US$2.3 million—about $400,000 less than had been budgeted) and will cost the city €560,000 (US$748,778) to maintain annually, each have emergency alarm buttons, are patrolled regularly by security guards... and have posters recommending the use of condoms to avoid HIV/STD infections. Also, the nearby outdoor bathrooms have been painted, depending on gender, pink and blue, and colored Christmas-style lights have been strung among the trees.

One reason residents were willing to go to the expense was that other areas of the city—most notably, the banks of the Mimmat River near the city center—were used by streetwalkers to ply their trade, and besides objecting to couples having sex right out in the open, local homeowners were tired of cleaning up the crap (literally) that some left behind.

The prostitutes who want to work the sex box area must buy a yearly permit costing about $43 and are charged €3.50 (US$4.68) per evening that they work, and such "tickets' must be purchased in advance.

Of course, there are a couple of rules, which get a poster of their own: Cars only (no bicycles, mopeds or walk-ins); all participants must be over 18; only one man per vehicle; no audio or video recording of the act; no having sex in RVs or by a tree, just in the official boxes—and please deposit all trash in the proper receptacles.

"Safety for the prostitutes," attorney Daniel Hartmann summarized as the main reason for the boxes. "At least it's a certain kind of a shelter for them. They can do their business, and I respect them. They do a great job, and they have better working conditions here. … They're not exposed to the bosses, to the pimps, in here."