Germany's embattled sex industry has started offering services designed specifically to help the aged, in an attempt to cater for the desires of an increasingly elderly population and offset a dramatic rise in the availability of amateur online prostitution.
Sex for the elderly facilities have been introduced at Artemis, Germany's largest luxury "wellness" brothel, in the Berlin district of Charlottenburg, where seats have been installed in showers and clients' changing rooms have been enlarged to accommodate wheelchairs.
A spokesman for the brothel told Berlin's Tagesspiegel newspaper that the new measures – which included "helpful personnel" – were part of a drive to encourage older and disabled customers to enjoy its services. "It is important for us to show that Artemis is properly equipped for these clients," he said.
The trend is echoed elsewhere in the German sex industry, which became fully legal in 2002 and employs some 150,000 officially registered prostitutes who pay tax and are entitled to welfare benefits.
However another estimated 250,000 prostitutes continue to work on the black market.
Stephanie Klee, a registered prostitute with 25 years' experience and spokeswoman for Germany's BSD sex worker advocacy group, said she and several of her colleagues were focusing on providing sex for senior citizens in retirement homes.
"Sex work is slowly becoming more like other professions. It is becoming specialised," she said.
The need to provide sex for the elderly has also been recognised by some German retirement homes. The woman director of a Berlin home, who did not want to be identified, said recently that she wanted to offer a "room for intimate encounters" in her establishment.
She said she was discussing the project with the church organisation that ran the home.
The shift towards sex for senior citizens is a response to demographic statistics which show that nearly 20 per cent of Germany's 82 million population are aged 65 or over. As the country has one of the lowest birth rates in the world, the population is expected to go on getting older.
However the trend towards "specialisation" within the traditional sex industry is also an attempt to cope with changes that have been forced on it as a result of Aids and the internet.
Hamburg's Reeperbahn red light district started closing down its large, "Eros centre" brothels in the 1980s because of the fear of Aids. Three years ago the city closed its oldest traditional brothel mainly as a result of competition from amateur online sex sites. One of Germany's most successful online prostitution forums is run by Gesext.de, based in Stuttgart. Its logo is a playmate with bulging breasts, orange hair and a saucy wink. The company's website auctions prostitutes, eBay-style, to the highest bidder. Set up five years ago, the site attracts some 60,000 visitors daily.
Many of the prostitutes are impoverished students or single mothers who are desperate to make ends meet. The standard fee charged is about €120 (£100), but some of the women who advertise their services have been known to earn up to €6,000 a session.
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