Brothels are businesses in which prostitutes or sex workers provide sexual services to their patrons. Brothels vary in size and style, as do the range of services each offers. They operate using a variety of business models, including:
- its prostitutes may operate as contract workers who pay part of their earnings to the brothel. They may at times be expected to "tip" support staff (cleaners, limo drivers, etc.). They will usually not receive benefits, such as health insurance, and no withholding for taxes.
- its prostitutes may be employees who receive a small fixed salary and a portion of the money paid by the customer, the balance of which is retained by the brothel.
- its prostitutes may pay a fee for use of brothel facilities, with the brothel owner not being involved in the financial transaction between a prostitute and client.
In most cases, prostitutes are at liberty to determine whether they will engage in a particular type of sexual activity, but forced prostitution exists in some places around the world, as does sexual slavery.
Prostitution and the operation of brothels is legal in some countries, but illegal in others. In countries where prostitution or the operation of brothels is illegal, establishments providing sex services may describe themselves as massage parlors, bars, strip clubs, saunas, spas or by some other description Even in countries where prostitution and brothels are legal, brothels may be subject to many and varied restrictions. Forced prostitution is usually illegal as is prostitution by or with minors, though the age may vary. Some countries prohibit particular sex acts. In some countries, brothels are subject to strict planning restrictions and in some cases are confined to designated red-light districts. Some countries prohibit or regulate how brothels advertise their services, or they may prohibit the sale or consumption of alcohol on the premises. In some countries where operating a brothel is legal, some brothel operators may chose to operate illegally.