Why are sex worker rights groups advocating for decriminalizing sex work, but not for legalizing it? In this paper, I will explain why efforts to decriminalize sex work deserve the same support as efforts to decriminalize abortion, marijuana, or polygamy. Many human rights advocates now recognize that decriminalizing sexual transactions which take place among consenting adults in private, including informally contracting for sexual services, is necessary for protecting our fundamental human and civil rights. Yet decriminalizing individual acts of prostitution opens the door to various kinds of organized and public market activities, and there is little consensus among progressive reformers about how wide this door should be pushed opened. A consensus has been forming, nevertheless, among sex worker rights organizations. These groups generally hold that regulatory restrictions specific to sex work (“legalization”), which limit where and how contracting for sexual services can take place, leads to practices that are punitive toward sex workers in ways similar to criminalization. In this paper, I will consider the arguments for decriminalization and against legalization, and argue that accepting levels of governmental oversight above the norm may be a necessary compromise in order to change policies regarding a controversial activity.