The legislation - one of the toughest against sex buyers in Europe - means that clients caught paying for sex will face fines and be made to attend awareness classes.
The new law, which passed 64-12 in the parliament's lower house, the National Assembly, overturns a 2003 law that banned passive soliciting by sex workers on the street. The effect of the previous law was to put the legal onus on prostitutes.
A violation of human dignity
Minister for Women's Rights Laurence Rossignol told reporters Wednesday after the bill passed that sexual commerce was a violation of human dignity. She added that the new law would also help combat trafficking networks.
Clients will face 1,500-euro ($1,700) fines, rising to 3,750 euros for a sex buyer's second offense.
The measure will also make it easier for foreign prostitutes - many currently illegally in France - to acquire a temporary residence permit if they enter a process to get out of the prostitution business.
"The most important aspect of this law is to accompany prostitutes, give them identity papers because we know that 85 percent of prostitutes here are victims of trafficking," Maud Olivier, a Socialist member of parliament and a sponsor of the legislation.
Many sex workers who arrive in France have their passports confiscated by pimps, Olivier said.
Opponents fear a crack down will push prostitutes into hiding, even more at the mercy of pimps and violent clients.
Written by a group of lawmakers representing a broad political spectrum and backed by the Socialist government, the legislation has been inspired by Sweden, which passed a similar measure in 1999. Norway and Iceland also followed the Swedish model.
Prostitution is legal in France - though brothels, pimping and the sale of sex by minors are illegal.
jbh/jm (dpa, AP)