It has been four years since Arlington County's massage parlors were closed in a front page splash of publicity and criminal indictments. Since then, using the force of law or the threat of it, county officials have successfully kept Arlington free of any new massage parlors, which police maintain are flimsy fronts for illicit sex.

But while there are no massage parlors or outcall services listed in Arlington's yellow pages, officials say the county has not put an end to prostitution. The business of sex, say officials, is still healthy in Arlington. But now most of the illegal skin games are played in hotel rooms and private residences. The dates are made by phone.

"Those people adjust, just like anybody else," said police Lt. Walter Hughes, head of Arlington's vice control section. "Arlington still has a problem."

Arlington's problem is the same for all Northern Virginia localities. In the fight against massage parlors, where prostitution is alleged to be the one and only attraction, battles are won and lost, but the war never ends. There are still eight massage parlors in Fairfax County and a dozen in Alexandria. aBoth localities have passed ordinances outlawing their existence, but legal loopholes have kept the gilded doors open.

When Arlington outlawed massage parlors, it failed to deal with outcall services in other areas. As a result, anyone in Arlington with access to a telephone can call Alexandria or another area and have a "masseuse" sent over in minutes.

Last week the Arlington County Board passed an amendment to the 4-year-old county ordinance that extends the ban against "cross-sex" massages to include outcall services. But officials admit there is little chance of perfect enforcement.

"We may not be able to stop it completely, but at least we'll let them (outcall services) know they'd better be prepared to dig in and fight," said Henry Hudson, Arlington's commonwealth's attorney.

"I just don't think you can legislate morality, you can only make it more difficult," adds Rod Leffler, the assistant commonwealth's attorney for Fairfax County. Leffler's office has successfully prosecuted a dozen cases related to massage parlor prostitution in the past year. But he admits those convictions depended upon catching women who were careless.

"The operators have their employes very well briefed," says Warren Carmichael, spokesman for the Fairfax County police. "They know what to do and what not to do. They know what questions to ask.They try to compromise the (undercover police officer) as soon as possible."

In Alexandria, where most of the massage parlors and outcall services in Northern Virginia have taken refuge, all the cases brought against masseuses in the last few years have been dismissed by local or federal courts.

"The way it works, they won't perform a massage or any other act unless the customer is fully undressed, and that in and of itself is against the law," says Nolan Dawkins, Alexandria's assistant city attorney.

"Then we tried regulation on the civil side, by licensing. That wasn't very successful either," continued Dawkins. "Soon after we changed our ordinance against massage parlors, they all changed their names to health clubs."

Terence O'Grady, Falls Church city attorney, says it is difficult to get convictions for prostitution offenses. One major problem is that for prostitution to occur, there has to be solicitation.

"They don't ever solicit you. They just don't say anything, including no," says O'Grady. "Any (masseuse) who is well-schooled can beat the charge."

Falls Church was the first Northern Virginia locality with a concentration of massage parlors. In 1975, when city officials cracked down on the establishments, there were six massage parlors in the two-square-mile city limits.

By 1977, all of them were closed. The city enacted a special license fee of $5,000, required that all masseuses receive 500 hours of professional training and enacted a ban on cross-sex massage that included outcall services. tThe operators moved into less hostile territory.

Officials in all Northern Virginia jurisdictions complain that the worst crimes related to massage parlors and outcall services have little to do with sex.

"You just don't find the Girl Scouts mixed up in this kind of thing," said Leffler. "Where you find prostitution, you always find drugs, gambling, people involved in stolen property and, in general, the criminal element."

Police say there have been many other offenses related to massage parlor operations, including assault and blackmail. But, police add, most crimes are never reported by victims for obvious reasons.

"They're just houses of prostitution under names that sound legitimate," says Alexandria Mayor Charles E. Beatley Jr. of the massage parlors in Alexandria. Beatley is defensive about his city's reputation as the massage parlor capital of Northern Virginia.

"There's plenty of that activity around other places, it's just not listed in the yellow pages," says Beatley. "The massage parlors here are gradually dying out. As each one goes out of business for whatever reason, they need a special permit to come back in. And no new permits are being granted."

But until that happens, or unless new, more effective legislation is passed, officials in other Northern Virginia localities admit the masseuses from Alexandria and Fairfax County will continue to be their problem, too.

"One thing about prostitutes," said an Arlington official. "They haven't stopped making house calls."