Prostitution describes sexual intercourse in exchange for remuneration. The legal status of prostitution varies in different countries, from punishable by death to complete legality. A woman who engages in sexual intercourse with only one man for support is a mistress, and not normally considered a prostitute. Prostitution has often been described as “the world’s oldest profession,” and there is evidence of prostitution occurring throughout history in all societies. Early forms of prostitution involved “sacred prostitution,” in which the sexual act was performed for a religious purpose with a person other than one’s spouse. Religions have consistently condemned other forms of prostitution in which the activity is purely for personal pleasure, and severe penalties have been imposed on the prostitutes, although usually not on their clients.
Prostitution, however, has continued to exist since the earliest societies, and human trafficking in the twentieth century brought countless women and children across national boundaries for slave labor in this profession. Although many argue that prostitution is helpful to society (economically and socially), the realization that it is very wrong to sell that which is most wonderful, most enjoyable, most precious, and some consider most sacred, is an underlying concern. For, if human sexuality, which is inexorably linked to love, life, and lineage, is commodified, the value of a human being is inevitably reduced to something material, external, and temporary, and the ideals of marriage and family are destroyed.
The English word “whore,” referring to (female) prostitutes, is taken from the Old English word hōra (from the Indo-European root kā meaning “desire”) but usage of that word is widely considered pejorative and “prostitute” is considered a less value-laden term. On the other hand, in Germany most prostitutes’ organizations deliberately use the word Hure (whore) since they feel that “prostitute” is a bureaucratic term and an unnecessary euphemism. Male prostitutes offering services to female customers are known as “gigolos” or “escorts.” Male prostitutes offering their services to male customers are called “hustlers” or “rent boys.”
Brothels are establishments specifically dedicated to prostitution, often confined to special red-light districts in big cities. Other names for brothels include Bordello, Whorehouse, Cathouse, and General house. Prostitution also occurs in some massage parlors; in Asian countries some barber shops offer sexual services for an additional tip. Organizers of prostitution are typically known as pimps (if male) and madams (if female). More formally, they practice procuring, and are procurers, or procuresses.
Prostitutes are not the only people who are paid for sexual activities. Pornography actors and actresses are paid for having sex, but they are both paid by a third party, the producer of the pornography. Prostitutes are paid by the clients with whom they have sex.
Prostitutes are stigmatized in most societies and religions; their customers are typically stigmatized to a lesser degree.
Prostitution is sometimes referred to as “the world’s oldest profession.” Indeed, there is evidence of prostitution occurring throughout history, all the way back to ancient societies.
In the ancient world
One of the earliest forms was sacred prostitution, supposedly practiced among the Sumerians. In ancient sources (Herodotus, Thucydides) there are many traces of sacred prostitution. In Babylon, each woman had to reach, once in their lives, the sanctuary of Militta (Aphrodite or Nana/Anahita) and there have sex with a foreigner for a symbolic price as a sign of hospitality.
Within the religion of Canaan, a significant portion of temple prostitutes were male. It was widely used in Sardinia and in some of the Phoenician cultures, usually in honor of the goddess ‘Ashtart. Presumably under the influence of the Phoenicians, this practice was developed in other ports of the Mediterranean Sea, such as Erice (Sicily), Locri Epizephiri, Croton, Rossano Vaglio, and Sicca Veneria.
Prostitution was common in ancient Israel, despite being tacitly forbidden by Jewish Law. It is recorded in the Bible that a prostitute in Jericho named Rahab assisted Israelite spies with her knowledge of the current socio-cultural and military situation due to her popularity with the high-ranking nobles she serviced. The spies, in return for the information, promised to save her and her family during the planned military invasion, as long as she fulfilled her part of the deal by keeping the details of the contact with them secret and leaving a sign on her residence that would be a marker for the advancing soldiers to avoid. When the people of Israel conquered Canaan, she left prostitution, converted to Judaism, and married a prominent member of the people.
In ancient Greek society, prostitution was engaged in by both women and boys. The Greek word for prostitute is porne, derived from the verb pernemi (to sell), with the evident modern evolution. Female prostitutes could be independent and sometimes influential women. They were required to wear distinctive dresses and had to pay taxes. Some similarities have been found between the Greek hetaera and the Japanese oiran, complex figures that are perhaps in an intermediate position between prostitution and courtisanerie. Some prostitutes in ancient Greece were as famous for their company as their beauty, and some of these women charged extraordinary sums for their services.
Solon instituted the first of Athens’ brothels (oik’iskoi) in the sixth century B.C.E., and with the earnings of this business he built a temple dedicated to Aprodites Pandemo (or Qedesh), patron goddess of this commerce. Procuring, however, was strictly forbidden. In Cyprus (Paphus) and in Corinth, a type of religious prostitution was practiced where the temple counted more than a thousand prostitutes (hierodules), according to Strabo.
Each specialized category had its proper name, so there were the chamaitypa’i, working outdoor (lie-down), the perepatetikes who met their customers while walking (and then worked in their houses), and the gephyrides, who worked near the bridges. In the fifth century, Ateneo informs us that the price was of 1 obole, a sixth of a drachma and the equivalent of an ordinary worker’s day salary.
Male prostitution was also common in Greece. It was usually practiced by adolescent boys, a reflection of the pederastic tastes of Greek men. Slave boys worked the male brothels in Athens, while free boys who sold their favors risked losing their political rights as adults.
In ancient Rome, while there were some commonalities with the Greek system. As the Empire grew, prostitutes were often foreign slaves, captured, purchased, or raised for that purpose, sometimes by large-scale “prostitute farmers” who took abandoned children. Indeed, abandoned children were almost always raised as prostitutes.
Enslavement into prostitution was sometimes used as a legal punishment against criminal free women. Buyers were allowed to inspect naked men and women for sale in private and there was no stigma attached to the purchase of males by a male aristocrat. A large brothel, called the Lupanar, found in Pompeii attests to the widespread use of prostitutes in Rome around the turn of the century. Like Greece, Roman prostitution was highly categorized, with titles for prostitutes and their places of trade.
After the decline of organized prostitution of the Roman empire, many prostitutes were slaves. However, religious campaigns against slavery, and the growing marketization of the economy, turned prostitution back into a business. Although all forms of sexual activity outside of marriage were regarded as sinful by the Roman Catholic Church, prostitution was tolerated because it was held to prevent the greater evils of rape, sodomy, and masturbation. Augustine of Hippo held that: “If you expel prostitution from society, you will unsettle everything on account of lusts.” The general tolerance of prostitution was for the most part reluctant, and many canonists urged prostitutes to reform.
During the Middle Ages prostitution was commonly found in urban contexts. By the High Middle Ages it was common to find town governments ruling that prostitutes were not to ply their trade within the town walls, but they were tolerated outside, if only because these areas were beyond the jurisdiction of the authorities. In many areas of France and Germany town governments came to set aside certain streets as areas where prostitution could be tolerated. In London the brothels of Southwark were even owned by the Bishop of Winchester. Still later it became common in the major towns and cities of Southern Europe to establish civic brothels, whilst outlawing any prostitution taking place outside these brothels. In much of Northern Europe a more laissez faire attitude tended to be found. Prostitutes also found a fruitful market in the Crusades.
By the very end of the fifteenth century, attitudes hardened against prostitution. With the advent of the Protestant Reformation numbers of Southern German towns closed their brothels in an attempt to eradicate prostitution. The prevalence of sexually transmitted disease from the earlier sixteenth century may also have influenced attitudes. An outbreak of syphilis in Naples 1494, which later swept across Europe, and which may have originated from the Columbian Exchange, appears to have been the one of the causes of this change in attitude.
In some periods, prostitutes had to distinguish themselves by particular signs, sometimes wearing very short hair or no hair at all, or wearing veils in societies where other women did not wear them. In some cultures, prostitutes were the only women allowed to sing in public or act in theatrical performances.
Eighteenth century to present
In the eighteenth century, probably in Venice, prostitutes started using condoms, made with catgut or cow bowel.
Many of the women who posed in nineteenth and early twentieth century vintage erotica were prostitutes. The most famous were the New Orleans women who posed for E. J. Bellocq.
In the nineteenth century, legalized prostitution became a public controversy as France and then the United Kingdom passed the Contagious Diseases Acts, legislation mandating pelvic examinations for suspected prostitutes. Many early feminists fought for their repeal, either on the grounds that prostitution should be illegal and therefore not government regulated or because it forced degrading medical examinations upon women. This legislation applied not only to the United Kingdom and France, but also to their overseas colonies.
Originally, prostitution was widely legal in the United States. Prostitution was made illegal in almost all states between 1910 and 1915 largely due to the influence of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union which was influential in the banning of drug use and was also a major force in the prohibition of alcohol. In 1917, the legally defined prostitution district Storyville in New Orleans was closed down by the Federal government over local objections. Prostitution remained legal in Alaska until 1953 (while not yet a U.S. state), and is still legal in some counties of Nevada.
In Asia, there has been a tradition of forcing the women of an occupied land into prostitution, as was the case with Japanese-occupied China and Korea in World War II. These specific women were called “Comfort Women.”
Beginning in the late 1980s, many states increased the penalties for prostitution in cases where the prostitute is knowingly HIV-positive. These laws, often known as felony prostitution laws, require anyone arrested for prostitution to be tested for HIV, and if the test comes back positive, the suspect is then informed that any future arrest for prostitution will be a felony instead of a misdemeanor. Penalties for felony prostitution vary in the states that have such laws, typically with maximum sentences of 10 to 15 years in prison.
There are many different types and methods of prostitution, ranging from simply walking on the street to solicit customers, to the more business-like agencies and escort services, to use of advances in technology, such as the Internet. Also considered prostitution, albeit for radically different reasons, is religious prostitution.
In street prostitution, the prostitute solicits customers while waiting at street corners (sometimes called “the track” by pimps and prostitutes alike), usually dressed in skimpy clothing. Street prostitutes are often called “street walkers” while their customers are referred to as “tricks.” The sex is performed in the customer’s car, in a nearby alley, or in a rented room (motels that service prostitutes commonly rent rooms by the half or full hour).
A “lot lizard” is a commonly-encountered special case of street prostitution. Lot lizards mainly serve those in the trucking industry at truck stops and stopping centers. Prostitutes will often proposition truckers using a CB radio from a vehicle parked in the non-commercial section of a truck stop parking lot, communicating through codes based on commercial driving slang, then join the driver in his truck.
Escort agencies typically advertise in regional publications and even telephone listings. Many maintain websites with photo galleries of the employees. An interested client contacts an agency by telephone and offers a description of what kind of escort they are looking for. The agency will then suggest an employee who might fit that client’s need.
The agency collects the client’s contact information and contacts the escort. Usually, to protect the identity of the escort and ensure effective communication with the client, the agency arranges the appointment. Sometimes it may be up to the escort to contact the client directly to make arrangements for location and time of an appointment. If the agency does not supply transportation to and from the client, the escort is also expected to call the agency upon arrival at the location and again upon leaving to assure his or her safe completion of the booking.
The purpose of these arrangements is to attempt to protect the escort agency (to some degree) from prosecution for breaking the law. If the employee is solely responsible for arranging any illegal aspects of their professional encounter the agency could try to maintain plausible deniability should an arrest be made. However, in practice, the use of undercover police evidence or the use of links to reviews of the agency’s escorts usually results in failure to protect the agency.
Whilst the vast majority of escort agencies are sex related, there are some non-sexual escort agencies, where escorts provide companionship for business and social occasions.
Sex tourism is traveling for the purpose of sexual intercourse with prostitutes or to engage in other sexual activity. The World Tourism Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations, defines sex tourism as “trips organized from within the tourism sector, or from outside this sector but using its structures and networks, with the primary purpose of effecting a commercial sexual relationship by the tourist with residents at the destination.”
Often the term “sex tourism” is mistakenly interchanged with the term “child sex tourism.” A tourist who has sex with a child prostitute possibly commits a crime against international law, in addition to the host country, and the tourist’s country of citizenship. The term “child” is often used as defined by international law and refers to any person below the age of consent.
Popular sex tourism destinations are Brazil, the Caribbean, Thailand, and former eastern bloc countries.
Prostitution and the Internet
In modern times, prostitutes have come to use the Internet to find customers. A prostitute may use adult boards or create a website of their own with contact details, such as email addresses.
Religious or sacred prostitution is the practice of having sexual intercourse (with a person other than one’s spouse) for a religious purpose. A woman engaged in such practices is sometimes called a temple prostitute or hierodule, although modern connotations of the term prostitute cause interpretations of these phrases to be highly misleading.
Sacred prostitution was revered highly among Sumerians and Babylonians. In ancient sources (Herodotus, Thucydides) there are many traces of hieros gamos (holy wedding), starting perhaps with Babylon. A similar type of prostitution was practiced in Cyprus (Paphos) and in Corinth, Greece, where the temple counted more than a thousand prostitutes (hierodules), according to Strabo.
Bernal Diaz del Castillo (sixteenth century), in his The Conquest of New Spain, reported that the Mexica peoples regularly practiced pederastic relationships, and male adolescent sacred prostitutes would congregate in temples. The conquistadores, like most Europeans of the sixteenth century, were horrified by the widespread acceptance of sex between men and youths in Aztec society, and used it as one justification for the extirpation of native society, religion, and culture, and the taking of the lands and wealth; of all customs of the Nahuatl-speaking peoples, only human sacrifice produced a greater disapproval amongst the Spaniards in Mexico. The custom died out with the collapse of the Aztec civilization.
Devadasis (“Servant of God”) are cult prostitutes in the service of the Yellamma, the Hindu goddess of fertility. The term “Devadasi” originally described a Hindu religious practice in which girls were “married” to a deity. In addition to taking care of the temple, they learned and practiced Bharatanatyam and other classical Indian arts traditions, and enjoyed a high social status. Following the demise of the great Hindu kingdoms the practice degenerated. Pressure from the colonial “reform” movement led to suppression of the practice. Adherents of this movement considered devadasis immoral since they engaged in sex outside of the Christian concept of marriage, and described them as prostitutes. As a result of these social changes, devadasis were left without their traditional means of support and patronage.
In modern India the tradition has become associated with commercial sexual exploitation, particularly of children, as described in a recent report by the National Human Rights Commission of the Government of India. According to this report, “after initiation as devadasis, women migrate either to nearby towns or other far-off cities to practice prostitution” (p. 200). The practice of dedicating devadasis was declared illegal by the Government of Karnataka in 1982. and the Government of Andhra Pradesh in 1988. However the practice is still prevalent in around 10 districts of north Karnataka and 14 districts in Andhra Pradesh.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, some religious cults were discovered practicing sacred prostitution as an instrument to recruit new converts. Among them was the alleged cult Children of God/The Family who called this practice “flirty fishing.”
Current issues involving prostitution
At one end of the legal spectrum, prostitution carries the death penalty in some Muslim countries; at the other end, prostitutes are tax-paying unionized professionals in the Netherlands and brothels are legal and advertising businesses there (however, prostitutes must be at least 18 and the age of consent is 16 in other contexts). The legal situation in Germany, Switzerland, and New Zealand is similar to that in the Netherlands. In the Australian state of New South Wales, any person over the age of 18 may offer to provide sexual services in return for money. In Victoria, a person who wishes to run a prostitution business must have a license. Prostitutes working for themselves in their own business, as prostitutes in the business, must be registered. Individual sex workers are not required to be registered or licensed. In some countries the legal status of prostitution may vary depending on the activity.
In Thailand, prostitution is illegal as stated in the Prevention and Suppression Act, B.E. 2539 (1996) In all but two U.S. states, the buying and selling of sexual services is illegal and usually classified as a misdemeanor. Regulated brothels are legal in several counties of Nevada. In Rhode Island, the act of sex for money is not illegal, but street solicitation and operating a brothel are.
In Turkey, street prostitution is illegal though prostitution through government regulated brothels is legal. All brothels must have a license, and all sex workers working in brothels must be licensed as well. Municipality based “Commissions for the struggle against venereal diseases and prostitution” are in charge of issuing such licenses. In Canada, prostitution itself is legal, but most other activities around it are not. It is illegal to live “off the avails” of prostitution (this law is intended to outlaw pimping) and it is illegal (for both parties) to negotiate a sex-for-money deal in a public place (which includes bars). To maintain a veneer of legality, escort agencies arrange a meeting between the escort and the client. A Canadian Supreme Court ruling in 1978 required that to be convicted of soliciting, a prostitute’s activities must be “pressing and persistent.” Similarly, in Bulgaria prostitution itself is legal, but most activities around it (such as pimping) are outlawed. In Brazil and Costa Rica prostitution per se is legal, but taking advantage or profit from others’ prostitution is illegal. Prostitution is legal for citizens in Denmark, but it is illegal to profit from prostitution. Prostitution is not regulated as in the Netherlands; instead, the government attempts through social services to bring people out of prostitution into other careers, and attempts to lessen the amount of criminal activity and other negative effects of prostitution.
Rules vary as to which roles in prostitution are illegal: Being a prostitute, being a client, or being a pimp. In Sweden it is legal to sell sex, but it is illegal to be a pimp, and since 1999 also to buy sexual services. The reason for this law is to protect prostitutes, as many of them have been forced into prostitution by someone or by economic necessity. Prostitutes are generally viewed by the government as oppressed, while their clients are viewed as oppressors. In the case of a prostitute under 18 in the Netherlands, being the client or pimp is illegal, but being the prostitute is not, except if the client is also underage (under 16). Generally, though, in most countries with criminalized prostitution, prostitutes are arrested and prosecuted at a far higher rate than their clients.
There has been long and widespread debate as to whether the toleration of prostitution similar to that seen in the Netherlands and Germany should be extended. Local police forces have historically alternated between zero tolerance of prostitution and unofficial red light districts. Such approaches are often, but not always taken with the stance that prostitution is impossible to eliminate and thus these societies have chosen to regulate it in ways that reduce the more undesirable consequences. Goals of such regulations include controlling sexually transmitted disease, reducing sexual slavery, controlling where brothels may operate and dissociating prostitution from crime syndicates. The Dutch legalization of prostitution has similar objectives, as well as improving health and working conditions for the women and weakening the link between prostitution and criminality.
In 1949, the UN General Assembly adopted a convention stating that forced prostitution is incompatible with human dignity, requiring all signing parties to punish pimps and brothel owners and operators and to abolish all special treatment or registration of prostitutes. The convention was ratified by 89 countries but Germany, the Netherlands and the United States did not participate.
Prostitution of children
Regarding the prostitution of children, the laws on prostitution as well as those on sex with a child apply. If prostitution in general is legal there is usually a minimum age requirement for legal prostitution that is higher than the general age of consent. Although some countries do not single out patronage of child prostitution as a separate crime, the act may also be punishable as sex with a minor.
Some pedophiles use sex tourism to have access to sex with children that is unavailable in their home country. Cambodia has become a notorious destination for such pedophiles. Several western countries have recently enacted laws with extraterritorial reach punishing citizens who engage in sex with minors in other countries. However, these laws are rarely enforced since the crime usually goes undiscovered.
A difficulty in many developed countries is the situation where persons immigrate illegally and work as prostitutes. These people face deportation, and so do not have recourse to the law. Hence there are brothels that may not adhere to the usual legal standards intended to safeguard public health and the safety of the workers.
Violence against prostitutes
Prostitutes are at risk of violent crime, as well as possibly at higher risk of occupational mortality than any other group of women ever studied. For example, the homicide rate for female prostitutes was estimated to be 204 per 100,000, which is several times higher than that for the next riskiest occupations in the United States during a similar period (4 per 100,000 for female liquor store workers and 29 per 100,000 for male taxicab drivers). However, there are substantial differences in rates of victimization between street prostitutes and indoor prostitutes working as escorts, call girls, or in brothels and massage parlors. Perpetrators include violent clients, pimps, and corrupt law enforcement officers.
Prostitutes (particularly those engaging in street prostitution) are also sometimes the targets of serial killers, who may consider them easy targets, or use the religious and social stigma associated with prostitutes as justification for their murder. Being criminals in most jurisdictions, prostitutes are less likely than the law-abiding to be looked for by police if they disappear, making them favored targets of predators. The unidentified serial killer known as Jack the Ripper is said to have killed at least five prostitutes in London in 1888.
Human trafficking and sexual slavery
Trafficking in sex workers is a disturbing, yet popular trend. The men who will pay to have sex with foreign women and underage girls create the market which the traffickers supply. Due to the illegal and underground nature of sex trafficking, the exact numbers of women and children forced into prostitution is unknown. The International Labour Organization in 2005 estimated at least 2.4 million people have been trafficked.
Thousands of children are sold into the global sex trade every year. Often they are kidnapped or orphaned, and sometimes they are actually sold by their own families. According to the International Labour Organization, the problem is especially alarming in Thailand, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Cambodia, Nepal, and India.
Prostitution has often been associated with the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as HIV. However, this is disputed by empirical data. Although prostitutes are not regularly studied as a group by the CDC or other recognized institutions, what has been done suggests that female prostitutes have either HIV rates similar to the population or lower. Nevertheless, intravenous drug using prostitutes carry very high rates of HIV relative to the general population.
Typical responses to the problem are:
- Banning prostitution completely
- Introducing a system of registration for prostitutes that mandates health checks and other public health measures
- Educating prostitutes and their clients to encourage the use of barrier contraception
- Greater interaction with health care
Some think that the first two measures are counter-productive. Banning prostitution tends to drive it underground, making treatment and monitoring more difficult. Registering prostitutes makes the state complicit in prostitution and does not address the health risks of unregistered prostitutes. Both of the last two measures can be viewed as harm reduction policies.
In Australia where sex-work is largely legal, and registration of sex-work is not practiced, education campaigns have been extremely successful and the non-intravenous drug user (non-IDU) sex workers are among the lower HIV-risk communities in the nation. In part, this is probably due both to the legality of sex-work, and to the heavy general emphasis on education in regard to sexually transmitted diseases. Safer sex is heavily promoted as the major means of STD reduction in Australia, and sex education generally is at a high level. Sex-worker organizations regularly visit brothels and home workers, providing free condoms and lubricants, health information, and other forms of support.
The encouragement of safer sex practices, combined with regular testing for sexually transmitted diseases, has been very successful when applied consistently. Prostitution appears to have little effect as a vector of STDs when safer sex practices are applied consistently. However, in countries and areas where safer sex precautions are either unavailable or not practiced for cultural reasons, prostitution appears to be a very active disease vector for all STDs, including HIV/AIDS.
Since most prostitutes are women, prostitution is a significant issue in feminist thought and activism. Some feminists argue that the act of selling sex need not inherently be exploitative, but that attempts to abolish prostitution—and the attitudes that lead to such attempts—lead to an abusive climate for sex workers that must be changed. In the new discourse, the redefinition of prostitution as “sex work” saw the development of the sex worker activism movement, comprising organizations such as the Australian Prostitutes Collective, and COYOTE (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics). COYOTE’s goals include the decriminalization (as opposed to the legalization) of prostitution, pimping and pandering, as well as the elimination of social stigma concerning sex work as an occupation.
Feminists who believe that prostitution is inherently exploitative, such as author Andrea Dworkin, herself an ex-prostitute, have argued that commercial sex is a form of rape enforced by poverty (and often overt violence by pimps). Proponents of this view reject the idea that prostitution can be reformed. They contend that the assumptions that women exist for men’s sexual enjoyment, that all men “need” sex, or that the bodily integrity and sexual pleasure of women is irrelevant underlie the whole idea of prostitution, and make it an inherently exploitative, sexist practice. One argument against Dworkin’s position is that prostitution, insofar as it colludes with the perception of an inherent “need” on the part of men for sexual release, is exploiting men more than it exploits women.
Sweden’s 1999 law forbidding the purchase (but not sale) of sex was a natural extension of this view; the Swedish legal approach represents an attempt to understand prostitution from the prostitute’s point of view, rather than that of the buyer. However, many prostitutes in Sweden have decried the laws targeting clients, as they say the laws just drive the industry further underground and reduce sex workers’ incomes without providing greater safety.
Some jurisdictions have responded to sex worker activism by decriminalizing prostitution. The rationale for these legal reforms has been to extend to sex workers the same health and safety standards that apply to other professions involving close bodily contact, for example dentistry, nursing, or hairdressing.
Governments that have decriminalized or legalized prostitution find that they become a destination for international sex traffic, replacing one set of harms with another.
Studies of prostitution have estimated a mean number of 868 male sexual partners per prostitute per year of active sex work. The length of these prostitutes’ working careers was estimated at a mean of 5 years. However, such studies also suggest that men’s self-reporting of prostitutes as sexual partners is seriously under-reported.
The perceived prevalence of male sex workers is increasing. This may not be a real increase in numbers but possibly simply a more open explicit presence due to the relaxing opinions on homosexuality in the developed world. A number of reports over the last few decades have suggested that prostitution levels have fallen in sexually liberal countries, most likely because of the increased availability of non-commercial, non-marital sex.
Impact on society
The degradation of human sexuality has led to problems throughout history. Adultery, promiscuity, and prostitution, with its accompanying disease and exploitation, lead to untold misery and human alienation. The sexual desires of some members of society has led them to seek others to service them, with those providing the service being treated as second class citizens, or even slaves. While society may be correct in regarding those who sell their bodies as devaluing themselves, in today’s society universal human rights are recognized. Thus, to allow prostitution to continue requires the recognition of prostitutes as legitimate members of society, a status that even those who would argue that prostitution has a valuable role do not necessarily accept since such recognition degrades the rest of society. The alternative, to accept prostitution as necessary but to deny those practicing this service consideration as valuable members of society, entrenches societal hypocrisy.
Notable quotes regarding prostitution
- “Prostitution is the supreme triumph of capitalism. Worst of all, prostitution reinforces all the old dumb clichés about women’s sexuality; that they are not built to enjoy sex and are little more than walking masturbation aids, things to be DONE TO, things so sensually null and void that they have to be paid to indulge in fornication, that women can be had, bought, as often as not sold from one man to another. When the sex war is won prostitutes should be shot as collaborators for their terrible betrayal of all women, for the moral tarring and feathering they give indigenous women who have had the bad luck to live in what they make their humping ground” (Julie Burchill).
- “The women who take husbands not out of love but out of greed, to get their bills paid, to get a fine house and clothes and jewels; the women who marry to get out of a tiresome job, or to get away from disagreeable relatives, or to avoid being called an old maid—these are whores in everything but name. The only difference between them and my girls is that my girls gave a man his money’s worth” (Polly Adler).
- “The profession of a prostitute is the only career in which the maximum income is paid to the newest apprentice. It is the one calling in which at the beginning the only exertion is that of self-indulgence; all the prizes are at the commencement. It is the ever-new embodiment of the old fable of the sale of the soul to the Devil. The tempter offers wealth, comfort, excitement, but in return the victim must sell her soul, nor does the other party forget to exact his due to the uttermost farthing” (William Booth).
- “We say that slavery has vanished from European civilization, but this is not true. Slavery still exists, but now it applies only to women and its name is prostitution” (Victor Hugo).
- “The whore is despised by the hypocritical world because she has made a realistic assessment of her assets and does not have to rely on fraud to make a living. In an area of human relations where fraud is regular practice between the sexes, her honesty is regarded with a mocking wonder” (Angela Carter).