Prostitution is the sale of sexual services (typically manual stimulation, oral sex, sexual intercourse, or anal sex) for money or other kind of return, generally indiscriminately with many persons. A person selling sexual favors is a prostitute, a type of sex worker. In a more general sense of the word, anyone selling their services for a cause thought to be unworthy can be described as prostituting themselves.
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 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 bureaucrats' term and an unnecessary euphemism for something not in need of euphemisms. The term sexual service provider is becoming the label of choice in Australia. See also: call girl, courtesan, escort.
Male prostitutes offering their services to male customers are called "escorts", "hustlers", "rent boys", "punks" (US), "trade", or "boy toys". Male prostitutes offering services to female customers are comparatively rare and are known as "escorts" or "gigolos".
The term prostitution is sometimes used in the more general meaning of having sex in order to achieve a certain goal different from procreation or pleasure. This includes forms of religious prostitution in which sex is practiced in compliance with religious precepts. Prostitution in this broader sense is also used in espionage. Arguably, it frequently occurs in normal marriages as well.
Another generalization is using the term or an equivalent to mean any form of earning well in an unscrupulous degrading manner, e.g. quote whore, media whore , karma whore, XP whore. The term pimp is also sometimes similarly used figuratively, as in poverty pimp.
Types of prostitution
Prostitution today occurs in various different settings.
- In street prostitution the prostitute solicits customers while waiting at street corners or walking alongside a street.
- Prostitution can also take place in the prostitute's apartment and in many countries this is the only legal form of prostitution. A hybrid between brothel and apartment prostitution exists in Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands: female prostitutes rent tiny one-room apartments in red-light districts and solicit customers from behind windows.
- Prostitution occurs in some massage parlors and in Asian countries in some barber shops where sexual services may be offered for an additional tip.
- Brothels are establishments specifically dedicated to prostitution, often confined to special red-light districts in big cities. Other names for brothels include Bordello, Whorehouse and Cathouse. Historical and rarer slang terms for brothels include bordel (from the French), Bovril, case (compare Spanish casa or Italian casa chiusa), common-house*, creep, crib, dress-house, drum, flash-house, flesh-shambles, gaff, harlot-house, hook shop, hot house*, house of ill/evil repute/fame, house of accommodation, house of assignation, joy-house, juke, kip, knocking-shop, leaping house, lupanar (from Latin), maison close (French closed house), maison de passe (house of passage), maison tolérée (tolerated house, i.e. licensed), massage parlour, meat house, moll-shop, notch-house, nunnery*, panel-house, parlour-house, peg house, picked hatch*, public house, rap club, rib-joint, slaughter-house, smuggling-ken, sporting-house, stew, trugging house/place, vaulting house, warren and whore-shop/sty. (* used by Shakespeare) Many of these are or originated as euphemisms, and their variety is affected in part by the euphemism treadmill.
- In escort or out-call prostitution, the customer calls an agency and the act takes place at the customer's place of residence or more commonly at his hotel room. This form of prostitution often shelters under the umbrella of escort agencies, who supply attractive escorts for social occasions. While some escort agencies provide non-sexual services only, many turn a blind eye to escorts who provide additional sexual services or actively encourage them. Alternately, an escort may work independantly of an agency and place advertisements in newspapers and magazines for his or her own services. Even where this prostitution is legal, the euphemistic term "escort service" is common. See call girl.
Many prostitutes are also drug addicts who use prostitution to pay for their habit. 'High class' prostitution can be extremely lucrative.
In many countries, illegal immigrants work in prostitution, sometimes against their will and generally in circumstances such that they feel they have no other choice. Often these prostitutes are kept in financial debt by the brothel owners, who charge them for their travel and other costs. The arrangement may be such that the prostitutes can never earn enough to pay off the debt. The term used for forcing people into prostitution is "sexual slavery".
In addition to the first world, this also takes place in countries of South Asia such as India and Thailand, where young girls are sometimes sold to brothel owners. In modern day Thailand and India this is becoming much rarer.
While in both of these societies visiting prostitutes is a common and almost normal behavior, Thailand is also a destination of sex tourists, travellers from rich countries in search of cheap sexual services. Other popular sex tourism destinations are Brazil, the Caribbean, and former eastern bloc countries.
Female prostitutes, especially street prostitutes, are commonly associated with a pimp, a man who lives off the proceeds of several prostitutes and may offer some protection in return. The relationship between pimp and prostitute is often abusive. In areas where legal restrictions on prostitution are greatest, the power of pimps over prostitutes can actually be increased by the illegality of prostitution. For example, in Finland, the immigration law allows the state to deport immigrants suspected of prostitution without a trial; thus in cases of physical abuse by the pimps, the prostitutes cannot even resort to the police.
There are other commercial sexual activities that are generally not classified as prostitution. These include acting and modeling for pornographic materials, even if this involves engaging in sexual intercourse; exotic dancing, which is naked, sexually provocative acting (sometimes involving masturbation) without physical contact with the customer; lap dancing, where the dancer may come into contact with the customer in sexually provocative but strictly limited ways; and the services of professional dominants.
In the case California v. Freeman, the California Supreme Court ruled that adult film makers could not be prosecuted under state laws against prostitution.
In street prostitution, the prostitute solicits customers while waiting at street corners or walking alongside a street, usually dressed in skimpy, suggestive clothing. Often the prostitute appears to mind his or her own business and waits for the customer to initiate contact. The act is performed in the customer's car or in a nearby rented room. This is the lowest-paid and most dangerous form of prostitution; street prostitutes are often drug addicts and are commonly subjected to violence by both their pimps and customers. Street prostitutes are also often too illiterate to get or keep traditional employment.
Street prostitutes may or may not have a pimp.
Pimps justify taking a proportion of the prostitute's earnings by claiming they protect prostitutes from dangerous clients. In reality prostitutes are often at more risk from the pimps themselves.
Pimps often target vulnerable women and young girls who have run away from home, initially offering themselves as lovers or father-figures. After introducing their victims to prostitution, they often encourage drug addiction to maintain their victim's dependency and use beatings to assert their control. Pimps are also commonly low-echelon drug dealers.
See also main article at Call girl.
Those who work for an escort agency may obtain the position by responding to an employment advertisement, usually placed in a regional newspaper. Escort agencies maintain a database or "stable" of employees of different types in order to cater to a wider client base. (Some agencies may specifically cater to a certain type of prostitute, such as "all-Asian".) There are both male-for-male and female-for-male escort agencies; rarely are both genders available from one agency, and there are practically no male-for-female agencies. Usually transexual prostitutes are made available by male-for-male agencies.
Typically escort agencies advertise in regional publications and even telephone listings like the Yellow Pages. Many of them maintain websites with photo galleries of their employees. An interested client would contact the agency by telephone and offer a description of what kind of escort they are looking for. The agency will then suggest an employee who might fit the client's need.
The client's contact information is then taken down, and the agency calls the escort in question. It is then up to the escort to directly contact the client via telephone to make arrangements for an appointment. It is during this telephone call that details of the business arrangement are discussed—i.e., whether or not (and what) sex acts will be incorporated into the "date". The escort then makes a call to the agency to confirm the appointment's location and time. Generally the escort is also expected to call the agency upon arrival at the location, and upon leaving, to assure his or her safety.
The purpose of these details is 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 can maintain plausible deniability should an arrest be made.
The amount of money that is made by an escort is different depending on gender, service rendered and location. Generally male escorts make less than women, and women make less than transexuals. For point of reference, the gay escort agency "TOPPS", based in Washington, D.C., charges $150 an hour for male escorts, and $250 an hour for transexuals. The agency takes $50 per hour from the employee.
Legality of selling sex
The basic act of exchanging money for sex among adults is legal in most countries. However, it is illegal in the United States (except for ten counties in the state of Nevada), India, some Muslim and various Communist countries.
At one end of the legal spectrum, prostitution carries the death penalty in some Muslim countries; at the other end, prostitutes are tax-paying and unionized professionals in the Netherlands and brothels are legal and advertising businesses there (however, prostitutes must be at least 18, while for non-commercial sex the age of consent is 16). The legal situation in Germany and New Zealand is almost as liberal as in the Netherlands; see prostitution in the Netherlands, prostitution in Germany and prostitution in New Zealand.
In most countries, it is almost impossible to engage in most forms of prostitution legally because surrounding activities such as advertising, solicitation, pimping, as well as, owning, operating, or working in a brothel are illegal, even though the act of prostitution itself may be legal.
Rules vary as to which roles in prostitution are illegal: being a prostitute, being a client, or being a pimp. Sweden outlaws the buying, but not the selling of sex. 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).
Establishments engaged in sexual slavery or owned by organized crime are the highest priority targets of law enforcement actions against prostitution. Police also frequently intervene when prompted by local resident complaints. In most countries where prostitution is illegal, at least some forms of it are tolerated. It has been alleged that this situation allows the police to extort money or services from prostitutes in exchange for "looking the other way".
Pimping is a sex crime in almost all jurisdictions.
In 1949, the United Nations adopted a convention stating that 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 with the notable exceptions of Germany, the Netherlands and the United States.
Some municipalities in the Netherlands would like a "zero policy" for brothels, i.e. not allow any, on moral grounds, but by law this is not possible. However, regulations, including restrictions in number and location are common. Whether a zero policy on urban planning grounds is allowed is still unclear.
In countries where prostitution is legal, advertising it may be legal (as in the Netherlands) or illegal (as in Germany). In countries where prostitution is illegal, advertising it is usually also illegal.
Covert advertising for prostitution can take a number of forms:
- by cards in newsagents' windows
- by cards placed in public telephone enclosures: so-called tart cards
- by euphemistic advertisements in regular magazines and newspapers (for instance, talking of "massages" or "relaxation")
- in specialist contact magazines
- via the World Wide Web
Such approaches are taken with the recognition 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 and controlling where brothels may operate.
The Dutch legalisation of prostitution has similar objectives, as well as improving health and working conditions for the women and weakening the link between prostitution and criminality.
Daily Planet is a brothel in Melbourne, Australia whose shares have been listed on the Australian Stock Exchange since 2003. There are various regulatory regimes governing prostitution in Australia and a level of increasing professionalism is being seen in the industry with the establishment of business associations like the Queensland Adult Business Association that ascribe to a strict ethical code which entrenches the independence of service providers.
For child prostitution the laws on prostitution as well as those on sex with a child apply. If prostitution in general is legal there may be a minimum age requirement for legal prostitution that is higher than the general age of consent (see above for some examples). There are about one million child prostitutes in China.
Sex tourism is tourism, partially or fully for the purpose of having sex, usually with prostitutes. Sex tourism destinations are typically poor countries, where poverty drives people into prostitution. Some paedophiles use sex tourism to have access to sex with children that is unavailable in their home country. Most countries with a major sex tourism industry are working on attempting to reduce or eliminate sex tourism.
Several western countries have recently enacted laws punishing citizens who, as sex tourists, engage in sex with minors in other countries. These laws are rarely enforced since the crime often goes undiscovered.
These responses to the problem are typical:
- 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 and 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.
The encouragement of safer sex practices, combined with regular testing for sexually transmitted diseases, has been very successful when applied consistently.
Roughly speaking, the possible attitudes are:
abolition: "prostitution should be made to disappear"
- "prostitution is immoral and prostitutes and their clients should be prosecuted": the prevailing attitude in the United States and Muslim countries;
- "prostitution is a sad reality of exploitation of the prostitutes, especially women, but prostitutes should not be criminalized":
- "the clients of prostitutes exploit the prostitutes": prostitutes are not prosecuted, but their clients are prosecuted;
- prostitution is legal, but discouraged, while pimping is prohibited, the current situation in France among others;
- regulation: prostitution may be considered a legitimate business, or at least an unavoidable evil; prostitution and the employment of prostitutes are legal, but regulated (with respect to health etc... concerns).
- legalization: "prostitution is a victimless crime, and should be made completely legal so that it is no longer an underground activity, allowing the normal checks and balances of society and existing laws to apply"
In some countries, there is controversy regarding the laws applicable to prostitution. For instance, the legal stance of punishing pimping while keeping prostitution legal, but "underground" and risky, is often denounced as hypocritical; opponents suggest either going the full abolition route and criminalize clients, either making prostitution a regulated business.
Many countries have sex worker advocacy groups which lobby against criminalization and discrimination of prostitutes. These groups generally oppose Nevada-style regulation and oversight, stating that prostitution should be treated like other professions.
Other groups, often with religious backgrounds, focus on offering women a way out of the world of prostitution while not taking a position on the legal question.
The feminist position towards prostitution is divided. Some theorize prostitution as an act of sexual self-determination, decry discrimination and demand destigmatization and decriminalization; women are supposed to be adults who can choose what they wish to do with their bodies. In that view, the moral prohibition of prostitution is just mere masked patriarchal moralism, with a traditional view of considering women to be incapable of making decisions for themselves. Others, exemplified by the American radical feminist and ex-prostitute Andrea Dworkin, consider it to be sexual abuse or even rape; the prostitutes are then victims, which must be protected from the abuse of the clients and pimps. The former group pushed a law reform in Germany, resulting in January 2002 in the recognition of prostitution as a regular profession, making it possible for prostitutes to join the social security and health care system and to form trade unions. The latter faction of feminists was able in Sweden in 1999 to implement the law outlawing the buying of sexual favors but not the selling.
Prostitution, as one folk saying goes, is "the oldest profession in the world". One of the first forms is sacred prostitution, supposedly practiced among Sumerians. In ancient sources (Herodotus, Thucydides) there are many traces of sacred prostitution, starting perhaps with Babylon, where each woman had to reach, once in their lives, the sanctuary of Militta (Aphrodites or Nana/Anahita) and there have sex with a foreigner as a sign of hospitality for a symbolic price.
A similar type of prostitution was practiced in Cyprus (Paphus) and in Corinth, where the temple counted more than a thousand prostitutes (hierodules), according to Strabo. It was widely in use in Sardinia and in some of the Phoenician cultures, usually in honour of the goddess ‘Ashtart. Presumably by the Phoenicians, this practice was developed in other ports of the Mediterranean Sea, like in Erice (Sicily), in Locri Epizephiri, Croton, Rossano Vaglio, Sicca Veneria and other towns. Other hypothesis regard Asia Minor, Lydia, Syria and Etruscans.
In the Bible there are many stories about common (non-sacred) prostitution, with also a case (Tamar) of a false prostitute that commits incest with her father-in-law (Judah). In Jericho, a prostitute named Rahab assisted Israelite spies and was spared from death when the Israelites invaded. Salmon, son of Nahshon, married Rahab, making her an ancestor of King David.
In ancient Greek society, prostitutes were independent and sometimes influential women who were required to wear distinctive dresses and had to pay taxes. Some similarities have been found between the Greek Hetaera and the Japanese Geisha, complex figures that are perhaps in an intermediate position between prostitution and courtisanerie. Some prostitutes in ancient Greece, such as Lais were as famous for their company as their beauty, and some of these women charged extraordinary sums for their services.
In Greece, Solon instituted the first of Athens' brothels (oik`iskoi) in the 6th century BC, and with the earnings of this business he built a temple dedicated to Aprodites Pandemo (or Qedesh), patron goddess of this commerce. The greek word for prostitute is porne, derived from the verb pernemi (to sell), with the evident modern evolution. The procuring was however severely forbidden.
Each specialised 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), the gephyrides, who worked near the bridges. In the 5th 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. The rare pictures describe that sex was performed on beds with covers and pillows, while triclinia usually didn't have these accessories.
In ancient Rome, while there were some commonalities with the Greek system, as the Emprire grew prostitutes were often foreign slaves, caught, bought, or raised for that purpose, sometimes by large-scale "prostitue farmers". Enslavement into prostiution was sometimes used as a legal punishment against criminal free women. Life expectancy for prostitutes was generally low, but some managed to get free and establish themselves e.g. as folk doctors.
In Late Antiquity the influential church father Augustine of Hippo argued that while prostitution was an evil, it was a social necessity in any earthly society which always included many non-believers, and that outlawing it would cause all sorts of evils, like increased jealousy and many disrupted marriages.
Throughout the Middle Ages, prostitution flourished in Europe and brothels were often operated by municipalities. The outbreak of sexually transmitted diseases in the 16th century and the Reformation led to stricter controls.
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 woman didn't wear them. Ancient codes regulated in this case the crime of a prostitute that dissimulated her profession. In some cultures, prostitutes were the sole women allowed to sing in public or act in theatrical performances.
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 Women's Christian Temperance Union which was influential in the banning of drug use and was 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, and still is legal in some counties of Nevada. 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, with maximum sentences of typically 10 to 15 years in prison.
In the animal kingdom
In 1998 Dr. Fiona Hunter (of Cambridge University in the UK) and Dr. Lloyd Davis (of the University of Otago in New Zealand) reported that they had observed female penguins trading sexual favours with single male penguins for stones (necessary for nest-building) on Ross Island. When penguins take a mate, they are usually monogamous. All the female penguins who exchanged sex for stones did it behind the backs of their male partners who apparently never caught their mates in flagrante delicto.
Stones for nest-building are in short supply on Ross Island. This scarcity may be one of the motivations for some of the small percentage of female penguins who go on the game. However, Dr. Hunter believes that other factors may also be involved, especially since the female may only take a couple of stones in payment for her services even though hundreds may be required to build a nest. The females could be assessing the potential of single males in case their mate dies, for example. For the single male penguins, it is speculated that their only motivation is their own pleasure.
This is believed to be the first time prostitution has been recorded in the animal kingdom. Trading sex for food etc. within a relationship between animals is, however, much more common.
- hierodule, Religious prostitution
- Sex, Sexual intercourse, Human sexual behavior, Sexually transmitted disease
- Sex industry, Sex worker, Professional dominant, Courtesan, Hetaera, Geisha, Rentboy, Call girl, Go-go dancer/boy, Pimp/Madame, Consensual crime
- Red-light district, Street prostitution, Prostitution in Nevada, Prostitution in New Zealand, Prostitution in the Netherlands, Victorian era, Jack the Ripper, Molly house, List of famous prostitutes
- Prostitution in Germany, Atlantis (brothel) (large German brothel)
- Drug addiction, Sexual slavery, Debt bondage, Comfort women, White slavery, Sex crime, Joy Division (World War II), Recreation and Amusement Association
- Feminism, Sexually liberal feminism
External links and references
- The UN Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (1949)
- http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/33.htm Full text
- http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/treaty11a.htm Status of ratifications, reservations and declarations
- Anti-Prostitution Site: Argues that all prostitution is harmful
- Prostitute's Education Network: American prostitutes' rights organization, aims for decriminalization. Links to sex worker's rights organizations in other countries
- Website supporting sex work as as a legitimate profession
- Piet den Blanken: The Prostitution Pictures, photographs of streetwalkers and brothels around the world
- 50 Tips for Prostitutes: Helpful hints to The Working Person, by Jahnet de Light, (British)
- World Sex Guide Report Archives
- U.S. DOJ guide to street prostitution
- FBI press release: Twelve pimps sentenced for prostituting children
- BBC News: Pick up a penguin
- John Preston : HUSTLING, A Gentlemen's Guide to the Fine Art of Homosexual Prostitution, Masqueade Books, New Jork, 1994
- Néstor Osvaldo Perlongher: O negócio do michê, prostituição viril am Sao Paulo, 1.a edição 1987, editora brasiliense
- Ine Vanwesenbeeck (2001), "Another decade of social scientific work on sex work: A review of research 1990-2000", Annual Review of Sex Research, 12, p. 242
- Sexual Freedom Coalition guide to UK prostitution law