practice of engaging in sexual relations in exchange for payment
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Prostitution is the sale of sexual services. A person selling sexual services is a prostitute.
- What is comes down to is this: the grocer, the butcher, the baker, the merchant, the landlord, the druggist, the liquor dealer, the policeman, the doctor, the city father and the politician – these are the people who make money out of prostitution, these are the real reapers of the wages of sin.
- Polly Adler, A House is Not a Home (1953), Ch. 9.
- Gender discrimination in much of the world prohibits women from owning property or earning a living wage. To survive these harsh economic realities, many women are forced into prostitution. Paul Farmer, the Harvard physician and anthropologist, has noted that the women he interviewed in Haiti “were straightforward about the nonvoluntary aspect of their sexual activity: in their opinions, poverty had forced them into unfavorable unions. Under such conditions, one wonders what to make of the notion of ‘consensual sex.’”
- Alsan, Marcella (April 2006). "The Church & AIDS in Africa: Condoms & the Culture of Life". ‘’Commonweal: A Review of Religion, Politics, and Culture’’. 133 (8). Archived from the original on 2006-08-21. Retrieved 2006-11-28.
- To you, a prostitute is some kind of beautiful object. You respect her as you do the Mona Lisa, in front of whom you also would not make an obscene gesture. But in so doing, you think nothing of depriving thousands of women of their souls and relegating them to an existence in an art gallery. As if we consort with them so artistically! Are we being honest when we call prostitution "poetic." I protest in the name of poetry. And we are being infinitely smug when, with subjective self-promotion, we believe we are able to endow the prostitute's life with meaning. I would like you to acknowledge the shallow aestheticism of what you write. You yourself do not want to relinquish humanity. Yet you would have us believe that there are people who are objects. You arrogate human dignity to yourself. As for the rest, they are pretty things. And why? So that we have a noble gesture for ignoble deeds.
- Walter Benjamin, Letter to Herbert Belmore, June 23, 1913, in The Correspondence of Walter Benjamin 1910-1940, p. 35
- On the evening of the last day of October, 1501, Cesare Borgia arranged a banquet in his chambers in the Vatican with "fifty honest prostitutes", called courtesans, who danced after dinner with the attendants and others who were present, at first in their garments, then naked. After dinner the candelabra with the burning candles were taken from the tables and placed on the floor, and chestnuts were strewn around, which the naked courtesans picked up, creeping on hands and knees between the chandeliers, while the Pope, Cesare, and his sister Lucretia looked on. Finally, prizes were announced for those who could perform the act most often with the courtesans, such as tunics of silk, shoes, barrets, and other things.
- Cesare Borgia's Diary, as quoted in Johann Burchard, Pope Alexander VI and His Court: Extracts from the Latin Diary of Johannes Burchardus, 1921, F.L. Glaser, ed., New York, N.L. Brown, pp. 154-155
- Prostitution accordingly not only became a tolerated occupation in many medieval communities, but was even treated in some places as a public utility of sorts. In the fourteenth century many towns carried this principle to its logical conclusion and began to build and operate municipal brothels as a means of regulating the sex trade while realizing a profit from it at the same time. Moral ambiguity concerning the prostitution industry long persisted, and the public policy on the matter still remains controversial in Western societies.
Both lawyers and lawgivers typically sought to contain the practice of prostitution by restricting harlots and brothels to specially-designated regions within towns. Municipal statutes, following the decree of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), often required prostitutes to wear distinctive collectors and types of clothing. The rationale that lawmakers usually proposed to explain such regulations was that they would spare respectable women, especially the wives and daughters of established citizens, from the sexual importuning of randy men. This, in turn, was justified as a means to preserve civic peace and harmony. Municipal authorities also attempted in many places to restrict the practice of prostitution to well-defined and usually marginal regions within their towns. Here again they habitually invoked the public good as a reason for these restrictions, although it seems likely that legislation of this sort may also have served the economic and social interests of landlords and property owners in the more salubrious and desirable neighborhoods of the town.
Church leaders and civic authorities alike, moreover, were concerned to provide women who wished to abandon the life of shame with realistic opportunities to do so. Thus, for example Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) early in the thirteenth century reversed a long-standing policy that had prohibited good Christian men from marrying prostitutes. Innocent not merely permitted these marriages, but positively encouraged them and promised spiritual rewards for men who married loose women, provided of course that the husbands of former prostitutes kept close watch over their wives to make sure that they remained sexually faithful and did not return to their wanton ways. The prospect of marrying a reformed prostitute may well have been especially alluring to financially disadvantaged men, since successful strumpets occasionally managed to accumulate tidy dowries from the profits of their trade.
- James A Brundage in “Ch. 2 Sex and Canon Law”; in Vern L. Bullough and James A. Brundage, eds., “Handbook of Medieval Sexuality”, Garland, (1996), p.44
- The thirteenth century likewise witnessed the creation of convents and religious orders of women that provided a haven and a degree of security and chaste companionship for reformed daughters of joy. The most successful of thee religious institutes, the Order of St. Mary Magdalene (whose members were informally known as the White Ladies, established houses in many major European cities and in a surprising number of minor one as well. Such institutions in effect constituted a social security system of sorts for prostitutes who wished to retire from their occupation but required both social and economic support in order to do so.
- James A Brundage in “Ch. 2 Sex and Canon Law”; in Vern L. Bullough and James A. Brundage, eds., “Handbook of Medieval Sexuality”, Garland, (1996), p.45
- Prostitution does injury to the dignity of the person who engages in it, reducing the person to an instrument of sexual pleasure. The one who pays sins gravely against himself: he violates the chastity to which his Baptism pledged him and defiles his body, the temple of the Holy Spirit. Prostitution is a social scourge. It usually involves women, but also men, children, and adolescents (The latter two cases involve the added sin of scandal.). While it is always gravely sinful to engage in prostitution, the imputability of the offense can be attenuated by destitution, blackmail, or social pressure.
- None of the daughters of Israel shall be a kedeshah, nor shall any of the sons of Israel be a kadesh. You shall not bring the hire of a prostitute (zonah) or the wages of a dog (kelev) into the house of the Lord your God to pay a vow, for both of these are an abomination to the Lord your God.
- Deuteronomy 23:17-18
- I can enjoy her while she's kind;
But when she dances in the wind,
And shakes the wings and will not stay,
I puff the prostitute away:
The little or the much she gave is quietly resign'd:
Content with poverty, my soul I arm;
And virtue, though in rags, will keep me warm.
- John Dryden, Imitation of Horace (1685), "On Fortune", Book III, Ode 29, l. 81 - 87.
- Madams moved west as entrepreneurs, and though the New Western history has touched on many topics, the business end of frontier prostitution remains virgin territory, so to speak. Knowledgeable madams first tried the cowtowns of Kansas and then moved west into the mining camps of Colorado. Moving east from San Francisco into the uproar of Virginia City Nevada, madams issues tokens worth from 5 to 50 cent. In the brawling, bustling Western mining camps, according to Mark Twain in his class book “Roughing It”, full jails and hordes of prostitutes were signs of prosperity. He wrote, “Vie flourished luxuriantly during the heyday of our ‘flush times.’ The Saloons were overburdened with custom; so were the police courts, the gambling dens, the brothels and the jails-unfailing signs of prosperity in a mining region-in any region for that matter.”
Why did women seek out the sporting life? Many had been abused or abandoned as children and could not maintain stable relationships, but some women simply wanted a gayer, more exciting life than being a farm wife and mother or being married to the factory floor back east.
- Max Evans, “Madam Millie: Bordellos from Silver City to Ketchikan”, University of New Mexico Press, 2002, p.xii
- Prostitutes are the inevitable product of a society that places ultimate importance on money, possessions, and competition.
- Jane Fonda, in Thomas Kiernan, Jane: An Intimate Biography of Jane Fonda (1970).
- Prostitution, although hounded, imprisoned, and chained, is nevertheless the greatest triumph of Puritanism. It is its most cherished child, all hypocritical sanctimoniousness notwithstanding. The prostitute is the fury of our century, sweeping across the "civilized" countries like a hurricane, and leaving a trail of disease and disaster. The only remedy Puritanism offers for this ill-begotten child is greater repression and more merciless persecution.
- Emma Goldman, Anarchism and Other Essays (1910)
- She whom Luke calls the sinful woman, whom John calls Mary, we believe to be the Mary from whom seven devils were ejected according to Mark. What did these seven devils signify, if not all the vices?
It is clear, that the woman previously used the unguent to perfume her flesh in forbidden acts. What she therefore displayed more scandalously, she was now offering to God in a more praiseworthy manner. She had coveted with earthly eyes, but now through penitence these are consumed with tears. She displayed her hair to set off her face, but now her hair dries her tears. She had spoken proud things with her mouth, but in kissing the Lord’s feet, she now planted her mouth on the Redeemer’s feet. For every delight, therefore, she had had in herself, she now immolated herself. She turned the mass of her crimes to virtues, in order to serve God entirely in penance.
- Pope Gregory the Great (homily XXXIII)
- The foulest Babylonian custom is that which compels every woman of the land to sit in the temple of Aphrodite and have intercourse with some stranger at least once in her life. Many women who are rich and proud and disdain to mingle with the rest, drive to the temple in covered carriages drawn by teams, and stand there with a great retinue of attendants. But most sit down in the sacred plot of Aphrodite, with crowns of cord on their heads; there is a great multitude of women coming and going; passages marked by line run every way through the crowd, by which the men pass and make their choice. Once a woman has taken her place there, she does not go away to her home before some stranger has cast money into her lap, and had intercourse with her outside the temple; but while he casts the money, he must say, “I invite you in the name of Mylitta” (that is the Assyrian name for Aphrodite). It does not matter what sum the money is; the woman will never refuse, for that would be a sin, the money being by this act made sacred. So she follows the first man who casts it and rejects no one. After their intercourse, having discharged her sacred duty to the goddess, she goes away to her home; and thereafter there is no bribe however great that will get her. So then the women that are fair and tall are soon free to depart, but the uncomely have long to wait because they cannot fulfil the law; for some of them remain for three years, or four. There is a custom like this in some parts of Cyprus
- Herodotus, The Histories 1.199, tr A.D. Godley (1920)
- I think it proves that if my business could be made legal, the way off-track betting is in New York, I and women like me could make a big contribution to what Mayor John Lindsay calls Fun City, and the city and state could derive the money in taxes and licensing fees that I pay off to crooked cops and political figures.
- Xaviera Hollander, The Happy Hooker: My Own Story (2002), 253.
- Do you understand, gentlemen, that all the horror is in just this—that there is no horror!
- Aleksandr Kuprin, The Pit, translation by Bernard G. Guerney.
- Prostitution is not a monolith. The newspapers use the plight of the most vulnerable women to symbolize the entire field, ignoring the diversity of the sex-worker community.
- Carol Leigh, quoted in: "Slick S.F. posters advocate decriminalizing prostitution" by Kevin Foley, San Francisco Chronicle, (August 14, 1995).
- Prostitution remained a major topic of social concern. The early, time-honoured view that, like the poor, prostitutes were a fact of life was replaced in the 1840s by a social morality that anathematised sexual licence and especially its public manifestations. Gathering intensity as the urban population rose, and with it the 'circulating harlotry' in the streets, theatres and pleasure gardens, moral panic over prostitution was at its height in the 1850s and early 1860s. In part, this was because it betokened visible female freedom from social control. As daughters, employees or servants, young women were subject to male authority; as whores they enjoyed economic and personal independence. The response was a sustained cultural campaign, in sermons, newspapers, literary and visual art, to intimidate, shame and eventually drive 'fallen women' from the streets by representing them as a depraved and dangerous element in society, doomed to disease and death. Refuges were opened and men like future Prime Minister W. E. Gladstone patrolled at night to persuade girls to leave their life of 'vice'. In actuality, the seldom-voiced truth was that in comparison to other occupations, prostitution was a leisured and profitable trade, by which women improved their circumstances, helped to educate siblings and often saved enough to open a shop or lodging house.
- Jan Marsh, “Sex & Sexuality in the 19th Century”, Victoria and Albert Museum, (2016)
- What I am saying is that truth is usually more complicated than any one perspective can capture. Prostitution is not a monolith. Each woman experiences the profession in a different manner. And nothing can be gained by having different groups of feminists or prostitutes — all of whom are probably telling the truth of their own experiences — attempting to discredit each other.
- Wendy McElroy, "Prostitutes, Anti-Pro Feminists and the Economic Associates of Whores", in: Prostitution: on whores, hustlers, and johns (1999), ed by James Elias.
- A prostitute was forgiven by Allah, because, passing by a panting dog near a well and seeing that the dog was about to die of thirst, she took off her shoe, and tying it with her head-cover she drew out some water for it. So, Allah forgave her because of that.
- Muhammad Bukhari 4:538 This is an extraordinary hadith, because following the Sunnah of Muhammad, prostitutes can be extremely despised figures among most Muslims, yet it expresses the idea that even someone working in one of the most despised of professions, in showing mercy to an animal, can merit the forgiveness of Allah, and the wise.
- [in Kenya]...any woman who is single and has multiple male sex partners is considered to be a prostitute, whether or not money changes hands.
- New Internationalist, Issue 252 - February 1994.
- [in India] Any sexual intercourse outside socially acceptable unions is likely to be regarded as prostitution.
- New Internationalist, Issue 252 - February 1994.
- [In Iran] Under mut'a, it is possible to be 'married' for as little as half an hour.
- New Internationalist, Issue 252 - February 1994.
- Egyptian law states that a man who is caught with a prostitute is not imprisoned; instead, his testimony is used to convict and imprison the prostitute.
- New Internationalist, Issue 252 - February 1994.
- The only way to prevent prostitution altogether would be to imprison one half of the human race.
- Isabel Paterson, The God of the Machine (1943).
- Because “marriageable” women had to be virgins, American men at the end of the 19th century commonly turned to brothels and “red light districts” for sexual pleasure with “unmarriageable” women. So many new husbands unknowingly brought sexually transmitted infections to their brides on their wedding nights that the birthrate plummeted, especially among the middle class.
- Planned Parenthood, “A History of Birth Control Methods “, p.10
- Who are prostitutes? Ideas seem to lurch between contradictory stereotypes, perhaps unsurprisingly for a group more often spoken about than to. Much as immigrants are seen as lazy scroungers while somehow also stealing the jobs of "decent people", sex workers are simultaneously victim and accomplice, sexually voracious yet helpless maidens.
- Sex workers - not journalists, politicians, or the police - are the experts on sex work. We bring our experiences of criminalisation, rape, assault, intimate partner abuse, abortion, mental illness, drug use and epistemic violence with us in our organising and our writing. We bring the knowledge we have developed through our deep immersion in sex worker organising spaces - spaces of mutual aid, spaces that are working towards collective liberation.
- It is very difficult to prevent anyone from selling sex through criminal law. Criminalisation can make it more dangerous, but there is little the state can do to physically curtail a person's capacity to sell or trade sex. Thus, prostitution is an abiding strategy for survival for those who have nothing - no training, qualifications, or equipment. There are almost no prerequisites for heading out to the streets and waiting for a client. Survival sex work may be dangerous, cold, and frightening- but for people whose other options are worse (hunger, homelessness, drug withdrawal) it's there as a last resort: the "safety net" onto which almost any destitute person can fall. This explains the indomitable resilience of sex work.
- Criminalising the prostitute is rooted in disgust and hatred - entangled with misogyny, racism, and fear of the visibly queer or diseased body. These coalesce into the belief that the prostitute is a threat who must be warded off through punishment.
- Criminalising sex work isn't working. At its core, exchanging sex for money - like migrancy, drug use, and abortion - is a legitimate and pragmatic human response to specific needs. Prohibiting it produces evasiveness and risk-taking among sex workers, driving them into the margins and exposing them to even more harm.
- The Iceberg Slim story revolves around a sex worker at the natural end of her career, and her pimp, who goes to great lengths to force her, his best earner, into further years of indentured servitude. He stages a death and pins the blame on her, the guilt and shame breaking her spirit. Only her pimp can offer her salvation, and the only way to repay that debt is to keep working.
- Dave Schilling, "A Close Read of the Pimp Story Dave Chappelle Tells in The Bird Revelation", Vulture, (Jan 3, 2018).
- When we see a woman bartering beauty for gold, we look upon such a one as no other than a common prostitute; but she who rewards the passion of some worthy youth with it, gains at the same time our approbation and esteem. It is the very same with philosophy: he who sets it forth for public sale, to be disposed of to the highest bidder, is a sophist, a public prostitute.
- Xenophon, Memorabilia, 1.6.11, T. Stanley, trans., p. 535.
- Prostitution & The Law - The Facts, New Internationalist Magazine (February 1994), No. 252.