Prostitution Term Paper

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Prostitution in a broad aspect, is a relatively indiscriminate sexual exchange made for material gain. Individuals prostitute themselves when they grant sexual access for money, gifts, or other payment and in so doing uses their body in commodity. In legal terms the word prostitute refers only to those who "engage frequently and overly in such sexual-economic exchanges" (Britannica Encyclopedia Online). Prostitution differed in pre-industrial societies compared to industrial societies. In each period of time attitudes and control towards prostitution differ.

The majority of prostitutes throughout history have been women. This reflects both the traditional socioeconomic dependence of women, and the tendency to objectify female sexuality. Although prostitution has often been characterized as "the worlds oldest (female) profession"(Bricanica), the concept of women as property, which prevailed in most cultures until the end of the 19th century, meant that the profits of the profession most often accrued to men who controlled it. Men have been traditionally characterized as the procurers and customers of prostitutes.

Prostitution in various forms have existed from earliest times. It is reflected on the economic, social, and sexual values of society. It has been secular or under the guise of religion. In some societies prostitution was believed to assure the preservation of marriage and the family. Women have usually entered prostitution through coercion or under psychological and economic stress. In most societies prostitutes generally have had low social status and a restricted future because their sexual service was disapproved and considered self-destructive.

Prostitution was wide spread in pre-industrial societies. The renting or exchange of wives by their husbands was a practice among many primitive communities. The ancient Middle East and India temples maintained large numbers of male and female prostitutes. Sexual intercourse with them was believed to facilitate communion with the temple gods. In ancient Greece prostitution flourished on all levels of society. Prostitutes of the lowest levels worked in licensed brothels and were required to wear distinctive clothing as a badge of their vocation. Prostitutes of the next higher level usually were skilled dancers and singers. Those of the highest level, "the hetaerae"(Symposium and Hetarae), kept salons where politicians met, and they often attained power and influence.

In ancient Rome prostitution was common despite severe legal restrictions. Women slaves, captured abroad by the Roman legions, were impressed into urban brothels or exploited by owners in the households they served. The Roman authorities attempted to limit the spread of slave prostitution and often resorted to harsh measures. Brothel inmates were forced to register with the government for life, to wear garish blond wigs and other distinctive raiment, to forfeit all civil rights, and to pay a heavy tax. In the Middle Ages the Christian Church, which valued chasity, attempted to convert or rehabilitate individual prostitutes but refrained from campaigning against the institution itself. The church followed the teachings of Saint Augustine, who held that the elimination of prostitution would breed even worse forms of immorality and perversion because men would continue to seek sexual out side of marriage. By the late Middle Ages, prostitution had reached a high point in Western history. Licensed brothels flourished throughout Europe, yielding enormous revenues to government officials and corrupt churchmen. In Asia, where women were held in low esteem and there was no religious deterrent, prostitution was accepted as natural.

During the 16th century prostitution declined sharply in Europe, largely as the result of stern reprisals by Protestants and Catholics. They condemned immorality of brothels and their inmates, but they were also motivated by the perception of a connection between prostitution and an outbreak of Syphilis, a previously unknown venereal disease. Brothels in many cities were closed by authorities. Once again, women were bound into the private sphere. Women who were out of place of this sphere were believed to be acting outside of their traditional roles and this symbolized the general disorder of society. Under a typical ordinance, enacted in Paris in 1635, prostitutes were "flogged, shaved bald, and exiled for life without formal trial"(Britannica).

These harsh strictures did not, however, eradicate prostitution and venereal disease. Gradually it became obvious that these ills were increasing, especially in the large, crowded cities that accompanied the industrialization of the West. Syphilis is one of the most serious venereal diseases afflicting men. It is known for its tissue destruction and inflation of almost any organ of the body. Most authorities believe that Syphilis was introduced into Europe by infected seamen returning from the first expedition to America of Cristopher Columbus. Religious organizations developed a nationwide campaign against both the immorality of prostitution and its relationship to disease.

Women could not find lasting equality in the churches. This was a result of the Protestant and Catholic reformations. Hugh Latimer, the 16th century English Protestant, reasserted this traditional view:

"A women is frail, and proclive unto all evils: a woman is a very weak vessel, and many soon deceive a man and bring him into evil."

(A History Of Their Own 254)

In the 17th century, the male leaders of the Christian sects centralized their beliefs and institutionalized their relationships with their followers. This reflected the earlier patterns restraining women by the use of consolidation and regulations.

Women out of control were seen as a danger to men. For if a women was out of place, acting apart from her established position, it symbolized disorderliness. In the 13th century Thomas Aquinas had argued that:

"For good order would have been wanting in the human family if were not governed by others wiser then themselves. So by such a kind of subjection woman is naturally subject to man, because naturally in man that discretion of reason predominates"

(A History of Their Own 254).

Men received more privileges and were taken more seriously then women.. Woman were believed to be passive, unreasonable and socially a material possession. Luther explains this in his lectures on Genesis:

"It is evident therefore that woman is a different animal to man, not only having different members, but also being weaker in intellect. But although Eve was a noble creation…she was none the less a woman. For as the sun is more splendid then the moon… so also a woman, although the most beautiful handiwork of God, does not equal the dignity and glory of the male"

(A History Of Their Own 254).

Prostitution has evolved through history of mankind in many forms and practices. The most constant variable through this history is the opinion that females were weaker, and lower then men. This misconception was also attributed to the male practice of objectifying women. These values reflected on the persecution of prostitutes. Attitudes toward prostitution were based on the "Christian" view of "immorality", rather than any basic knowledge of the operation or origin of the profession.


Work cited

"Prostitution". Accessed November 11, 1999

Katz, Marilyn. "Symposium and Hetaerae" Accessed November 11, 1999

Anderson S. Bonnie & Zinsser P. Judith. A History Of Their Own, Women in Europe. New York: Harper & Roe Publishers, 1988

Work Consulted

Gies, Frances & Gies, Joseph. Women In The Middle Ages. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1978

Brock R. Deborah. Making Work, Making Trouble. Toronto: Unniversity Of Toronto Press, 1998


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