Historical Aspects of Prostitution

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Prostitution is commonly known as the “world’s oldest profession”. Throughout history, it has existed in one form or another. Before the dawn of civilization, acts that might be considered prostitution may have occurred when early man ‘paid’ for sexual favors with a bit of special food, or some object or trinket desired by the woman. One of the oldest known forms of prostitution was connected with religion, as ‘sacred.’ Some say that it originated in the Orient around 300 B.C., and still exists there today. In ancient Greece, a respectable woman was required to prostitute herself at least once to a total stranger, to become eligible for marriage. They did it in the temple of Aphrodite or Astarte. If the woman was unattractive, she sometimes waited in the temple for months or even years before getting a willing man to ‘free’ her from her obligation! In Babylon, priestesses of the temples gave sex for pay and were always treated with the utmost respect and even with reverence. Prostitution also flourished in cities like Rome, Naples, Venice, Florence and Bologna Italy. In most Italian cities, whores congregated in taverns and baths. Magistrates even set up a brothel and invited foreign harlots to work there to keep down sodomy in the young men, and adultery in women. But one of the most incredible and remarkable aspects of Renaissance prostitution was the emergence of Courtesans. These courtesans lived in lavish dwellings, accumulated large fortunes, and set styles and trends, such as the wearing of lipstick and dying the hair blonde. Lipstick was supposed to make the mouth resemble a vulva, and was first worn by women who specialized in oral stimulation of the penis. In early America, there was prostitution, but the need was somehow diminished because of the presence of slaves, who were maintained as concubines, others put in brothels. Although there is a form of prostitution known as sexual slavery, many slaves - Indian, black and white (indentured servants) - willingly provided promiscuous sex and were also considered prostitutes because of individual motivation. There are many reasons women became prostitutes. The first reason is the most popular reason, and that is for the ‘economic rewards’. Even when prostitution was forced upon a woman, there was some reward involved; even if that reward was the aforementioned morsel of food, or favor from one’s master, in the cases of slaves and servants. The looming threat of starvation propelled some, if not most into a life of prostitution. Economic factors have been emphasized for a long time when people try to explain why some women became prostitutes: The hypothesis that many or most prostitutes are forced into ‘the life’ by poverty (want of essentials) supplanted an earlier, also economic, theory that women entered “the life” mainly because of “luxuriousness” (want of luxuries). Of course, it has always been recognized that some women become prostitutes for one reason, some for another. We speak here of a predominant motivation. (Masters) In 1858, there was a study of two thousand prostitutes in New York House of Correction on Blackwell Island conducted by Sanger that found only fifteen percent of the prostitutes said they were ‘seduced’ into a life of prostitution. Most of the women said they just wanted and ‘easy life’ or too lazy to work.

Some say that the opportunity for adventure and what is regarded by the prostitute as excitement and glamour have both been deciding factors. For example, the Chinese prostitute that came to California in 1848 during the gold rush was “characterized by individual initiative and enterprise”. (Cheng, Women And Power) They had to save up money to get here, so it is more than likely they were prostitutes before they arrived. Money was the major influence of the Chinese prostitute, as many of them came, made a lot of money, then went back and established businesses....
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