Prostitution is a performance of sexual acts solely for the purpose of material gain. Persons prostitute themselves when they grant sexual favors to others in exchange for money, gifts, or other payment and in so doing use their bodies as commodities. In legal terms, the word prostitute refers only to those who engage overtly in such sexual-economic transactions, usually for a specified sum of money. Prostitutes may be of either sex, but throughout history the majority have been women, who have usually entered prostitution through coercion or under economic stress. II. Preindustrial Societies Prostitution was widespread in preindustrial societies. In the ancient Middle East and India, sexual intercourse with prostitutes was believed to facilitate communion with the gods. In ancient Greece, prostitution flourished on all levels of society. In ancient Rome, prostitution also was common, despite severe legal restrictions. In the Middle Ages (5th century to 15th century), the Christian church, which valued chastity, attempted to convert or rehabilitate individual prostitutes but did not attack the institution itself. By the late Middle Ages, licensed brothels flourished throughout Europe, yielding enormous revenues to government officials and corrupt clergy members. During the 16th century prostitution declined sharply in Europe, largely as a result of stern reprisals by Protestants and Roman Catholics. They condemned its immorality but were also motivated by a connection between prostitution and an outbreak of syphilis, a disease that is often transmitted through sexual contact. III. Industrial Societies In the 18th century most continental European governments controlled prostitution through a system of compulsory registration, licensed brothels, and medical inspection of prostitutes. In Britain and the United States, prostitution flourished openly in urban so-called red-light districts. In time the corruption of licensed prostitution stirred...
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