The oldest female profession, you say? That would be wholly incorrect, dear reader. In Sumeria, where prostitution was first recorded as a profession way back in 2400 BCE, a significant number of prostitutes were male.
You see, what we know, and think, about prostitution today is a far cry from its origins way back when the world didn’t have intergalactic billionaires or the absurdity that is Meta and the universe of NFTs. It is true that many a harlot of yesteryear were oftentimes seen as much more than skanky streetwalkers or high-class hookers.
In fact, there once was a time when sacred prostitution was commonly practiced in the hallowed halls of temples and shrines from Canaan and Phoenicia to Greece and the Ancient Near East. Inanna, the Mesopotamian goddess of love, beauty, sex, war and justice was just one of the many gods and goddesses to whom mere mortal humans would swap x-rated cuddles for cold hard cash in the name of reverent homage.
It was only when the Christians came in that the prostitute praising parade was rained on.
Even so, many different cultures kept up the mantle of revering people of the night in some form or another and I am not just talking about sex-hungry footballers out on the lash. In the 19th century, Indian prostitution was a symbol of high culture in elite circles and the greatest artists to come out of Paris in the same century owe much of their muse to the men and, admittedly mostly women, for hire who embodied glamour, beauty, and sophistication.
Prostitution and the Rise and Fall of Empires
Prostitution has not sat idly by on the fringes of history while civilizations have risen and fallen. Wherever there has been a battlefield, a brothel or two has supported the military efforts of both enemy and ally alike.
From the Hundred Years’ War, the Napoleanic wars, and the Opium Wars to the modern Great Wars, Vietnam and Korea- men have kept the company of women for hire, sometimes even with the express intent of getting a sexually transmitted disease.
During both World War One and World War Two, a bout of syphilis would keep a soldier confined to the infirmary, and far from the frontline, for a minimum of 30 days. Sex working women known for having syphilis were sometimes paid a pretty penny more for the privilege of venereal disease, even if only for a month’s respite from the horrors of the battlefield.
While ordinary servicemen were relegated to the commoners operating sexual sweatshops… the higher-ranking officials entertained a different class of woman. The higher the rank, the more refined the lady. However, no woman wielded as much secret divulging potential power as the kept mistress of senior military commanders and everything was done to ensure these women remained happy and loyal to their benefactors.
Every civilization known to man has had its fingers in the proverbial prostitution pie, however, as we know, the profession is not purely littered with the likes of the Mata Hari, Mary Boleyn (the sinful sister of the infamous Anne), and Marilyn Monroe, who famously entertained Hollywood producers and executives for $500 a day. The profession has always attracted men and women from every walk of life.
From the most sophisticated to the epitome of the downtrodden.
The Not So Sweet Side of Sexual Servitude
It would be a terrible injustice to gloss over all the devastating not-so-beautiful aspects of such a controversial topic. Most sex workers do not wake up one day and decide that a life of sexual servitude is their career of choice. Almost always the need to go out and earn money on your back arises from economic hardship and/or traumatic suffering.
Not to forget that a large number of sex workers, to the tune of about 3 million people worldwide, are victims of sex trafficking. There is a human tragedy of data out there detailing the incredible injustice of men, women, and children who are suffering in active sexual slavery. Additionally, there is the Angelina Jolie-championed topic of sexual assault and slavery used as a weapon of war.
The Arguments For Vs. Against Legalizing Prostitution
The topic of modern-day prostitution reads like jumbled bipolar chronicles of competing voices that refuse to listen to each other.
There are those that are dead against legalizing prostitution for a myriad of credible reasons while there is the camp that fiercely belongs to the legalization of prostitution for equally compelling reasons. Irrespective of what side of the fence you sit on, there are seasoned professors of some world-renowned schools of human sciences that are able to provide irrefutable evidence supporting their arguments either for or against.
This is not a new phenomenon.
Prostitution has been legalized, banned, and then legalized once again for millenia. The Visigoth King of Spain first outlawed prostitution in 500BC as it was incongruent with his Catholic faith. In 1910, the United States implemented the first laws prohibiting sexual transactions and since then, the laws have danced between legalized and banned more times than is possible to cover in such a short article.
And they are not unique in this legislation flip flop.
Every country on the planet has had the topic of legalized prostitution in one form or another in their hallowed law-making halls- even in the strictest of Muslim countries where the modern-day punishment would be death by stoning or something equally barbaric. It has been said that fixed-term marriage was sanctioned in Iraq (called mut’ ah) and in Iran (called sigheh) where men were allowed to be married momentarily to a woman for the express purpose of one-off sexual relations and monetary transactions.
The encyclopedia Britannica references it as follows: “mutʿah, (Arabic: “pleasure”) in Islamic law, a temporary marriage that is contracted for a limited or fixed period and involves the payment of money to the female partner.”
Men and women can sit in parliamentary buildings and senate houses for millenia more but the fact remains that prostitution is an ancient practice that will continue no matter if the world is at war, or if the world is at peace. No matter if lawmakers allow for the safe and legal practice of prostitution nor if they criminalize these men and women to the point of death.
We know this because prostitution is still rampant in those exact Muslim countries that have laws in place where the punishment for prostitution is death.
A New Face For an Old Name
While the conduits of prostitution may have changed over the last few decades, the machinations are still much the same. Top sugar daddy sites such as Seeking Arrangement and top escort sites like Switter (Twitter for Sex Workers) have taken over the mantle of connected bordello owners introducing wealthy men of trade to nubile creatures of exquisite beauty.
Now, punters may search for their titbit of choice over the internet instead of visiting their local taverns or drive up in their Tesla’s instead of their one-pony traps but men and women still exchange sex for money much as they did in the times of Ancient Greece and Rome. Moral sermonizers still depict most sex workers as sneaky, corrupt, and immoral- much like they did in the times of Ancient Greece and Rome too.
The promulgation of prostitution may have gone digital but the practice is as simple as it was nearly 5,000 years ago. There have been advances in fields as rudimentary as farming, husbandry, and glass blowing… but there has been little by way of advancements in the field of sex work.
In fact, prostitution is the only profession where you start at the top and work your way down. Bright and shiny men and women new to the profession often start out in high-end houses and they either leave the industry or land up drug-addled on the streets. The physical and, more specifically, the emotional side effects of the industry eventually take their toll leading to a mental health crisis and an inevitable decline.
No prostitute in the history of prostitution has spent 45 years working their way up from the streets to the upper echelons of the industry.
One could say that cam models on cam sites are a modern concept, but peep shows have been around since the early ages and they can be classed as nothing more than moving pornography- which is as old as time if ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic art and Japanese Shunga, another ancient art form, are anything to go by.
While the world debates the evils of the sex work industry, the men and women involved will both quietly and brazenly go about their business. Until we invent a Utopian world where man and woman have been unburdened by their sexual appetites, prostitution will remain in one form or another. The moral outrage will continue as will the fight to legitimize the practice.
Sex workers will be both adored and demonized. Some will sit in ivory towers while others flounder in despair. Some will sit on the right hand of history-makers while most will be a common statistic.
One truth remains and it is perfectly summed up in a quote by an unknown woman by the name of Mary Sanchez. “Prostitution is a fiercely competitive business. The rules are simple. The younger the merchandise, the higher the profits”