Comfortably winning the title of “the world’s oldest profession”, prostitution has existed, exists, and without the official statement of a world-wide clairvoyant, will always exist, occupying an important place in the hearts of people interested in tasting diversity.
If the phenomenon is today viewed as a natural response to a not shy at all demand and has purely sexual implications (and of course, commercial), it also knew other valences in the past.
The first mentions, found in the documents in Babylon, Sumeria, and Phoenicia, refer to this occupation as a sacred activity, to which people were turning to not for relaxation after a week (or a day of hard work), or because their partner was rejecting their shameful fantasies, but because it was a form of religious ritual. The ancient gods knew how to mix utility with pleasure.
In Babylon, for example, women were coerced to “offer” themselves to a stranger once in their life, in the sanctuary of the goddess of love and fertility.
Further, in ancient Greece, besides the places reserved for sacred prostitution, there were state-controlled legal brothels, with officially established prices, where were working women and adolescents. Their existence, as well as that of the slaves in their possession, was extremely convenient to Greeks, who were liable to condemnation if they pursued intimate satisfaction outside of marriage.
History also testifies to the fact that in the city of Corinth, at the temple of Aphrodite, people called “hetairai” offered carnal pleasures to the willing ones, the same type of settlements being found in Cyprus, Sicily or Asia Minor. The Greek historian Herodotus speaks, in his writings, about the famous “houses of Paradise”, which hosted meetings between priests and believers.
In Rome, the temples of blessed amorages functioned until the 4th century B.C., when they were closed by the order of Emperor Constantine.
Hierarchies and categories of courtesans. The “inequalities” among erotic workers were a trivial fact in the archaic Greek society, where they were divided according to a clearly established hierarchy. Depending on financial claims and possibilities, clients had a choice between “low-end” girls, freelancers and luxury prostitutes.
In the first category there were the so-called “pornai”, slaves or girls rejected by their family and who sheltered themselves under the protective wing of a pornobokos (Greek), meaning pimp, that gave them only a part (often small) of their earnings.
The next “level” hosted “artists” committed to singing and dancing at private parties, willing to place their bodies on the table for the amateurs with generous hearts and much money. The only “pimp” in front of whom they were obliged to give explanations and a non-negotiable fee, were... the local authorities in the city where they chose to perform.
At the top of the pyramid were the “hetairai”, charming women, with a status similar to geishas in Japan.
Comparing to their more modest colleagues, the heitairai boasted a high education and (sometimes) even businesses on their own. A well-known exponent of this category is Aspasia, the mistress of Pericles, often seen in the company of Socrates, Phidias or Sophocles.
Men were most often traversing the threshold of Greek brothels, looking for either female or male-juvenile company, since at the time, relationships between adults and adolescents were very popular. The vigorous youths were also visited by older ladies, probably concerned with extending their prescription term for intimate satisfactions. When the services received did not meet the expectations, they had the possibility to talk to the “manager”, as evidenced by certain documents of that time containing complaints from unsatisfied female clients. Therefore, the professionals were also having failures! Or perhaps the ladies had unrealistic dreams - of endless parties, a chain of orgasms and sudden rejuvenation.
In ancient Rome, there were working the so-called “lupanars”, large brothels, promising for anyone who wanted to spice up their nightlife. In Pompeii, inscriptions and frescoes with erotic scenes have been preserved, a sign that people were seriously considering their primary needs. Their fantasies were fulfilled by slaves or free people, who were dispossessed from the rights granted to the Roman citizens. Both women and men...
Asian courtesans (“oiran” in Japan, “tawaif” in South Asia) served in a differentiated manner the categories of clients who were requesting their services. Some had the role to entertain males at parties, dancing, others singing, and the most “sophisticated” engaging them in savory conversations. The education received made them able to fascinate not only by appearance, but also by intellectual versatility. Sex was not mandatory, but desired by most participants in orgies, perhaps unsatisfied with only philosophical discussions.
Not all cultures were openly recognizing the need for diversity and continuous exploration, such as Greek or Roman. In Islam, for example, prostitution was subject to law and firm condemnation by religious institutions. However, there were favorable formulations for male adventurers: the rich had the right to buy women and to distribute them in their welcoming harem. Who else needed prostitutes in such a privileged situation?
Christianity and counter-cost sex. With the spread of Christianity in the world, prostitution has become a taboo subject and practice.
However, the simple official interdiction was not able to suppress it. Over the territory of Europe, paid amorous services continued to be available to those willing to take risks. Not only medical, but also social or legal. In some cases, girls from poor families were sold by their own parents and ended up working in houses of tolerance. They only functioned in certain areas, which were obviously known by those interested. Sometimes the young females were accompanying military garrisons on the battlefield, for the soldiers needed orgasms and massive intimate stimulations to get the courage to venture into battles that could be the last (for them).
Things have taken a new turn during the Renaissance, when the need to control venereal diseases has led authorities to become involved in managing the phenomenon, to impose taxes, standard prices and the obligation of workers to undergo periodic medical visits.
The devastating syphilis epidemic in the 16th century alerted the whole of Europe, with many brothels being closed and a wave of sadness swooping over the men left “uncomforted”. Officially. Unofficially, things went further... as usual, with some more discretion.
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Prostitution is currently banned in some states, tacitly or legally tolerated, and perfectly “normal” in others. Even at individual level, there is no uniform attitude regarding the phenomenon in question. Some people like the idea of experiencing at least a paid night, while others dislike it profoundly.
Changes continuously invade the society, so it is not known how the subject will be addressed in the future. So, it matters what is happening today, how we live today and how we relate to our available options. For now, sex for money is one of them.