/pros'ti tooh"sheuhn, -tyooh"-/, n.
1. the act or practice of engaging in sexual intercourse for money.
2. base or unworthy use, as of talent or ability.
[1545-55; < LL prostitution- (s. of prostitutio). See PROSTITUTE, -ION]

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Practice of engaging in sexual activity, usually with individuals other than a spouse or friend, in exchange for immediate payment in money or other valuables.

Prostitutes may be of either sex and may engage in either heterosexual or homosexual activity, but historically most prostitution has been by females with males as clients. Prostitution is a very old and universal phenomenon; also universal is condemnation of the prostitute but relative indifference toward the client. Prostitutes are often set apart in some way. In ancient Rome they were required to wear distinctive dress; under Hebrew law only foreign women could be prostitutes; in prewar Japan they were required to live in special sections of the city. In medieval Europe prostitution was licensed and regulated by law, but by the 16th century an epidemic of venereal disease and post-Reformation morality led to the closure of brothels. International cooperation to end the traffic in women for the purpose of prostitution began in 1899. In 1921 the League of Nations established the Committee on the Traffic in Women and Children, and in 1949 the UN General Assembly adopted a convention for the suppression of prostitution. In the U.S. prostitution was first curtailed by the Mann Act (1910), and by 1915 most states had banned brothels (Nevada being a notable exception). Prostitution is nevertheless tolerated in most U.S. and European cities. In The Netherlands many prostitutes have become members of a professional service union, and in Scandinavia government regulations emphasize hygienic aspects, requiring frequent medical examination and providing free mandatory hospitalization for anyone found to be infected with venereal disease. Prostitutes are very often poor and lack skills to support themselves; in many traditional societies there are few other available money-earning occupations for women without family support. In developing African and Asian countries, prostitution has been largely responsible for the spread of AIDS and the orphaning of hundreds of thousands of children.

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      the practice of engaging in relatively indiscriminate sexual activity, in general with someone who is not a spouse or a friend, in exchange for immediate payment in money or other valuables. Prostitutes may be female or male or transgender, and prostitution may entail heterosexual or homosexual activity, but historically most prostitutes have been women and most clients men.

      Perceptions of prostitution are based on culturally determined values that differ between societies. In some societies, prostitutes have been viewed as members of a recognized profession; in others they have been shunned, reviled, and punished with stoning, imprisonment, and death. Few societies have exercised the same severity toward clients; indeed, in many societies, clients suffer few if any legal repercussions.In some cultures, prostitution has been required of young girls as a rite of puberty or as a means of acquiring a dowry, and some religions have required prostitution of a certain class of priestesses. The ancient Greeks and Romans mandated that prostitutes wear distinctive dress and pay severe taxes. Hebrew law did not forbid prostitution but confined the practice to foreign women. Among the ordinances laid down by Moses to regulate public health were several dealing with sexually transmitted diseases (sexually transmitted disease).

      In Europe during the Middle Ages, church leaders attempted to rehabilitate penitent prostitutes and fund their dowries. Nevertheless, prostitution flourished: it was not merely tolerated but also protected, licensed, and regulated by law, and it constituted a considerable source of public revenue. Public brothels were established in large cities throughout Europe. At Toulouse, in France, the profits were shared between the city and the university; in England (United Kingdom), bordellos were originally licensed by the bishops of Winchester and subsequently by Parliament.

      Stricter controls were imposed during the 16th century, in part because of the new sexual morality that accompanied the Protestant Reformation and the Counter-Reformation. Just as significant was the dramatic upsurge of sexually transmitted diseases. Sporadic attempts were made to suppress brothels and even to introduce medical inspections, but such measures were to little avail.

      In the late 19th century a variety of changes in Western societies revived efforts to suppress prostitution. With the rise of feminism, many came to regard male libertinism as a threat to women's status and physical health. Also influential was a new religious-based moralism in Protestant countries. Antiprostitution campaigns flourished from the 1860s, often in association with temperance (temperance movement) and woman suffrage movements. International cooperation to end the traffic in women for the purpose of prostitution began in 1899. In 1921 the League of Nations (Nations, League of) established the Committee on the Traffic in Women and Children, and in 1949 the United Nations General Assembly adopted a convention for the suppression of prostitution.

      In the United States, prostitution was at best sporadically controlled until passage of the federal Mann Act (1910), which prohibited interstate transportation of women for “immoral purposes.” By 1915 nearly all states had passed laws that banned brothels or regulated the profits of prostitution. After World War II, prostitution remained prohibited in most Western countries, though it was unofficially tolerated in some cities. Many law-enforcement agencies became more concerned with regulating the crimes associated with the practice, especially acts of theft and robbery committed against clients. Authorities also intervened to prevent girls from being coerced into prostitution (“white slavery”). Prostitution is illegal in most of the United States, though it is lawful in some counties in Nevada.

      In most Asian and Middle Eastern countries, prostitution is illegal but widely tolerated. Among predominantly Muslim countries, Turkey has legalized prostitution and made it subject to a system of health checks for sex workers, and in Bangladesh prostitution is notionally legal but associated behaviours such as soliciting are prohibited. In some Asian countries the involvement of children in prostitution has encouraged the growth of “sex tourism” by men from countries where such practices are illegal. Many Latin American countries tolerate prostitution but restrict associated activities. In Brazil, for example, brothels, pimping, and child exploitation are illegal.

      Since the 1980s, attitudes toward prostitution have changed radically through two major developments. One is the worldwide spread of AIDS, which has increased concern about public health problems created by prostitution. In Africa especially, one factor in the rapid spread of AIDS has been the prostitution industry serving migrant labourers. A second influential development was a renewal of feminist (feminism) interest and the perspective that prostitution is both a consequence and a symptom of gender-based exploitation. Reflecting these shifting attitudes, during the 1980s the more neutral term sex worker was increasingly employed to describe those involved in commercial sex activities.

      It is difficult to generalize about the background or conditions of prostitutes because so much of what is known about them derives from studies of poorer and less-privileged individuals, people who are more likely to come into contact with courts and official agencies. Much more is known about streetwalkers, for example, than about the higher-status women who can be more selective about their clients and work conditions. Based on available studies, though, it is reasonable to assert that female sex workers often are economically disadvantaged and lack skills and training to support themselves. Many are drawn at an early age into prostitution and associated crime, and drug dependency can be an aggravating factor. They frequently are managed by a male procurer, or pimp, or by a supervisor, or madam, in a house of prostitution. Health hazards to prostitutes include sexually transmitted diseases, some of which may be acquired through drug abuse. Male prostitution has received less public attention in most cultures. Heterosexual male prostitution—involving males hired by or for females—is rare. Homosexual male prostitution has probably existed in most societies, though only in the 20th century was it recognized as a major social phenomenon, and its prevalence increased during the late 20th and early 21st century.

John Philip Jenkins

Additional Reading
A history of prostitution is Nils Johan Ringdal, Love for Sale: A World History of Prostitution, trans. from Norwegian by Richard Daly (2004). A collection of essays on prostitution is Ronald Weitzer (ed.), Sex for Sale: Prostitution, Pornography, and the Sex Industry (1999). The role of the fear of sexually transmitted diseases in shaping policies toward prostitution is detailed in Roger Davidson and Lesley A. Hall (eds.), Sex, Sin, and Suffering: Venereal Disease and European Society Since 1870 (2001). A feminist work that considers prostitution as an issue of social justice is Kamala Kempadoo and Jo Doezema (eds.), Global Sex Workers: Rights, Resistance, and Redefinition (1998). The life of a prostitute in ancient Greece is described in Debra Hamel, Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece (2003). Studies of prostitution in England include Paula Bartley, Prostitution: Prevention and Reform in England, 1860–1914 (2000); and Ruth Mazo Karras, Common Women: Prostitution and Sexuality in Medieval England (1996, reissued 1998). Examinations of prostitution in the United States include David J. Pivar, Purity and Hygiene: Women, Prostitution, and the “American Plan,” 1900–1930 (2001); and Joel Best, Controlling Vice: Regulating Brothel Prostitution in St. Paul, 1865–1883 (1998).John Philip Jenkins

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Universalium. 2010.

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, , , / (on the part of a woman, for hire),

Look at other dictionaries:

  • prostitution — Prostitution …   Thresor de la langue françoyse

  • prostitution — [ prɔstitysjɔ̃ ] n. f. • XIIIe « impudicité, débauche »; lat. prostitutio 1 ♦ (1611) Le fait de « livrer son corps aux plaisirs sexuels d autrui, pour de l argent » (Dalloz) et d en faire métier; l exercice de ce métier; le phénomène social qu il …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • PROSTITUTION — (Heb. זְנוּת, zenut), the practice of indiscriminate sexual intercourse for payment or for religious purposes. Prostitution was practiced by male and female prostitutes. The word zenut, applied to both common and sacred prostitution, is also… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • prostitution — pros·ti·tu·tion /ˌpräs tə tü shən, tyü / n: the act or practice of engaging in sexual activity indiscriminately esp. for money; also: the crime of engaging in such activity Merriam Webster’s Dictionary of Law. Merriam Webster. 1996. prosti …   Law dictionary

  • Prostitution — Pros ti*tu tion, n. [L. prostitutio: cf. F. prostitution.] 1. The act or practice of prostituting or offering the body to an indiscriminate intercourse with men; common lewdness of a woman. [1913 Webster] 2. The act of setting one s self to sale …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Prostitution — Sf erw. fach. (18. Jh.) Entlehnung. Entlehnt aus frz. prostitution, dieses aus l. prōstitūtio ( ōnis) Preisgabe zu sexuellen Handlungen , zu l. prōstituere für sexuelle Handlungen öffentlich preisgeben , zu l. statuere hinstellen , zu l. sistere… …   Etymologisches Wörterbuch der deutschen sprache

  • prostitution — Prostitution. s. f. v. Abandonnement à l impudicité. En ce sens il ne se dit que des femmes & des filles qui vivent dans cet abandonnement. Elle a vescu dans une prostitution honteuse. On dit fig. La prostitution de la Justice. la prostitution… …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie française

  • Prostitution — (v. lat.), 1) die öffentliche Hin od. Ausstellung; 2) die Preisgabe seiner Person zu niedrigem Zweck, bes. 3) die Selbsthingabe eines Frauenzimmers in gewerbsmäßiger Unzucht. Die große Verbreitung, welche die P. in neuerer Zeit namentlich in den… …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Prostitution — (lat.), die von einem Weib öffentlich gewerbsmäßig betriebene Preisgebung des eignen Körpers gegen Entgelt an jeden Beliebigen. Zwischen dieser Form des geschlechtlichen Verkehrs und dem in einer aus Liebe geschlossenen Ehe liegen sehr viele… …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Prostitution — Prostitutiōn (lat.), Preisgebung, bes. die gewerbsmäßige Selbstpreisgebung eines Frauenzimmers (einer Prostituierten) zur Unzucht. Schon im Altertum erwähnt bei Juden, Babyloniern, Phöniziern, Persern (meist mit religiösem Kultus verbunden), bei… …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

  • prostitution — (n.) 1550s, from L.L. prostitutionem, noun of action from pp. stem of prostituere (see PROSTITUTE (Cf. prostitute)) …   Etymology dictionary

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