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Prostitutes may be female or male or transgenderand 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 shunnedreviled, 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 culturesprostitution has been required of young girls as a rite of puberty or as a means of acquiring a dowryand 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.
In Europe during the Middle Ageschurch leaders attempted to rehabilitate penitent prostitutes and fund their dowries. Nevertheless, prostitution flourished: it was not merely tolerated but also protected, d, and regulated by law, and it constituted a considerable source of public revenue. Public brothels were established in large cities throughout Europe. At Toulousein Francethe profits were shared between the city and the university; in Englandbordellos were originally d 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 ificant 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.
Also influential was a new religious-based moralism in Protestant countries. International cooperation to end the traffic in women for the purpose of prostitution began in In the League of Nations established the Committee on the Traffic in Women and Children, and in the United Nations General Assembly adopted a convention for the suppression of prostitution. After World War IIprostitution 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.
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. Many Latin American countries tolerate prostitution but restrict associated activities.
In Brazilfor example, brothels, pimping, and child exploitation are illegal. During the s, attitudes toward prostitution changed radically through two major developments. One was the worldwide spread of AIDSwhich increased concern about public health problems created by prostitution. In Africa especially, one factor in the rapid spread of AIDS was the prostitution industry serving migrant labourers.
A second influential development was a renewal of feminist interest and the perspective that prostitution is both a consequence and a symptom of gender-based exploitation. Reflecting these shifting attitudes, from the s 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 crimeand 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. Fast Facts. Videos Images. Additional Info. While every effort has been made to follow citation style rules, there may be some discrepancies.
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Show more. Full Article. Get a Britannica Premium subscription and gain access to exclusive content. Subscribe Now. A look at how computer coding is being used to combat sex trafficking. Learn More in these related Britannica articles:. There were approximately 20, in Paris, and, more surprisingly, in staid, episcopally governed Mainz, it was estimated that a third of the women in the poorer districts were prostitutes. Victims and outcasts, with the beggars and derelicts of crowded tenements, they helped create the….
The association of dedicated prostitutes with certain Hindu shrines may be traceable to the beginning of the Common Era. It became more widespread in post-Gupta times, especially in south India, and aroused the reprobation of 19th-century Europeans. Through the efforts of Hindu reformers, the office of the devadasi s was….
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