It is called the world’s oldest profession and it can be found everywhere in the world.
It tends to be an industry of women serving male clients, but of course variations on this theme also exist – males servicing males, males servicing females, females catering to females.
When one looks at sex in history, we tend to look at it as a tangent of law, medicine or literature.
The law is more concerned with what is inadmissable than what is admissable.
Medicine is more concerned with what is abnormal rather than normal.
Literature, when not surrendering to themes of romance or caricature or dogma or drama, focuses on the extraordinary rather than the ordinary.
As far back as 4,000 years ago in one of the first pieces of literature ever written, The Epic of Gilgamesh makes mention of ladies of the evening.
Gilgamesh is 2/3 god and 1/3 man and King of Uruk.
The people of his city are unhappy with him:
“His lust leaves no virgin to her lover, neither the warrior’s daughter nor the wife of the nobleman.”
To take his mind off such undiplomatic activities, the goddess Aruru creates Endiku – a huge, brutish, hairy creature who lives on the steppes among the beasts – who menaces Gilgamesh’s subjects.
Gilgamesh, nobody’s fool, decides force is not the answer to this threat and sends instead “a harlot from the temple of love, a child of pleasure” to find and tame Endiku.
The harlot encounters Endiku, makes herself naked and welcomes his eagerness.
She incites the savage to love and teaches him the woman’s art.
For six days and six nights they lie together and afterward Endiku has grown weak.
When he recovers, the harlot describes to him the wonders of civilisation and leads him like a mother away from the steppes and down to the plains.
The profession of harlot carried no stigma in Sumerian or Babylonian times.
The ancient Jews fought hard against harlotry.
Moral objections were regularly raised against consorting with the women who traded their bodies in the red light districts which, in Palestine, were usually located against the city walls.
“One who keeps company with harlots squanders his substance.” Proverbs 29:3
Despite the prohibition against Jewish men and women prostituting themselves, Jewish women undoubtedly dd become harlots when they had no other way of staying alive, foremost among them were childless widows and rejected wives.
They always found customers, for only a minority of men could afford another wife or mistress.
The Old Testament hated prostitutes.
At best the language is impolite, at worst, obscene.
Ezekiel, politically motivated, used harlotry as a synonym for the sins of Jerusalem.
See Ezekiel 23: verses 8, 28 and 29.
Solomon himself was said to have had 700 marriages, of which one inspired the composition of the Song of Songs.
In ancient Rome, harlots would frequent the Circus Maximus in search of clients whose blood had been stirred up by the Games.
Evil-smelling brothels were found in every town on the Italian peninsula.
Private enterprise prostitution has flourished in Europe since time immemorial.
Its rulers could do nothing to stem the tide.
When French King Louis IX (1214 – 1270) tried to put an end to it, the irate people of Paris complained that it was no longer safe for their wives and daughters to appear on the streets without being solicited because of a lack of prostitutes.
(As late as 1976, citizens of Leicester and Southampton were still complaining that their wives and daughters could not walk along the streets without being solicited, but not because of a lack of prostitutes, but because prospective clients were unable to distinguish between them!)
The Church was not in a position to ban prostitution, and did not in fact want to.
Even St. Augustine (354 – 430) said that though the institution was sordid, immodest and shameful, “yet remove prostitution from human affairs and you will pollute all things with lust.”
Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274) compared prostitution with “the filth in the sea or the sewer in a palace.”
“Take away the sewer and you will fill the palace with pollution. Take away prostitutes from the world and you will fill it with sodomy!”
Thus temple prostitution came to Europe.
There was a Church brothel in Avignon where the girls spent part of their time in prayer and religious duties and the rest of the time servicing Christian customers only.
At the same time, dedicated to betting both ways, the Church urged all prostitutes to give up their evil occupation.
Mary Magdalene was a whore who had repented and followed Jesus.
A number of Magdalene homes were built for fallen women who had seen the error of their ways.
The number of public women in Rome in 1490 was about 7,000.
They lived in houses belonging to monasteries and churches and it was not unusual to see them parading the streets in company with priests.
The attitude of medieval society towards prostitutes is characteristically a dichotomy.
On the one hand, these wenches/whores/pretty women were seamlessly integrated into city life.
It was not uncommon for them to be sent to greet important visitors.
At the Council of Constance (Konstanz) (1414 – 1418) there were 1,500 prostitutes in the city.
At the Council of Basel (1431) there were 1,800.
On the other hand, only a very few managed to escape their status.
Most were condemned to a life on the margins of society by the very fact of their birth, while others found themselves in this position either through their own fault or as the result of undeserved misfortune.
The people of Schaffhausen once were forbidden to gamble, swear and dance, but a brothel was tolerated as a matter of course.
Patronage of brothels and ordinary prostitutes began to falter in the 16th century with the epidemic spread of syphilis.
The French called it “the Neapolitan malady”.
The Spanish called it “the French disease”.
The Germans called it “the Spanish scabies”.
In the 19th century, prostitution flourished as never before.
Paris alone had 120,000, London nearly 80,000, New York City 20,000.
In Vienna there was one prostitute to every seven men.
Today, the legality of prostitution in Europe varies by country.
Some countries outlaw the act of engaging in sexual activity in exchange for money, while others allow prostitution itself but not most forms of procuring (such as operating brothels, facilitating the prostitution of another, deriving financial gain from the prostitution of another, soliciting/loitering).
In eight European countries (The Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Greece, Turkey, Hungary, and Latvia) prostitution is legal and regulated.
The number of people selling sexual services in Greece has risen by 150% since the start of the country’s financial crisis, according to the Greek Centre for Social Studies and Panteion University. The study found that only a handful of brothels are operating lawfully. (Newsweek, 17 July 2015)
The degree of enforcement of the anti-prostitution laws vary by country, by region and by city.
In many places there is a big discrepancy between the laws which exist on the books and what happens in practice.
Depending on the country, various prostitution related activities may be prohibited (where a specific law forbids such activity), decriminalized (where there is no specific law either forbidding or allowing and regulating the activity), or regulated (where a specific law explicitly allows and regulates the activity if certain conditions are met).
Activities which are subject to the prostitution laws include: selling and buying sexual services, soliciting in public places, running brothels, deriving financial gain from the prostitution of another, offering premises to be used for prostitution etc.
Often the prostitution laws are not clear-cut and are subject to interpretation, leading to many legal loopholes.
While the policy regarding adult prostitution differs by country, child prostitution is illegal throughout Europe.
Similarly, human trafficking, forced prostitution and other abusive activities are also prohibited.
The legal and social treatment of prostitution differs widely by country.
Prostitution in Switzerland is legal and regulated; it has been legal since 1942.
Licensed brothels, typically with a reception and leading to several studio apartments, are available.
Street prostitution is illegal, except in specially designated areas in the major cities.
Many prostitutes operate using newspaper advertisements, mobile phones and secondary rented apartments.
It is legal to advertise for “massages” in Swiss tabloid newspapers.
Swiss prostitutes pay VAT (value added tax) on their services and some accept credit cards.
The majority of prostitutes are foreigners from the Americas, Central Europe or the Far East.
In recent years the number of prostitutes has increased.
The prostitution business often becomes violent.
It can involve attacks, turf wars, gunfights and arson attacks on rivals’ prostitution establishments.
Prostitution is legal over eighteen years of age, having been raised from 16 in 2013.
However it is still only illegal to recruit teens between 16 and 18, but a person is still not liable for utilizing the services of a prostitute 16 or older.
(See Article 196 of the Criminal Code of Switzerland).
Furthermore, the local authorities in Zürich installed car port constructions called “Verrichtungsboxen” or ‘sex boxes’ to protect street prostitutes.
In 2012, voters approved the creation of “sex boxes” in Zurich to control suburban prostitution.
These have recently been described as a “success” by local authorities after a year, but a number of sex workers who have seen their earnings decline, disagree.
Some 120.000 women and girls are trafficked into Europe every year, according to the International Organisation of Migration (IOM).
So why do some men use prostitutes?
According to the Guardian of 15 January 2010:
Some men had experiences of childhood cruelty and neglect and link this to their inability to form close relationships with anyone, particularly women.
Some men have no idea how to get to know women “through the usual routes”.
Many men believed they would “need” to rape if they could not pay for sex on demand.
It’s not just feminists who are responsible for the idea that all men are potential rapists – it’s sometimes men themselves.
Many men seemed to want a real relationship with a woman and were disappointed when this didn’t develop:
“It’s just a sex act, no emotion. Be prepared to accept this or don’t go at all. It’s not a wife or girlfriend.”
Others were clear that they paid for sex in order to be able to totally control the encounter, including one respondent who said:
“Look, a man pays for a woman because he can have whatever and whomever he wants.
Lots of men go to prostitutes so they can do things to them that real women would not put up with.”
Personally I don’t believe in being another person’s judge and jury.
I would not want a female relative of mine to be a lady of pleasure, but more out of concern for her safety than a moral judgement.
I have no personal interest in using the services of a lady of pleasure because I think to pay someone for sex demeans both the client as well as the lady, if for no other reason because both have been driven to extremes of desperation to meet their needs.
While I do not condone prostitution, as the client and the lady are in desperate situations, otherwise they would not be dealing with one another in this manner, I cannot condemn either one too harshly.
I do condemn human trafficking.
Human trafficking destroys the life of its victims, but this trafficking remains because it is a massive source of revenue for the traffickers who are quick to exploit women in desperate situations.
Every woman deserves love and happiness.
May they never have to stand under a red light to find them.