Last updated on: 5/12/2008 | Author:

What Is Prostitution?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)

The 2007 Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defined prostitution as:


1: the act or practice of engaging in promiscuous sexual relations especially for money

2: the state of being prostituted: DEBASEMENT”


TIME magazine in the Aug. 23, 1971 article “Reflections On The Sad Profession” stated:

“The whole subject of prostitution is full of ambiguities and hypocrisies. Even to define the word is not so easy as it might seem. We generally think of the transfer of money as the element that makes prostitution a crime (although money plays a subtle part in all sorts of sexual relationships). Yet in a number of states, as well as in Webster’s newest dictionary, the definition of prostitution includes not only the exchange of money but also the rather vague concept of promiscuity… for example, forbid[ding] both getting paid for sex and ‘the offering of the body for indiscriminate sexual intercourse without hire.’ But what is ‘indiscriminate’? St. Jerome decried women who had known ‘many men,’ and monks argued over the number that would warrant condemnation; one said 40, another 23,000.”

Aug. 23, 1971

Breaking Free, Inc., a Minnesota-based nonprofit, in its “Philosophy Statement” posted on the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) website (accessed Apr. 20, 2007), stated:

“We define prostitution as systematic sexual violence and oppression against women and girls. This system is institutionalized in the sex industry: stripshows, nude juice bars, massage parlors and saunas, brothels, adult book and video stores, peep shows, live sex shows, sex rings, escort services, mail order brides, streetwalking, and pornography. Each of these forms of prostitution provides men with unlimited sexual access to women and girls based solely on their ability to pay.”

Apr. 20, 2007

Lena Edlund, PhD, Associate Professor of Economics at Columbia University, and Evelyn Korn, PhD, Faculty of Economics and Business Administration at University of Marburg in Germany, wrote the Feb. 2002 Journal of Political Economy article “A Theory of Prostitution” that stated:

“Before proceeding, we need to define prostitution. Despite being known as the oldest profession, a workable definition has proven elusive. From a dictionary we learn that prostitution is the ‘act or practice of engaging in sexual intercourse for money’. But a prostitute cannot simply be a woman who sells her body, since ‘that is done every day by women who become wives in order to gain a home and a livelihood’. Promiscuity has been proposed as another candidate. Medieval canon lawyer Johannes Teutonicus suggested that a woman who had sex with more than 23,000 men should be classified as a prostitute, although 40 to 60 would also do. However, promiscuity itself does not turn a woman into a prostitute. Although a vast majority of prostitutes are promiscuous, most people would agree that sleeping around does not amount to prostitution. Moreover, any threshold number of sexual partners, be it 40 or 23,000, fails to identify high end courtesans or call girls as prostitutes, although a reasonable definition would. Instead, we argue that prostitution is the act of rendering, from the client’s point of view, non-reproductive sex against payment.”

Feb. 2002

John Ince, Attorney and Leader of the Sex Party, wrote in a May 10, 2007 e-mail to that:

“Users would be well advised that much of the pro/con sentiment is a result of differing definitions of prostitution rather than differences on how to deal with a specific defined type of prostitution, and that if the definition was standardized much of the conflict might disappear…

For example the key elements of prostitution are: 1) sexual contact [and] 2) for money

Now sexual contact needs to be defined:

a) genital contact? So a massage therapist is not a prostitute; so a professional dominatrix who spanks and humiliates, but does not touch genitals is not a prostitute;

b) genital contact for pleasure? so a urologist is not a prostitute; so an erotic masseur is a prostitute…

c) genital contact for pleasure that includes penetration? So erotic masseurs are not prostitutes;

d) genital contact for pleasure that includes penetration in circumstances where the provider feels shame, fear, pain or exposes themselves or others to disease; so escorts who are highly selective about their clients and enjoy their work are not prostitutes.”

May 10, 2007

The 2006 Encyclopedia of Prostitution and Sex Work provided the following:

“‘Sex work’ is a phrase created in the last 30 years to refer to sexual commerce of all kinds. Prostitution has varying definitions in different contexts. Some of these are based on the definition of prostitution in law, or what is illegal. Legal definitions change over time and place, leading to great confusion if one relies on one definition from the criminal code or one from the civil code, as they do not travel well. Despite the difficulty of terminology, prostitution as a sexual exchange for money or other valuables is the general definition of prostitution for this work. In that sense, the term ‘sex work’ is appropriate in its inclusivity.

‘Sex work’ was conceived as a nonstigmatizing term, without the taint of the words ‘whore’ and ‘prostitute.’ The point of the term was to convey the professionalism of the sex worker rather than her lack of worth as seen by much of society.”