Mind Caviar

"Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love, and then for a few close
friends, and then for money."

~  Jean Baptiste Poquelin de Moliere (1622-1673)

Mind Caviar, Vol. 3 Spring Issue, 2002

Prostitution Part I: How It Goes
by William Dean

To write of prostitution is to deal, thoughtfully, with the sacred and the profane, the agonies and the ecstasies, the commercial and the therapeutic.  Because it encompasses religion, law, sex, human dignity, and, yes, human depravity, prostitution is still a controversial topic for nearly everyone.  It polarizes groups of people as it shames some and uplifts others. 

Image of prostitutes and performers 
"Moulin Rouge", 1890 Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Many people would prefer never to think of it at all, to sweep it, along with child pornography, drug traffic, and serial killers under the rug of collective guilts and questionable human activities that should be neither seen nor heard.

That limited view, however, of the metaphorical ostrich who hides its head in the sand hoping all bad things will simply go away, cannot be that of  twenty-first century thinking and feeling people. Avoidance, pretended ignorance, extremism, these are fools’ games that have no winners, only losers.

To have any understanding of prostitution it is necessary to admit that, like the origins of everything base, beautiful, and wondrous about the human species and its behaviors, antiquity and ignorance shroud its beginnings. We do not know, for certain, how it began at all. By the time, written records emerge as “history,” prostitution, in some form or another, was already simply there, like Art, war, agriculture, religion, and law.

Curiously, also wrapped in the mystery of origins, are two specific elements we can speculate are intertwined with prostitution: marriage and the tradition of the bridal dowry. Given that some form of ceremonially-enhanced monogamy is practically global and pandemic, so, too, is the concept of selling daughters. From the Pacific Islands through Europe, Asia, and North and South America, the idea that a family either offers gifts to the husband or in turn receives them as bride price seems historically, socially, and geographically universal. [Ed. note: even in Western society today, especially in the US, the bride's family is expected to pay all wedding expenses as a tradition which is merely a throw-back to earlier bride-selling traditions and the tradition of the dowry.]

Since this, in a sense, can be described as trading wealth for sex, it’s not a difficult leap of logic or reason to presume the origins of prostitution may also stem from the same tribal traditions. Once the sale of sexual goods is promulgated, the lease or temporary rental of the same goods is not hard to imagine.

At some point in the development of what historians call “civilization” prostitution became institutionalized. Like other profitable ventures, it fell beneath the sway of religion and thereby led to more of humankind’s advances. The earliest coinage of which we have example is a small bronze medallion, stamped on one side with the image of a bushel of wheat from which it derived its name, the shekel. On the other side of the coin, from the civilization called Sumer, is the image of the goddess Ishtar, also known as Har, the Mother of Harlots. 

In Sumer, and in other later societies of the fertile crescent of the Tigris-Euphrates valley, women became sacred prostitutes, serving the goddess as part of the overall religious rites connected to the guarantee of abundant crops and prosperity. Basically, farmers tithed a bushel of grain to the state and received, in turn, a shekel which they, again in turn, gave to a sacred prostitute as token payment for sex in the name of the goddess. In some civilizations, each woman in the community gave one day of her life to spend awaiting the choice of a farmer and the receipt of her shekel. The shekel was given back to the priests to show she had fulfilled her obligation to the Mother of Harlots. 

Thus begins and defines the entire cycle of customer, whore, and pimp which has not changed for millennia.

Today, whether called a sex worker or simply a ‘ho, called an entrepreneur or just a pimp, called a victim, John, client, or customer, the roles and the transactions have not changed. Few, today, and those mostly “in the job.” ascribe anything of the sacred to prostitution. This is partly due to the attitudes of society, as well as those of the whores and pimps. On the whole, globally, prostitutes are considered low-life criminals, even by those who are supposedly their protectors: the pimps.

Why? Because, it’s all (and perhaps always has been) about those shekels. What once was a holy act to protect and maintain the abundance of Nature, to feed the community, to ensure an edible future in service to an aspect of the Great Mother goddess, became and remains a service to another god: Mammon, the god of greed.

The conflicting attitudes prevalent today reflect the, perhaps, eternal ones between sacred and profane, between unselfish service and base greed, between exploitation and respect. Certainly the majority of pimps respect their property, their “girls,” their ‘ho’s only in relation to the shekels they bring in. Coarsely put, the dick goes in and money pours out. In countless, media exposés, interviewed pimps proudly declaim that it’s all about the money. The women do the work but don’t get to keep the money. Pimps may pay for their ‘ho’s’ living expenses and occasionally take them on shopping sprees to keep them looking “fine on the street,” but the profit stays with the pimp. 

While Hollywood, from time to time, paints fairy tale romances about prostitutes rising to glory and love, the reality, as usual, is women “in the life” are frequently battered, abused, exploited, and, all too frequently, victimized unto death. It is not just the sporadic serial killer emulating Jack the Ripper, but also the everyday murders that consistently take their toll of the prostitute population. Nor is it simply the “killers among us,” who with some impunity decimate the ranks of working girls. Disease, drug abuse, and yes, even poverty and suicide which, like the apocryphal four horsemen destroy their lives. 

Despite the negatives, prostitution, of course, is spread world-wide. And the dichotomy continues. While for pimps, it’s all about the money, what about the clients? You might suspect for them, it’s all about the sex, but that’s not always the case. Time and again, you’ll find stories circulating among prostitutes that sometimes sex doesn’t even take place. Sometimes, it’s about companionship, intimacy, a kind of therapy. Sometimes, a guy just needs someone to talk to who won’t harshly judge him, expect him to take out the garbage, or make a serious commitment he’s unprepared for. Sometimes, it’s just about loneliness. Of course, it can also be about a needy ego. In the case of escorts, for example, some balding, overweight businessman may get his needful jolt from sporting a “hot babe” on his arm for a night on the town, a quiet dinner, an uncomplicated good time. 

So far, I’ve been writing about female prostitutes and male clients, but, more and more, that doesn’t tell the whole story, of course. Women, too, avail themselves of a leased hot stud, and, as more women become harried executives with little time for building a relationship, that will increase. Gay, lesbian, and alternative lifestylers make use of prostitutes as well. It’s nothing new. History is replete with records of this going on. 

Culture is expressively intertwined with prostitution as well. In Ancient Greece and Rome, wealthy patrons subsidized, paid for, and supported attractive young actors with whom they also cavorted sexually. Businessmen, senators, and caesars paid for sex with both genders, while the soldiers and poorer classes had a large prostitution population of their own to select from. The gladiatorial games and theater audiences were filled with prostitutes seeking clients and vice versa. Early playwrights, poets, dancers, musicians and artists, too, in order to thrive accepted gifts and moneys for sexual favors and today it is impossible to determine exactly how much of our classical culture and heritage we owe to “the first profession.” 

The clients, as history and modern sociology reveal, come from every social strata that can afford a prostitute’s cost, and their reasons for going to her or him are legion and beyond count.

As I view it, prostitution ought to, at last, be seen not as a problem, but as an aspect of society with which we ought realistically to deal with, provide legislation which will protect its purveyors (the prostitutes) from abuse and exploitation, provide understanding for those who utilize it (the clients), and educate everyone as to its social benefits and contributions.

Suggested Reading

Harlots, Whores and Hookers- A History of Prostitution by Hilary Evans
The Prehistory of Sex by Timothy Taylor
The Prostitution of Sexuality by Kathleen L. Barry
Whores and Other Feminists by Jill Nagle, Editor
Women of the Light: The New Sexual Healers by Kenneth Ray Stubbs, Editor 

Copyright © 2002 William Dean. All Rights Reserved. Do not copy or post in whole or in part.

William Dean William Dean is an erotic rambler, a media dude, and a graphic artist. He’s Associate Editor and Graphics Artist for Clean Sheets. He creates graphics and writes the monthly column "Into the Erotik" for Erotica Readers Association. Dean also hosts the column "Erotik Journeys" at BackWash.com. He's published in SoMa Literary Digest, Hoot Island, suspect thoughts, Literotica, Other Rooms, and more. His short stories have appeared in Desires, Tears on Black Roses, and Clean Sheets: From Porn to Poetry. He is a regular features contributor to Mind Caviar. Email William Dean.

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