Digest of terms
the making available of sexual activity, usually including sexual intercourse, for financial or other material reward to anyone requesting such. The practice is reported throughout history and in virtually every culture and country. Prostitutes have been and are more commonly female and the users male, but male prostitution is also a widespread occurrence.
Legal controls on prostitution are in place in most countries. However, it is not necessarily outlawed, but rather restricted to certain locations with perhaps some built-in safeguards for health - the result of greater recognition of female equality. The availability of sophisticated birth control has reduced the onetime risk of unwanted pregnancy, but the hazards of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases from unprotected sex remain serious.
Much prostitution remains male dominated in the identity of controlling pimps and traffickers. But some is freely entered into. Moreover, any assumption that a prostitute will come from a lower socio-economic group or poor educational background is open to question from reports of students engaging in prostitution to finance their studies, or unmarried mothers doing the same to support themselves and their child/children.
Social disapproval of prostitution (though not necessarily of the prostitute personally) has been strong within the Judeo-Christian tradition. The tradition has prized the relationship between partners in marriage as one of mutual treasuring, exclusive of others, with sexual intercourse expressing both creative potential and shared intimacy comparable to that associated with God.
In some other religious traditions the attitude has been selectively permissive for different but related reasons. Alongside marriage, there has been a provision for sacred prostitution, as in the temple prostitutes of the Greco-Roman world. In Hindu tradition and elsewhere sexual intercourse with women dedicated to God in temple service might be an expression of religious devotion. The reported abuse of such an arrangement whereby a girl might involuntarily be prepared by parents for such a hand-over appears to have ceased.
More generally, the term prostitute is also used in a wider, metaphorical sense. Here, instead of sexual skills being sold and bought, it is applied to other gifts and abilities that an individual might have. These can include the full range of human artistry or professional competences, any component of which is made available for sale even though it involves some diminution of its intended qualities, e.g. a lawyer is bought to suit the convenience of an accused person, a politician's integrity is surrendered to a granted favour, an artist or musician produces a high quality advert for a very questionable product for a lucrative reward.
A recurrent question is whether the morality of any sexual or other human activity is dependent solely on the consent of those immediately involved. And if there are other considerations, what these are and of what related significance.