Historically, why has prostitution usually been considered demeaning

In this thread is a repeat of the usual rhetorical suspects pro and anti the morality of prostitution.

In this context one thing I am curious about, is what the cultural and sociological roots are for the perception of prostitution as being demeaning or bad. I’m not looking for a GD on why it should, or should not be so, but rather an explanation of the empirical fact that prostitution is overwhelmingly (though not exclusively) perceived this way across time and cultures.

Why is this so? What is it specifically about prostitution that makes it so negativley perceived?

Yikes. There’s a good chance that recorded history doesn’t go back far enough to track the root cause…

Well, the roots are probably associated with the notion of virginity being important when chosing a bride. Some cultures kept “good” women in seclusion, so any woman who was out walking the streets or hanging out at parties with the men was by definition a “bad” woman. Exclusivity has always been cherished as a social stratifier.

Along with the obvious religious aspects, there’s probably an element of economic elitism as well. Prostitutes tend to be poor, and there’s little respect for a person who’s willing to do *anything *for money.

Maybe because it promotes disease and causes marital strife? Maybe because because a large percentage of prostitutes are addicted to drugs and abandon thier children? You want cites that prositutes are are nasty? :eek: Not from me, you don’t want to see my cites. I’m trying to keep this a work safe forum! ;j

I suspect it is a power issue. In societies where women have been second class citizens for, well, forever, men resent being dependent on women for the most satisfying way of releasing their sexual urges, and paying for it just intensifies their pique. So they denigrate the perceived source of their frustration.

Look over at the “Was premarital sex common?” thread. The fact is that premarital sex in Ye Olden Times was very likely to lead to pregnancy. This is tolerable if the couple schtupping are candidates for marriage. Read Deuteronomy, where if a man has sex with a woman is required by Biblical Law to marry her if she (that is, her family) demanded it. “You broke it, you bought it”.

Premarital sex of this kind doesn’t threaten the social order, it reinforces it. The kids might sneak out and have sex, but before you know it they’re going to find themselves “in trouble” and they’ll find themselves married with 2.5 kids and a mortage asking themselves “How did I get here?” Same as it ever was.

But the prostitute can’t demand that her customers marry her if she becomes pregnant, assuming disease hasn’t rendered her infertile And so when she becomes pregnant she has only a few options…abortion, infanticide/exposure, or single parenting in a society where single parenting is essentially impossible. She cannot marry, because no family would allow their son to marry a woman who isn’t likely to carry the husband’s children. So the prostitute has no family, no social status. In patrilineal social systems her children have no family, they are outcasts. So her only possible social status is one outside of marriage…like a temple prostitute.

Short, knee jerk, circular answer:

Historically, having sex with 50-100 men each week, living in squalor, being rife with contagious disease, having poor hygiene, being prone to physical abuse, aiding and abetting adultery, and blatantly flouting society’s generally accepted moral codes isn’t going to win you a spot in the Social Registry.

The “Pretty Woman” fairytale notwithstanding, of course.

If women paid men for sex, prostitution would be a sacrement. (To paraphrase a feminist saying.)

And in some societies, it was. However, those were unusual, and the prostitution was often a short stint – sometimes just once.

As a general rule, any job that was perceived as “woman’s work” was regarded as being socially lower than “men’s work”. Prostitution is just an extreme example.

Having sex with people you’re not sexually attracted to can’t be fun. Assuming no squalor, no drug addiction and no disease, a prostitute still has to have sex and fake an orgasm with a man she wouldn’t have sex with otherwise. I know what it’s like to laugh at an unfunny joke made by a customer. Prostitution can only be much worse than that.

Some women enjoy having sex with strangers. Granted, it doesn’t seem like a great profession, but you have to admit, there has to be some sort of enjoyment for certain people to do it for so long. In fact, I’ve talked to prostitutes that say they enjoy it.

There are prostitutes interviewed on shows such as HBO’s Hookers: At The Point that say they actually get off and have orgasms.

As to the original question, religion also plays a large factor. Prostitution can be viewed as a cause of premarital sex, children born out of wedlock, disease, men having the option to be unfaithful easier, drug addiction. Religious folks back in the day would literally hang some prostitutes for these acts. I’ll try and find a cite later, my computer is acting up.

At the same time, in Medieval times prostitution was tolerated by the church and civil authorities. The theory was that single men needed something to release their sexual urgers (remember, masturbation was considered a perverse and sick practice that only the most degraded of people would resort to), so brothels were allowed.

As I undestand, a bishop in London once owned a huge brothel. The ladies inside were known as “Winchester Geese” in his honor.

I think originally it stems from purity of the species. For the same reason men have kept women down for so long and valued virginity - because they wanted to be sure the children were theirs. So if a virgin is the best thing you can have because you can be sure she’s not carrying anyone else’s child, a prostitute must then be the worst thing you can have - who knows what she’s carrying?

I think there’s something to be said about how this relates to “social class” in general. Historically, what work *was * considered acceptable for women of respectable social standing? Were prostitutes considered of a lower class than some servants? Consider the geisha and the courtesan. Both were socially acceptable roles based on class (with less acceptable counterparts, also based on class).