Societies without prostitution

Are there any societies, either present day or in the past, where prostitution was/is nonexistent? Does it exist in hunter-gatherer and other pre-civilized cultures?

It’s going to depend on your definition. In every society there have been people that traded sex for food, and in some animal species as well.

Is that prostitution?

From all I’ve read, prostitution is inevitable in every human culture, even where outlawed and severely punished. There will always be people willing to pay for sex, and there will always be people willing to sell their bodies for a reward, be it cash, food, drugs, alcohol, a big favor, etc.

Very interesting. A few clicks from coremelt’s link leads to another article:

(They didn’t say whether price was negotiated in advance, the prerequisite IIRC for a prostitution arrest.)

This does not however imply that it is likely that prostitution will occur in all human societies. At most it shows that it is likely in societies that have the institution of money. Many, such as the hunter-gatherers mentioned in the OP, do not. I would not count, ether, on this behavior appearing with all types of higher primate. Bonobos for instance, might well get the idea of of cash in a similar way to these capuchins, but sex seems to be so freely available in bonobo society that it seems much less likely that “prostitution” would emerge. Some actual or potential human societies may be more like bonobo society than capuchin.

Nitpick: prostitutes do not “sell their bodies”. Selling is a transfer of ownership. They use their bodies to provide a service - as do people in a wide range of other industries.

As to the OP, there is certainly no known example of a modern society without prostitution. The Chinese claimed to have eliminated it under Mao, and some scholars (particularly Marxist ones) bought into this for a while, but it’s pretty much discredited now. Where it’s severely and consistently punished (as in Mao’s China or Taliban Afghanistan) it happens in less obvious ways, but it still happens.

Would you consider the term “rent out” acceptable? (That’s not a rant or a snark. But as long as we’re getting pedantic, I figured I’d ask.)

I see a difference in how the body is used. In prostitution, one allows the customer/purchaser/renter to use and manipulate the body itself. But employees - and even slaves, I suppose - are in full control of their bodies, doing things that the employer wants them to do.

I see part of the problem being - it does not take women long to learn “guys will do (almost) anyting for sex” and then use it as a leverage for benefits - sometimes offered spontaneously by the male, sometimes implied or demanded by female. It can degenerate into serial monogamy - whoever is the better provider this year, month, week, or day, … or night.

So where does it stop being a relationship of short duration and become prostitution? Most likely when there is money or something of equal value, when the woman does not have to maintain the relationship until the next wildebeast is killed and divided up? Actual cash, tokens that are widely accepted for most goods and services, has been a great facilitator for many human activities, allowing people to specialize instead of spending a good part of their time hunting and gathering their own food.

That, inasmuch as it is true at all, is largely an artifact of the way sexual relations are traditionally manged in our culture (an even then a bit one sided and one dimensional). It is not a point from which to start generalizing about all human societies. Men like or even need sex, but so do women, and women can and do provide men with other benefits apart from sex.

Nitpick: prostitutes absolutely “sell their bodies” because that is the way the English language describes the transaction.

You can argue that this is not a definition of selling in some forms of classical economics. You could argue that other languages do not use this term. (I don’t know this as a fact, though.) But selling one’s services is the term used for many professions and most economists would include this in a description of the overall economy.

Prostitution itself as a term is elastic and inexact. It is used for people who derive their entire incomes from selling sex and for an individual act for money. It is adapted to be used for barter situations and politicized to describe marriage. It is a pejorative for anyone who is perceived to lower standards in return for money or fame.

While the question is legitimate, it’s too hard to answer without constraints. An analogy would be to asking if every society has doctors. If you mean “doctor” as healer, then the answer would be yes. What qualifies a person as a doctor is harder to answer. In 19th century America most of the people the term was applied to bear no resemblance to what we consider a doctor today. You can still become a naturopathic doctor with a degree and license and everything and not be considered a doctor by some. (Me, for example.) If you can’t pin down a term that exists in the law, figuring out what prostitution is will be much tougher. Even as a term, prostitutes are loose.

a tale as old as time

to suggest prostitution is inevitable is to say some women will inevitably fall into that class to be used by men. This isn’t a ‘benefit’ - women have never had equal access to resources, are not yet of an equal standing and are vulnerable to exploitation in every country and culture. This is the context in which prostitution takes place, so to frame it in terms of any other trade is disingenuous. Demand isn’t inevitable, and it’s pretty horrific - have you ever read through punter forums? see the invisible men project for some examples, or just pick any punter forum and read through. That’s entitlement, and it’s about male power.

It’s not a cultural artifact. Ultimately, it’s an artifact of the fact that women get pregnant and men don’t. It’s evolutionarily advantageous for a man, if he can get away with it, to impregnate as many women as possible as quickly as possible, while remaining unattached to all of them so he’s free to impregnate the next one. Women, however, inherently must make a significant investment in order to reproduce. A single man can very easily saturate a single woman’s reproductive capacity, so it’s evolutionarily advantageous for a woman to get a man to stick around and devote his resources to the raising of offspring.

As the old joke goes, a woman wants one man to satisfy her every need, while a man wants every woman to satisfy his one need.

OK, so now (being very generous) you have two examples of cultures where this has been so rather than just one.

Of course, our culture is descended from ancient Greek culture (which explains why its literature is still part of our canon), so they are hardly entirely independent examples, but I will concede that you have two examples out of the thousands of different cultural traditions that have have existed, and the many more that might potentially exist.

That is not at all what md2000 said, or what I was objecting to.

That’s not what the O’Jays taught me:

I’m not sure what you are objecting to?
You don’t think that (most) women have figured out how important to (most) men the urge for sex is?
You don’t think that (many) women, from time to time, use that as leverage in one way or another to get their way?
It may not be explicitly stated during the event, it may simply beimplied, or in actions, but women can and do force male behaviour by withholding or providing sex - and most who do are well aware of what they are doing.

I’m not suggesting every woman does this or every man is a slave to it, but as O.Henry once said,

  • The race is not always to the swiftest, nor the contest to the strongest,
    But that’s the best way to bet on it. *

Once something is in demand by one group and another group has it available, some sort of accomodation will result. It’s just that some will sell it cheaper than others and with less strings attached. Money simple lubricates the process, so to speak.

The only reasons why it might not happen?
-No shortage - either the men can have their way any time (not the best society), or it’s a free love society (yeah, right, like that happens - but in fact, I believe it was in Superfreakonomics they point out the real cost of sex has dropped in the last 100 years, mainly due to competition from “free”.)
-Social control is strong enough to prevent violation of social norms; when has that happened? Even societies that whip prostitutes or worse (but oddly, not the Johns) still have laws and use them.

The fact that of all the societies with money or relatively liquid trade goods, nobody can point to one that did not endure prostitution - shows that it’s a supply and demand situation where plenty of people are willing to commit to the transaction.

The reason it’s something difficult to define or nail down, is that the acts involved surrounding sex - either simple cash-for-nookie or life-long family-making relationships and anything in between, can be very complex. It’s a sad lesson that every guy eventually learns from his first serious relationship, living together is a lot more involved that just free sex every night (for the first month). Relationships tie in status, self esteem, love (reciprocated or not), jealousy, base instincts to have and provide for children, etc. etc. The accomodations of finding, starting, and maintaining a relationship are very demanding. It’s no inevitable some guys would find a simple cash transaction, well… simpler.

Cost Comparison :

Prostitution versus marriage for an average man in the United States :

From wiki, the median income for a man with a bachelor’s degree is $52,265.

By law, at least half of a married man’s income basically goes to the wife.

With taxes, let’s say the actual income is $45,000. (this is state dependent but this is close to being correct)

That’s $22,500 a year to the wife. Quality prostitutes in the United States charge about $300 an act…so she has to provide nookie about 75 times a year to be economically competitive. Since many wives in the U.S. also work their own jobs, marriage is a better deal by far.

On the other hand, in a certain country known for having the best whorehouses in the world by those who frequent them (never been there myself, but there’s a forum on the internet where these things are discussed), in Deutchland it’s about 50 euros a shag. That’s $66 USD.

That means that $22.5k buys 340 shags per year. It’s a good thing that travel costs are so expensive, and that marriages provide other benefits than just sex…

It also means that for a man above a certain income level, marriages for sex are a money losing proposition.

Your idea of prostitution seems to be based on the notion that clients pay their money and in return get a body that they can do whatever they want to. That’s not how it works, for the most part. Even those at the lower end of the market, the drug-addicted street workers, still have things that they will do and things that they won’t do. The sexual service to be provided is negotiated at the outset and a client who oversteps those boundaries commits an assault. Where the client remains within those boundaries, and most of the time they do, the sex worker is also in full control of his or her body.

Of course it’s a different matter where there actually is a relationship of “ownership”, i.e., in situations of sex slavery where a person is pimped out and forced to do whatever their owner is paid for them to do. But that’s not a typical scenario.

“Selling one’s services” is fine. That’s not the same as “selling one’s body”.

And my main objection to it has nothing to do with classical economics or what other languages use, it’s that it doesn’t accurately describe what sex workers do. My further objection is that it’s actually very dangerous to describe it in those terms, because it contributes to the notion that sex workers have no power or right to refuse any particular activity. And this is why violent clients think they can get away with assaulting them, and why police and courts often do let them get away with it.

You do realise your analysis completely erases male sex workers, their male clients, and female clients?

The quotes cherry-picked for the Invisible Men Project are a perfect example of what I referred to in my last post - men who’ve bought into the idea that sex workers are not autonomous individuals but simple merchandise to be used as the “buyer” pleases. Unfortunately, a lot of anti-prostitution feminists also promote this idea.

Sex workers themselves have a lot of very thought-provoking critiques of review forums, which I’d recommend reading. See for example this piece as well as others at the Tits and Sass blog.