In the eyes of most, the modern sex worker is often reduced to being merely a victim of circumstance or a product of poor lifestyle choices. Yet these preconceived notions ignore the varied, complex history of prostitution around the world. Across the centuries and the globe, there have been many places and times in which both prostitutes themselves and their relationship to society differ sharply from the typical modern, American perspective…
History Of Prostitution: Renaissance Italy
Italian courtesans knew freedom like no other prostitutes of the Renaissance period. While most women during this time were only truly able to educate themselves if they were sent to a convent, courtesans were able to study freely. Furthermore, courtesans were able to obtain the same security and stability as married women, and, unlike married women, they were actually able to embrace their sexuality.
Widely considered the best educated and most cultured women of their time, these women were able to hold philosophical conversations and discuss poetry with their clients, in addition to providing sex services. Their influence became so great that they were actually able to affect politics by sharing their views with the politicians among their clientele.
Contrary to popular belief, Japanese geishas were not actually solicited for sex (instead, they were entertainers and hostesses). To mistake a geisha for a prostitute was thought to be an incredibly shameful and dishonorable transgression. On the other hand, oiran, or “play women,” were in fact sex workers.
Oiran were the highest ranked prostitutes during Japan’s Edo period (early 1600s-mid 1800s)—during which time prostitution was allowed. Considered skilled enough to entertain nobles, oiran often used extremely formal language and utilized elaborate costuming for their entertainment. Since they were able to escape the heavy patriarchal hand that often affected married women, these prostitutes were able to maintain their own power and influence without any hindrance.
History Of Prostitution: The Ottoman Empire
Throughout history, prostitutes have not exclusively been women–as seen, for example, in the Turkish bathhouses of the Ottoman Empire. With the rise of these bathhouses in the 15th century, young boys known as tellaks would help to bathe and massage their male clients, and even service them sexually. Even though sodomy was illegal during this time, tellaks would find other ways to pleasure their customers and sometimes form close relationships with them. They were even allowed to keep all the money they earned and would be well compensated for any services they provided.
At the highest tier were the ganika. Masters of 64 types of performing arts, ganika had an extensive knowledge of music, painting, theatre, and poetry. Whereas common prostitutes found themselves residing within overcrowded brothels, these elite courtesans took residence in well-furnished homes and even had their own servants. Since they stood as women of not just beauty, but refined intellect and skill, they were respected enough to be brought to public functions, such as festivals and parties.
History Of Prostitution: Ancient Greece
Of all the women in Greece’s long history of prostitution, none were held to such high standards as the auletrides. During a time when sex services were taxed by the state, auletrides were skilled in more than just the art of sexual pleasure. Many proved themselves to be not only accomplished singers and dancers, but even gymnasts and fencers. When hired out to entertain private parties and meetings, these women could end up earning the modern equivalent of several thousand dollars with just a single evening’s worth of work. Overall, they were able to find a respectable place within their culture and even found themselves featured in countless works of art and literature.
In present-day America, Nevada is the only state that legally allows prostitution, within designated locations. One such brothel, the Moonlite BunnyRanch, has proven to be a fair and decent place for sex workers to earn their living. Not only are there strict rules stating that men must be using latex condoms during any sexual activity, STD tests are administered weekly to each of the 500 women licensed to work at the brothel. Drug use is strictly forbidden within the premises and any sexual limits set by the women are to be strictly followed by their customers. On top of it all, many of the women are in charge of creating their own marketing databases and even handle promoting themselves online.