When people say prostitution is the world’s oldest profession, they mean that since the beginning of time women have not given their love away for free. Men are the opposite. Not only are they inclined to give their love freely, they are prepared to do or give anything to obtain it. This is the principal characteristic of sexual reproduction, which we share with other animals.
Girls learn at an early age that many men, young and old, are attracted to her. This thrills and frightens her. Her biological task, however, is to be fertilised by one man who is not only as healthy and as possible, but is willing to help her raise and protect children he made with her.
As it turns out, young, strong, prosperous men with a high social status have always been the most wanted on the marriage market. Their qualities are, as it were, entrance tickets to vaginas. This makes marriage the most popular and acceptable form of prostitution.
In the wider market of sexual desire and the search for gratification, marriage may be the top attraction, but there is a wide variety of sexual liaisons beneath that pinnacle of respectability. Girls recognise themselves as sexually attractive and experience satisfaction from looking at their own image in the mirror. Fashion, the make-up industry and the soft pornography of advertising exert a strong attraction.
Some girls start having sex at a younger age than others, but all discover that they obtain favours in exchange for the sexual satisfaction they provide. They may be looking for Mr Right and marriage and a a family of their own, but in the meantime they also want to have fun. They have affairs and are helped by their partners to get a nice job, a fine apartment, a better living-standard. Usually this occurs so naturally that the idea of ‘prostitution’ doesn’t even arise, especially when there is only one man and he is truly in love and she likes him. Such ‘mistresses’ or ‘lady friends’ are usually kept in the background, but they may also become influential advisers and hold a high position in society.
If the number of contacts increases, and the price per meeting is set more explicitly it becomes more recognisable as prostitution, but here, too, there are ranks to be distinguished. The higher class of professional lovers are called ‘geisha’, ‘hostess’, or ‘escort’. Essential questions are, of course: does the woman decide with whom she has sex and in what way? Does she have self-confidence and is she educated? Does she have enough knowledge about sex to make smart decisions and does she have the freedom to decide for herself what she wants? Recently, conservative religious feminism has begun to condemn prostitution as a crime against women. To support this claim, every sexual act for payment is considered ‘rape’. The ‘escorts’ claim that they act out of free will, is dismissed as self-deception.
There is, as always, a scale of distinctions between the higher and lower ranks of prostitution. At the bottom of the scale are the victims of sex-trafficking who are sold like slaves, are nothing but objects and don’t have anything to say about their lives. They see themselves as failures, as opposites of the successfully married middle class wives and mothers, a status to which they aspire.
But both extremes are somewhat fictional, and figure mainly in moralist discourse about prostitution. In reality, there exist all kinds of gradations of ‘sex in exchange for something’ in the sexual market place.
Prostitution is thus to be defined as a socio-economic phenomenon, illustrating the free market where everybody sells themselves for money or goods, exploits and is exploited, and where some make more profit than others. In that sense prostitution (including male prostitution) is an economic rather than a sexual phenomenon. On the other hand, prostitution illustrates clearly the gender difference which lies at the heart of the sexual system, and is therefore not a by-product, but the very foundation of our economy.