Fondly coined as the worlds’ oldest profession, sex work dates back to before the Bible and can be found through just about every culture, and is still a widely debated topic today with large emphasis being placed on its relation to womens rights as well as the separation of church and state. Even in 2020 only a select few parts of the world have legalised this profession.
The Ancient World
Similar to sex toys of the ancient world, sex work was very different back in biblical times. The Greco-Romans’ had one of the most complex sex work industries we know of, with the societies having an estimated minimum of 25 different types of sex worker of which were further categorised by the gender of the worker. Unsurprisingly during these times male prostitutes weren’t seen to be in such a state of disgrace as their female counterparts, with a large amount of emphasis being placed on homoflexibility at this point in history.
The Greeks only recognised 3 of the aforementioned 20 plus subcategories of sex worker; the Dicteriades of whom were of the lower classes and seen as common, the Auletrides who were known to in essence be flute playing lesbians as well as a step up from the previous class, and finally the Hetaire noted to be “kept women” of a higher calibre than the other prostitutes and were given more respect than their more common counterparts.
Meanwhile, the Romans really weren’t fucking around with their labels during the classing of their sex workers with a few really bizarre and really specific classes of prostitute. My personal favourite being the Forariae, a class of country girls known specifically for lurking around country roads, or the Lupae of whom cried to imitate wolves or even the Bustuariae who worked as mourners at funerals, for the life of me I can’t figure out how this one in particular related to prostitution but it did. The Romans also labelled madams and pimps separately as Leno with there being several subcategories of this as well, all of whom shared the common trait of being loathed by the public.
As a general prostitution or any kind of sex work was placed within a state of monopoly by the ancient Greco-Romans’, and the workers were even considered public servants although they were not allowed to mix with the general public in ceremonies. The (absurd) reasoning behind this was that the more sex workers = the safer “virtuous” women were, and as concerning as that point of view is, its basis is still seen today.
Tang Dynasty China
Meanwhile, Tang Dynasty China messed around with the concept of prostitution as a whole with these women being more highly educated than the general female populace and used primarily for their intellect and personality rather than their bodies, and a notable portion of customer-worker relationships were completely platonic. With the Chinese character for prostitute being a direct translation of “female performer”. Brothels from this time gained the majority of their earnings from hosting feasts for their clientele and workers to socialise within a public setting, and for the prostitutes to perform (in non-sexual ways such as dancing and playing music), and madams’ even went far enough as to discourage the girls from sleeping with their customers. Red light districts were even seen to be a large point of high society, and well known poets would give public reviews of prostitutes of which had the ability to greatly increase or decrease her demand. A famous prostitute critic by the name of Cui Ya is noted to have had so much influence that his poetry could make or break the career of the prostitute he was speaking of.
As you’d expect in Medieval times prostitution, or any type of sex work for that matter, was a bit of a blurry subject for the public. With no real separation of church and state fornication in and of itself was seen to be completely morally wrong by the majority of the populace, and all prostitutes were forced to wear particular clothing as specified by the church in order to distinguish them from others, although what garments used differed in each province. If a prostitute was seen not wearing the clothing specified, then any member of the public had the right to strip them where they stood. The only reason this profession was allowed in any form was due to St Augustine noting it to be a necessary “lesser evil” to keep lust in check and stop unmarried men from having sex with or raping “respectable townswomen”. All in all, twas fairly fucked up and a direct correlation can be seen between Medieval times and ancient Rome, because of course, the Catholic church.
Not like cheap phone sex hey?
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Find more about the history of sex workers in Part 2 of this series by Madison a consultant at the best adult shop sydney.
For part two of this series on the history of sex workers click here!