Prostitution: Causes and Consequences
Prostitution has been termed as one of the oldest professions, with its history going back to as early the ancient period. Indeed, records of most ancient societies — from Greeks and Romans to Jews, Hebrews, Asians, and Muslims — point to the existence of prostitution several thousand years ago (Sanders, O’Neill & Pitcher, 2009). Today, though illegal in some jurisdictions, prostitution is a widespread practice, with virtually every major urban area across the globe having numerous brothels, escort services, and joints disguised as massage parlors. Prostitution is also practiced at the sex worker’s or client’s residence as well as in adult entertainment locations such as strip clubs. Emanating mainly from individual and socioeconomic factors, prostitution is associated with a number of dangers on the individuals involved, and may expose one to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). This paper describes the causes and consequences of prostitution, clearly demonstrating how individuals get involved, what goes on during the process, and the subsequent effects. First, a definition of prostitution is provided. Next, attention is paid to factors that may cause prostitution as well as consequences and socioeconomic issues associated with the practice.
Though there is no universally accepted definition, prostitution essentially denotes involvement in sexual activity for money or some other form of benefit (Weitzer, 2005). It may also be referred to as sex work or commercial sex (Sanders, O’Neill & Pitcher, 2009). In many societies, it is common for individuals who have had sexual intercourse with several partners without necessarily involving payment to be termed as prostitutes. For purposes of this paper, however, a prostitute is defined as an individual who engages in sexual activity specifically in exchange for payment.
Prostitution is one of the elements of the larger sex industry, which involves stripping, erotic dancing, and pornography. It takes various forms, mainly street prostitution, brothels, and escorts (Weitzer, 2005). Street sex workers solicit for clients along streets, often by wearing provocative clothing. Brothels are settings specifically established for prostitution. In major cities, brothels are often known as red-light districts. Street prostitution and brothels differ from escorts in that the latter usually does not involve explicit advertisement or solicitation of sexual activity. Instead, though sexual activity is often involved, clients compensate prostitutes for spending time with them in a hotel room or at the client’s or prostitute’s residence. Prostitution is also common in strip clubs and massage parlors, and may also take the form of sex tourism (travelling to engage in sexual activity) and virtual sex (performance of sexual acts for money over the internet and phone) (Sanders, O’Neill & Pitcher, 2009).
Though gathering data about the industry is quite difficult, in large part due to its clandestine nature, estimates indicate that 23 in every 100,000 people in the U.S. are full-time prostitutes (Sanders, O’Neill & Pitcher, 2009). The prevalence of the practice tends to differ from country to country depending on factors such as culture and the law. Though instances of male sex workers have been on the rise in the recent past, commercial sex work has historically been dominated by women (Weitzer, 2005). In other words, women are significantly more likely to engage in sexual activity for payment than men.
Causes and Risk Factors
Prostitution is attributable to a number of factors. Socioeconomic factors present the greatest risk factor for prostitution (Elmes et al., 2017). Poverty and lack of employment often compels women to use their bodies as a source of income. This is particularly true for women with little or no educational qualifications, from poor backgrounds, and without employed spouses or partners (especially single women with children) (Gorkoff & Runner, 2003). For such women, prostitution provides income to pay bills as well as support their children and families. In addition to economic difficulties, prostitution has become ever more popular in the society due to socio-cultural changes such as increased dilution of conservative moral values, greater advocacy for individual will, popular culture, as well as increased availability and accessibility of pornographic content (Sanders, O’Neill & Pitcher, 2009). These factors have in one way or another changed attitudes towards prostitution.
Prostitution may not necessarily be caused by socioeconomic factors. Individual and family factors can as well lead one to prostitution. Some individuals may engage in prostitution not necessarily to make money, but as a way of self-gratification (Jeffreys, 1997). In other words, prostitution may give one happiness, fulfillment, and freedom. Other individuals may be drawn into prostitution by family members (Gorkoff & Runner, 2003). In fact,…