Top 10 types of the world’s oldest profession of Prostitution

December 29, 2014 6:13 pm

Prostitution is called the world’s oldest profession, and for good reason.
Prostitution has been around since the beginning of recorded history and
it’s had a lot of time to grow. A prostitute isn’t just a
prostitute—there are a wide variety of different types of women
throughout history who have served a varied role in civilization, from
shunned outcast to pillars of society.

10 Ying-chi

The ying-chi are arguably the first official, independent
prostitutes in Chinese history. Their acknowledged existence is credited
to Emperor Wu, who was said to recruit female camp followers for the
sole purpose of escorting his armies and keeping them entertained on
long marches. Ying-chi literally means “camp harlot,” a title that was no doubt a flattering one in 100 BC.
Some sources question these girls’ claim as the first Chinese
prostitutes, though. It’s said that the King of Yue set up the first
prostitution camps, made up of the widows of fallen soldiers. These
women were quite different from the later, upstanding courtesans that
were so popular, whose role was to give a man “friendship.” The ying-chi
are also different from the women who worked in government-run brothels—these much older institutions date back to somewhere in the seventhth century BC.

9 Temple Prostitutes
The role of the temple prostitute
in ancient Greco-Roman society is one that’s been the subject of much
debate. It’s not debated whether or not it was a popular practice—that
much is sure—but the details of the practice are still up for
interpretation. Temple prostitutes were those that plied their trade
within the sanctity of the temples and with permission from temple
priests—by extension, they were also working for their deity.
Just how much of a religious service these temple prostitutes were
carrying out isn’t known. Some scholars argue that they were simply
slaves whose services were sold as a way to earn money for the temple.
Others believe that they had a much more respected role in the temple
and in the worship of their deity, and believe that visiting a temple
prostitute and hiring her (or his) services was a form of worship. This
theory is especially popular in conjunction with fertility cults and
goddesses like Aphrodite.
The idea of a temple prostitute is a general one and there are
different tiers in the temple hierarchy. Many of all types were brought
to the temple as virgins to dedicate their lives and their bodies to the
worship of their god or goddess. Some sources suggest that it was only
girls younger than 14 who served as temple prostitutes in ancient
Greece. There’s a huge amount of contradicting evidence available as to
what roles these figures served, but without a doubt they were an
important part of temple life.

8 Devadasis


Photo credit: Diganta Talukdar

A devadasi is a woman who has been forced into a life of
prostitution in the service of the Hindu goddess of fertility, Yellamma.
When girls reach the age of puberty, their parents auction their virginity
to the highest bidder. Once that is taken from them, they are dedicated
to the goddess and spend the rest of their lives as prostitutes in the
name of Yellamma. Every night, their lot is the same—sold to whoever
pays the most. For parents, it’s not a bad deal. Not only do they not
have to raise a dowry to give to someone to marry their daughters, but
many keep the money that the girls earn.
The practice has been a regular part of Yellamma’s religion for centuries. Even though it was outlawed in India
in 1988, the practice still continues today. The stigma attached to the
devadasi is heavy—even if the women decide to give up the lifestyle,
they will never be married. Once they’re dedicated to their goddess,
there’s no turning back. Most devadasis are cast out of the temple in
their mid-40s, when they are no longer considered young and attractive
enough to bring honor to their goddess, and most turn to begging in
order to support themselves for the remainder of their lives.

7 Comfort Women

The so-called “comfort women” of World War II are a dark and often
overlooked footnote in history. Beginning in 1932, the Japanese military
began recruiting women—mostly Korean—for work in newly established
“comfort stations”. The women were promised jobs, but what they weren’t
told was that these stations were brothels for use by the men of the
Japanese military.
In the end, somewhere around 200,000 women
were shipped off to become comfort women, and it’s estimated that only
between 25–30 percent of these women survived their ordeal. Girls as
young as 11 were forced to service anywhere from 50–100 different men
each day and were subjected to beatings
if they refused. While the Japanese government has issued verbal
apologies, they have largely refused monetary compensation to the
surviving comfort women and their families. As of 2014, there are only
55 known surviving comfort women.

6 Auletrides

The auletrides were a class of Greek prostitute that enjoyed a
unique position in society. Far from shunned, these women were skilled
in more than just sexual encounters. They were flute players and trained
dancers. Some of them had other talents that made them entrancing
public performers, such as juggling, fencing, and acrobatics. Many took
to the streets in public performances that were included in religious
ceremonies and festivals, and some sources say that they were also
popular for children.
The auletrides could be reserved for private parties as well, when the more sexual of their talents were utilized. Other, similar types of entertainers were the psaltriai, or harp players, and the kitharistriai, or lyre players. These girls—and occasionally boys—often reported to a poroboskos, who essentially acted as a madam to hire them out for private parties.

5 Ganika

The Ganika was the Indian version of Japan’s geisha. These women enjoyed high standing
in society and having one around meant that good luck and prosperity
were to follow. As a Ganika would never marry and never be widowed, they
escaped the social stigma of widowhood. Widows were considered to be
extremely bad omens and were, at one point, forbidden to appear in
Indian society recognizes nine types of prostitutes
and the Ganika was the elite tier in this hierarchy. In addition to
sexual talents, these Indian prostitutes were expected to learn a
variety of other skills in the field of the performing arts. Once all 64
were mastered, the woman was raised to the position of Ganika.
While other types of prostitutes were typically housewives making
extra money for the husbands that controlled them or servants that were
expected to provide their masters with sexual as well as domestic
services, the Ganika would be given a place of honor in royal courts and
have songs and poems written about her beauty and skills. As they
typically served the nobility, they were protected by state laws. They
were also subject to them, too, and could be beaten or fined for refusing a noble customer.

4 Zonah

The zonah is the female prostitute of the Hebrew Bible.
Unlike other women, she was not owned by a man and was not responsible
for producing children to carry on a family line. The zonah existed
outside the laws of the Bible, with only a small number of rules
included in the book for dictating behavior of and towards these women.
One very specific rule is that a father is forbidden from selling his
daughter into prostitution, and if the daughter of a priest becomes a
zonah, then she is condemned to be burned to death. Priests were
forbidden to marry a zonah, but other men were equally able to marry and
to enjoy them. Other types of prostitutes were attached to the temples
of pagan deities—it was said to be forbidden for an Israelite woman to
become a qedeshab, sometimes interpreted as a temple prostitute.

3 Hetaira

A hetaira was a high-class courtesan in Athens.
Because prostitution was legal in the city, and also because those
prostitutes couldn’t be Athenian citizens, a hetaira was often a slave.
Less often, she was someone living in the city who was born of
non-Athenian parents.
Unlike porne,women that practiced their profession behind
closed doors, the hetaira were often seen working the crowds at
symposiums. They were forbidden to marry a citizen, but could be bought
and freed by one, although the practice was frowned upon. Their status
as a hetaira would never be erased, and if they were caught pretending
to be a full citizen, they could be taken to court. Those found guilty
could be returned to a life of slavery. Hetaira were frequently made
the mistresses of the most powerful of people and have been known to sit
as models for statues of Aphrodite, so great was their elegance and

2 Tawaif

The tawaifs were known as performing artists in North India
during the 18th to early 20th centuries. Much like the geisha, they
were dancers and musicians, thought of not as prostitutes in the usual
sense but as performers with a circle of patrons rather than clients.
Many were wealthy, especially those that chose their patrons wisely.
Those that had daughters could pass their wealth—and often their
profession—on to them. In fact, coming from a long line of tawaifs
increased social standing. They were forbidden from marrying, but could
enter into a different sort of formal relationship with their patrons
that made them wives in everything but name. Interestingly, they were
seen as existing alongside traditional wives as two sides to the same
coin. Where the wife was the respectable way to continue a family line,
the tawaif was the beautiful, sensual creature that only a powerful man
could attract.

1 Mut’ah

The subject of mut’ah (or mut’a) is a tricky one. It’s an Islamic temporary marriage,
in which two parties enter into an agreement to be married for a set
amount of time. The contract can be written or verbal, and all parts of
the marriage are agreed upon beforehand, including how much of a “dowry”
the woman will receive, what kind of physical contact will be involved,
and how long the marriage is going to last.
On one hand, proponents say that it’s a way for two people to live
together before getting a full marriage to see if they’re right for each
other without breaking any Islamic laws. Some contracts can stipulate
that there will be no physical contact, and some are done under the
watchful eyes of the parties’ parents. Other contracts can stipulate
that the marriage is only going to last a few hours and that the woman
is going to get paid for it.
So clear-cut is the fact that it can be used as a way around the
taboo of prostitution that some Muslims, such as the Sunni, staunchly
oppose it. Because of the time restraint and payment options, they say
it’s a loophole for young men and women to have an infinite amount of
partners without any religious guilt.

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