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Prostitution is the act or practice of providing sexual services to another person in return for payment. Persons who execute such activity are called prostitutes. Prostitution is one of the branches of the sex industry. Estimates place the annual revenue generated from the global prostitution industry to be over $100 billion.

Etymology and terminology

"To prostitute" is derived from a composition of two Latin words: (preposition) pro and (verb) statuere. A literal translation therefore would be: "to expose", "to place up front".

A variety of terms are used for those who engage in prostitution, some of which distinguish between different kinds or imply a value judgment about them. Common alternatives for prostitute include escort and whore; however, not all professional escorts are prostitutes.

The English word whore derives from the Old English word hōra, from the Indo-European root kā meaning "desire". Use of the word whore is widely considered pejorative, especially in its modern slang form of ho'. In Germany most prostitutes' organizations deliberately use the word Hure (whore) since they feel that prostitute is a bureaucratic term. Those seeking to remove the social stigma associated with prostitution often promote terminology such as sex worker, commercial sex worker (CSW), "tantric engineer" (coined by author Robert Anton Wilson), or sex trade worker. A hooker or streetwalker solicits customers in public places; a call girl makes appointments by phone.

Correctly or not, prostitute without specifying a gender is commonly assumed to be female; compound terms such as male prostitution or male escort are therefore used to identify males. Those offering services to female customers are commonly known as gigolos; those offering services to male customers are hustlers or rent boys.

Organizers of prostitution are typically known as pimps (if male) and madams (if female). More formally, they practice procuring, and are procurers, or procuresses.

The customers of prostitutes are known as johns or tricks in North America and punters in the British Isles. These slang terms are used among both prostitutes and law enforcement for persons who solicit prostitutes. The term john may have originated from the customer practice of giving their name as "John", a common name in English-speaking countries, in an effort to maintain anonymity. In some places, men who drive around red-light districts for the purpose of soliciting prostitutes are also known as kerb crawlers.


Middle English broþel, < Old English broðen ruined, degenerate, past participle of bréoðan to go to ruin: a variant of brethel n.

The modern sense arises from confusion with an entirely different word bordel n. (q.v.); the brothel was originally a person, the bordel a place. But the combinations bordel-house and brothel's house ran together in the form brothel-house, which being shortened to brothel, the personal sense of this word became obsolete, and it remains only as the substitute of the original bordel.

Other meanings

The word "prostitution" can also be used metaphorically to mean debasement or working towards an unworthy cause. In this sense, "prostituting oneself" or "whoring oneself" the services or acts performed are typically not sexual. For instance, in the book, The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield says of his brother ("D.B."): "Now he's out in Hollywood, D.B., being a prostitute. If there's one thing I hate, it's the movies. Don't even mention them to me." D.B. is not literally a prostitute; Holden feels that his job writing B-movie screenplays is morally debasing.

The word "prostitute", or more frequently "whore", is also used as an insult towards a person (typically a woman or girl) who is perceived as being sexually promiscuous.[1]

See also