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he Laws Have Changed

by Stacy Peters-Walters

 

 

    "…the stubborn cultural assumption that men have the right to define     the sexual norms women must defer to, men’s resistance to     acknowledging or accommodating women’s demands for change in     those norms, the corollary assumption that men’s view of what goes on     between men and women is reality, while contrary views expressed by     women are oversensitive, dishonest, vindictive or crazy …"

    - Ellen Willis
      "Villain and Victims"
      Bad Girls. Good Girls. Women, Sex & Power
      in the Nineties. (47)


For thousands of years men have determined the sex lives of women. They have determined this through religious and societal pressures and the use of laws. Born from this inequality was the popularity of prostitution.

For hundreds of years, in many societies, female sexuality was embraced. The degrading terms whore and prostitute were not leveled at women who enjoyed sexual pleasure or performed sexual duties. Ancient Indians recognized that women enjoyed sex. Celibacy for women was discouraged.

In ancient times the temples employed sacred prostitutes. These priestesses celebrated the annual sacred marriage rite where the head priestess would sexually embrace the ruler of the land to ensure a bountiful harvest of prosperity. All citizens celebrated this rite. Sex was considered a mystic and divine act. Prostitutes still found plenty of work, but there was no apparent stigmatism towards them.

Soon this sexual freedom would change. In the reform text of Urukajna (Later Sumerian ruler) and, with the law codes of Hammurabija (Babylonian ruler), the sex lives of women were first regulated. Greek law stated how to govern the sex lives of citizen women, but prostitutes, courtesans, and homosexuals were exempt.

Later these laws moved into societal value systems where the woman’s chastity was to be protected at all costs. Men were considered sexual aggressors by nature. In order to protect the chastity of the "good women," prostitutes had to be available for the excess sexual urges of men. The double standard soon developed where men were "supposed" to be sexually experienced, yet the women virginal. In order to accommodate this double standard, prostitution flourished. In most societies there were different classes of prostitutes for the classes of male customers.

Somewhere during those thousands of years, both men and women began to believe in the double standard of sexuality. Somewhere men lost the right to tenderly express their love for their partners through sex. Women lost their right to be sexual creatures that delight in the physical pleasures of sex. Somewhere sex became a power struggle.

In the last century, we have slowly struggled to release these time-worn notions about sex. Men and women now look at each other and wonder what the other is thinking. What do men want? What do women want? Where does prostitution fit into this scheme?

For centuries we hid ourselves in comfortable lies about the other gender. Now we are standing naked before each other, trying to take the first feeble steps toward true equality.

Below are men's and women's answers to questions about sex and prostitutions. (These answers have been preserved verbatim.)

What is your opinion about prostitution?

 

"Prostitution has always been a factor of our society. Making prostitution illegal has had no affect on the survival of prostitution. It has, however, resulted in ones crowding our jails and ones burdening our judicial system. The AIDS epidemic may be more effective than the court system in slowing down the growth of prostitution [but] as long as men will pay for sex, prostitution will remain a part of our society."

-- Sandy (female)

"It is a sad plight on our supposedly enlightened times."

-- Female

 

"This is tough... I think I find it pathetic more than anything else. I am not a big fan of sex for sex's sake, and I have trouble understanding the appeal of a one-night stand. Having said that, though, I have heard others' opinions on the subject, and understand that it is very appealing to many. I can understand and accept the desire to have sex with a stranger, whether the desire in a long-held fantasy or a want developed by specific, temporary circumstances. PAYING for it, however, enters into different territory for me. That something as base and natural as sex turns into something one feels one has to pay to 'get' -- I guess that makes the act seem dishonest to me. Like a just-give-it-to-me-whoever-you-are-and-get-it-over-with sort of thing. It ceases to be sexy and becomes pathetic when money is involved. Of course, this opinion comes from someone who, admittedly, has no desire for even a one-night stand."

-- female

 

"I feel that prostitution degrades both the prostitute and the person who avails himself or herself of that prostitute's offerings. I think it represents the weakness and desperation within the human psyche. I fail to see anything positive about it whatsoever."

-- Susan (female)

 

"My opinion about prostitution is a little different. I find it sad that womyn [women] have to sell their bodies, but I have to look at why they do it. Perhaps it is purely financial. Is it to support a drug habit? We have to look at their childhood to understand why they do it, too. I believe that many of the womyn who are sex workers were sexually abused."

-- Cheryl (female)

 

"I think most prostitutes have in some way elected to sacrifice a potentially gratifying sex life for commodifying it, but, it's only one of a host of ultimately bad choices we can make in our lives. For those girls/women forced into it, it should be illegal."

-- Carol (female)

 

"Although it's not a highly respected profession, in fact, not even a legal one, I always thought prostitution was one of the more enlightened inventions of history. People are always telling you, "find a job where you'll be doing something you enjoy." As any profession, the money is good, if you're in the right market, and the service rendered is almost always in demand."

-- Randi (female)

 

"I think that prostitution wouldn't and shouldn't be an issue. If it were legal, the questions concerning underage boys/girls working and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases wouldn't need to be asked because there would be some agency to regulate it."

-- Alison (female)

 

"I believe it is ok under controlled conditions."

-- Adrian (male)

 

"I think it should be outlawed and is morally wrong."

-- Dan (male)

 

"There's nothing wrong with prostitution. It's one of the oldest professions, it was here before we were and it will be here long after we are gone. It's a part of life in some places, you can choose to take part in it, or you can choose to ignore it."

-- Ryan (male)

 

"Should be legalized, heavily regulated and heavily taxed."

-- male

 

"My opinion about prostitution is that, as with many things, there is a great deal of room for people to make mistakes as well as room for people to succeed and accomplish positive things. As a job option, it has not even begun to develop into the kind of field it has the potential to be."

-- Kate (female)

 

Why do people go into prostitution in present times?

 

"Most of the people involved in prostitution are also involved in drugs. The majority are drug addicts who use prostitution to feed their addiction. Many of the young people involved in prostitution were forced to leave their homes as a result of the physical and verbal abuse that often goes along with drug abuse in the family. Prostitution is the only way many see as a way of surviving the streets."

-- Sandy (female)

 

"I can not imagine given AIDS, etc."

-- female

 

"I believe low self-esteem covers a lot. Women who don't think they can make a living using their brain or other skills may go into prostitution. Women who are taught for whatever reason that they'll never amount to anything -- self-fulfilling prophesy -- may go into prostitution. Women who need the approval of men, who think it's flattering and they're better than other women if men want them for sex all of the time, may fill that need via prostitution. Attention. Some may find it financially practical, believing they couldn't make that much any other way, and are willing to sell for a price. A few may find it exciting, as it is a very risky, dangerous profession (pimps, STDs, etc.)."

-- female

 

"I see at least two reasons that people go into prostitution today. The first is the constant bombardment by the media and the entertainment industry glorifying sex and extolling its virtues under any circumstance, making any enterprise that promotes sex seem like a normal, even vital, part of our culture. The second is desperation. A person going into prostitution often sees no other way to 'make a living' and is lured by the prospects of easy cash and ego-stroking. The prostitute's environment contains many illusory seducements....from drugs to a certain status to financial rewards....but little or nothing of lasting personal value."

-- Susan (female)

 

"I think people go into prostitution in present times because of financial reasons and to support a drug habit. Another reason is that many of these grrls and boyz are 'throwaways.' To survive, they had to do what they had to do."

-- Cheryl (female)

 

"To support drug and other expensive habits, or because they may need reinforcement for their sexuality, or they may think that's the only way they can have a man, and, there are those sold into it."

-- Carol (female)

 

"People need money; it's a fact of life. Any unskilled, uneducated person can succeed in the prostitution field."

-- Randi (female)

 

"Most people, I think now, are runaways trying to survive on the streets and drug users who are trying to support their habit. On rare occasions, I would say some are single parents who can't afford day care or a regular job..."

-- Alison (female)

 

"For money mainly"

-- Adrian (male)

 

"I would think only for the money. I don't know why else they would do it."

-- Dan (male)

 

"They have nowhere else to turn, they need money, or they're desperate."

-- Ryan (male)

 

"Lack of money, they feel it is the only way to get ahead with the opportunities that they have."

-- male

 

"Most prostitutes are in financial need in one way or another: some have children to feed; some have drug habits that pre-date their experiences as a prostitute; some have other reasons that may range from caring for a sick friend or relative (as was the case of a girl I knew several years ago) to paying for college on one's own."

-- Kate (female)

 

 

Why do you think people went into prostitution in ancient times?

 

"In ancient times women were forced into prostitution by their families. The prostitutes were either abandoned by their families or forced to earn money to help support their family. In a society with no real options for women, prostitution or marriage was the only choice. If the family could not or would not find a marriage partner for their daughter, she had little choice but to become a prostitute."

-- Sandy (female)

 

"Because it was often the only profession open to women, sad to say."

-- female

 

"I see a smugness in some prostitutes (as portrayed in film, or as interviewed on TV) that I imagine has existed throughout time -- prostitutes get attention, get the "good' side of men (meaning they see them when men want to be there, not when kids are screaming and bills need paid), and have a sort of power over men. If you have a lucky career, you can live a life of prostitution feeling somewhat powerful -- a "make-em-beg" sort of attitude about your career. IF they're all nice to you and you have some reinforcements -- a madam, for example. This was certainly appealing in past times when women had less power and voice than now.

In some times and societies, prostitutes led (and lead) quite wealthy and luxurious lives, especially if protected by royalty or the like. The alternative was often poverty or worse."

-- female

 

"Certainly out of desperation again, I believe. I think perhaps it was even encouraged and glorified in some cultures. I am not familiar enough with the role of prostitution in ancient cultures to answer this question well."

-- Susan (female)

 

"I think people went into prostitution during ancient times because of financial reasons as well. I don't think it was as stigmatized as it is today. It was just another profession."

-- Cheryl (female)

 

"Some of same reasons, but I guess at least some prostitution, temple prostitution, for example, was revered, an aspect of being close to the divine. So it was, perhaps an honor."

-- Carol (female)

 

"I imagine in ancient times it was the ONLY way a woman could earn her own money."

-- Randi (female)

 

"I really have no idea. Probably a lot of the same reasons they do today."

-- Alison (female)

 

"For money or were sold into it"

-- Adrian (male)

 

"Probably also for money. I don't think it was looked down upon as much as now so it probably wasn't as big of deal."

-- Dan (male)

 

"It was a job like any other one. Prostitution didn't bring about the same stereotype as it does today. If it was something a person was good at and they could make money, they went ahead and did what they had to do. (or should I say who?)"

-- Ryan (male)

 

"For the same reasons, it was the only way that they could make money."

-- male

 

"To be honest, I'm not sure how accurate my understanding of the history of prostitution is, so any answer I give is pure conjecture and speculation. That having been said, I'm under the impression that there have been periods in history when prostitution was quite a commonly accepted profession and one that did not bring with it the shame that society now associates with it.

On the other hand, I'm also under the impression that there have been periods in history when the perception of prostitutes was even worse than it is today in western society, so my suspicion is that as society's moral structure has evolved and recreated itself, so have the notions about prostitution."

-- Kate (female)

 

You are young woman, 16, in ancient Greece. You have two options. Your parents have provided you with a dowry and have selected a man for you to marry. You can marry him. This will mean that you will be ensconced in the women’s quarters of the house and rarely leave your section of the house. Your only other option will be to become a prostitute. You are lucky that you have the education to become a courtesan, who is paid more and given more respect than a common prostitute. As a prostitute you will be able to control you money, your land and your life by yourself but you will be an outcast from you family, friends and your society. Which will you choose? Why?

 

"It is difficult to answer such a question as my answer would be based on how I was raised in today’s society. Being a virtual prisoner in my husband’s home is an intolerable idea. I was raised to be independent and in control of my own destiny. What security as a whole or individual friends might think has never played an important role in the decisions I make. Going against my family would be very difficult but at sixteen most of us do! However, a sixteen-year-old raised in ancient society has nothing in common with how I was raised. She would never have experienced independence or control of her own life. Rebelling against society and family would not be an option for most girls of that time. I, like most, would have been raised and conditioned to obey a totally male ruled society. Marriage would be the only acceptable choice."

-- Sandy (female)

 

"I would like to say I’d choose to be a courtesan. However I could not leave my beloved family. Besides – I might learn to love the man they choose but I could never love a man who just wanted me for his pleasure. Come to think of it – being married to that Greek does sound kind of boring! You do propose a problem!"

-- female

 

"It's REALLY difficult to answer this from a contemporary perspective. I might become a prostitute, but that may be the Romantic heroine in me answering. I would definitely want to control my own money and land if I could. BUT, if every time I went into town to buy food, I was spat upon, I would quickly tire of it and feel like I hadn't gained much in terms of respecting myself. Not to mention the prostitution. However, I would be too stubborn to marry. Ultimately, I think I would opt for the independence of prostitution, but I doubt I would be happy."

-- female

 

"I would probably select the first option myself because I believe in the greater importance of the life of the soul and the spirit over the importance of material assets and "control of my life". Some of the freest, happiest, most contented people have risen above strictly controlled circumstances of life to nurture their spirit and to find their center of peace. It is not so important to me to control the outer trappings of my life as to foster the inner possibilities."

-- Susan (female)

 

"I think I would choose to marry the man, and perhaps develop an intimate relationship with someone in the womyn's* quarters. I would do this because I would get the best of both worlds. Security and acceptance are pretty important to me."

-- Cheryl (female)

 

"Prostitute. I make friends easily, so could overcome, in time, the separations. With a series of lovers, chances are I'd come up with someone I'd like, even love at some point. With an arranged marriage, however, I'd be stuck forever. In addition, as a prostitute, life would be at least more interesting than as a married drudge in a cloister."

-- Carol (female)

 

"I would choose to be a prostitute because I would rather have meaningless sex for money and control my own life than have meaningless sex and give up my life. There's always the option of saving enough money to get out of the business when you can. As far as being out cast from my friends, family, and society, I cannot emphasize how important I think it is to have pride. I would rather live alone, with no ties, and be able to face myself in the mirror in the morning and hold my head up as I walk down the street because I stayed true to myself than have a family I'd probably never see anyone and wouldn't want to see because I'd be ashamed of what I became."

-- Alison (female)

 

"Marriage. Less chance of contracting a deadly disease."

-- Adrian (male)

 

"The marriage. I don't think the shame I would feel from being a prostitute could outweigh the unhappiness of the marriage."

-- Dan (male)

 

"I've examined this question all week and still haven't come up with an answer. I think I'm looking at it too seriously :) Since I am getting married this summer, I tend to believe I would do the stay-at-home wife thing, but then again, I doubt if any woman from 1997 could submit themselves to the restricted lifestyle you described. Then again, I don't think I would enjoy a life as a courtesan just because I don't enjoy sex unless its with someone I trust and love (call me old-fashioned). Then again, in those days, sex was not meant for women's enjoyment anyway, so I doubt I would be fortunate enough to have a husband who would work at giving ME pleasure while he enjoyed himself. See what I mean?

There's no answer!"

-- Randi (female)

 

"Become the prostitute. You have control over your life and the freedom to make choices. Ask anyone today, and they would rather run around their neighborhood naked than have their parents pick their future spouse. In this scenario, you would become a common house wife who is expected to answer yes or no and agree with whatever your husband says. Be the prostitute, have your own life, make new friends, and eventually, your family will come around. As far as society goes, Fuck 'em!"

-- Ryan (male)

 

"I will choose my independence and free will, which is to say that I will choose to be the womyn who controls her money, her land, and her life. If I were to choose the other option, I would still be a prostitute in principal, but I would have sacrificed my freedom in the process."

-- Kate (female)

 

 

What do you think are common sexual desires women have?

 

"Hmm. I don't know what to say here. I believe sex as attention is a strong force, especially for young women. But desires? I DON'T think sex without caring, and with multiple partners, is a common desire for women. What is? Passionate, romantic sex, which usually involves feeling like the man or woman likes more than your body, and likes you for more than "just" sex. Can a one-night stand be passionate and romantic? Yes, I suppose, but I don't know if it's a "common sexual desire" for women. If it is, I don't know how it would play out; the same as men, I suppose. He's attractive, quiet, and wants you."

-- female

 

"I think women and men have basic sexual urges...physical impulses...that they wish to have fulfilled. I think women entwine their emotions with these desires to a greater extent than men do. Thus, their sexual desires contain elements of wanting to be loved and wanting to satisfy another person."

-- Susan (female)

 

"Common sexual desires of a womyn? I think womyn want men who take their time and want to cuddle after."

-- Cheryl (female)

 

"I think it runs the gamut: some for intimacy, some for hot, steamy sex; some for nurturance, some to know they are turning a man on, some for the conquest. Obviously talking about heterosexual prostitutes."

-- Carol (female)

 

"I think women have more of a need to feel LOVED, and to be cuddled, and caressed, than do men. Women don't care so much about penetration, or making loud noises, etc. That stuff is for show. A woman can be satisfied without breaking a sweat."

-- Randi (female)

 

"To be satisfied and loved. To be treated as equals both in and out of the bedroom. (Ya know, what's good for the goose damn well better be good for the gander... If a guy expects me to go down on him, he better be prepared to return the favor.)"

-- Alison (female)

 

"I think each woman is different. On the most part though I think that they enjoy tenderness and intense emotion."

-- Adrian (male)

 

"I think it is to be loved and have a sense of fulfillment."

-- Dan (male)

 

"This depends largely on the woman. Sexual desires can vary from one extreme to the next. Some women need fore-play and time 'together,' others desire something along the lines of cool-whip and nice dog collar and chain. As far as sexual partners go, that varies even more."

-- Ryan (male)

 

"I'm hesitant to speak for most womyn, just as I'm hesitant to speak for most men; in casual discussions with people over the years, I've learned that the hard-and-fast rules about what womyn want and what men want are, quite often, a lot of hype."

-- Kate (female)

 

What do you think men think women’s sexual desires are?

 

"To be treated like a princess, gently, slowly, carefully."

-- female

 

"I think men want to think that the pure sexual impulse of a woman is as strong and as constant as theirs. But I do believe they know that women's emotions are more tied into their sexual desires...men just sometimes choose to ignore that. However, I believe that that is more reflective of male/female roles in society than of an absolute truth."

-- Susan (female)

 

"I think men know that womyn want them to take their time and to cuddle after, but I don't think they want to do that. Generally speaking, of course. IMHO [In my humble opinion], I believe that they know what we want, but since their primary goal is to get off, they don't really care."

-- Cheryl (female)

 

"I think most white men can't get beyond the conviction that all women are looking for is a big dick. Third world men think women are looking for "good loving", a satisfying sexual experience."

-- Carol (female)

 

"The big 'O'!!!"

-- Alison (female)

 

"To be loved and to use sex as a means to get what they want."

-- Dan (male)

 

"I don't think most men have a clue. Then again, with age and experience, I think most learn that women don't get as much out of a "wham-bam thank you ma'am" as they do. They joke a lot about women wanting foreplay, but I have a feeling most don't do much about it."

-- Randi (female)

 

"Most men think women desire whatever the guy sees in the mirror everyday."

-- Ryan (male)

 

"Everyone, is different, I suppose it would be a rather handsome, in-shape guy."

-- male

 

What sexual desires do you think men have?

 

"I think they like to feel like they can have sex on demand, and not be made to feel like a pig for it. In other words, they desire sex with someone who likes sex. I think many of them like to be controlling, setting the pace, but not all."

-- female

 

"I think men overall have stronger physical sexual urges than women. And I believe they think about sex more, read sex into more of their everyday lives and seek more opportunities to relieve their sexual urges. I also think men have emotional requirements when it comes to sex but that these requirements do not play as strong a role in seeking sexual satisfaction as they do for women."

-- Susan (female)

 

"I think men want a womyn who they can just have sex with. No strings, no commitments, no attachments. Just someone at their sexual beck and call. I think they like spontaneity, as well."

-- Cheryl (female)

 

"Depends. Some, conquest--notches on the gun; some, a woman always available; some, sexual intimacy, others to try and prove they are great lovers, etc."

-- Carol (female)

 

"Them all."

-- Alison (female)

 

"From discussion with other men I have found that for the most part they enjoy first having an oral orgasm and then having sexual intercourse with a women."

-- Adrian (male)

 

"Mostly to be fulfilled. It's more a physical thing to men."

-- Dan (male)

 

"Some men, (you can't lump them all together) but some men seem to think of sex as a means of 'possessing' their women. If she has sex with me, she is mine. I could go off for hours about that, but I don't that's what you're asking for. It's so impossible to say what men really desire, cause depending on who they talk to, they change their answers. Men will tell me they want a woman for companionship, to love and be loved, then I will hear them turn to my fiancée when they think I'm not listening and remark, ‘Look at that girl. I'd nail her.’ "

-- Randi (female)

 

"You name it, they have it."

-- Ryan (female)

 

"Two women, bondage, the desires cover a very large range."

-- male

 

Your daughter has decided to be a prostitute. What would you say or do
about it?

 

"It depends on what type of prostitute she wanted to be. If she wanted to work the streets I would disagree with her. Otherwise if she was in a high class place that treated her well I would encourage her and also let her know that if she ever needed help that I would be there for her."

-- Adrian (male)

 

"Would not be extremely happy and I would try my hardest to deter her from that course of action with everything in my disposal to do so."

-- male

 

What would you think if you found out that your mother or your sister or your girlfriend had formerly been a prostitute?

 

"I would not care about my mother or sister but if it was my girlfriend I would want to make sure that she was free of disease. I believe that a former prostitute is just that. Former."

-- Adrian (male)

 

If you would like to share your thoughts about these questions, please fill out the form.


 

Name

E-mail address

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Will you allow us to use your name?
   YES          NO

What is your gender?

What is your opinion about prostitution?

 

Why do people go into prostitution in present times?

 

Why do you think people went into prostitution in ancient times?

 

You are young woman, 16, in ancient Greece. You have two options. Your parents have provided you with a dowry and have selected a man for you to marry. You can marry him. This will mean that you will be ensconced in the women’s quarters of the house and rarely leave your section of the house. Your only other option will be to become a prostitute. You are lucky that you have the education to become a courtesan, who is paid more and given more respect than a common prostitute. As a prostitute you will be able to control you money, your land and your life by yourself but you will be an outcast from you family, friends and your society. Which will you choose? Why?

 

 

What do you think are common sexual desires women have?

 

 

What do you think men think women’s sexual desires are?

 

 

What sexual desires do you think men have?

 

 

Your daughter has decided to be a prostitute. What would you say or do
about it?

 

 

What would you think if you found out that your mother or your sister or
your girlfriend had formerly been a prostitute?

 

          


* the word woman comes from middle english, wifman, where man meant man and wifman meant the wife of man. The word woman, first of all, implies that man is the basic unit of society and woman is defined by man's presence.

And, for example, if you say "all men are created equal," you are referring to both men and women, whereas if you say the same about women, you are only speaking of women. Thus, women are part of the larger group "men", but men are not part of the subgroup "women." This illustrates who has power, who is defined as "other" in a society.

Alternative spellings of the word "woman" are often used in order to change the root word of woman. Thus instead of the root of woman being "man," it is instead somethng self-defined, not imposed by society or some arbitrary power structure. So when you see people using "womyn," or some other spelling of the word, that may be why.

Emily L. Pitt
epitt@moose.uvm.edu


Stacy Peters-Walters is an education major at Dakota State Univeristy. She can be contacted at peterss@triton.dsu.edu.


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