“Love for Sale: a world history of prostitution” by Nils Johan Ringdal
I promised a book review about the history of prostitution and by that promise, I write this (and after a little nudge from a regular reader because seems I took too long). :)
It’s taken so long for various reasons but mostly, and sadly, I found this book generally painful to get through though I promise my post about it is much more interesting. The only problem with the book is it read like a history book (yuck) and it triggered some unexpected emotions that were negative as it opened my eyes and mind to patriarchy and sex in general through a new lens. I think it was overload of information that didn’t correspond to my field views so I was overwhelmed by facts, names, historical references and generally uninteresting stuff. It didn’t have chewable information I could digest like other book reviews but rather, it was striking nonetheless. I ended up skipping pages and hunted for good quotes and tidbits to get through, hoping to find that awesome feeling of really putting off real life to read this book. I didn’t find that loving feeling BUT still, it offered food for thought for sure so let’s dive into whoredom.
“What makes a woman a prostitute, a whore, a slut or a second-class citizen via sexuality anyway? It is, of course, the ownership of her goods, that glorious tunnel of sin that also leads towards creation. How she uses it determines the words which describe her.” - tvt
What’s for Sale?
I’m confused why this wasn’t called “Body for Sale” or “Soul for Sale” or “Women for Sale” or “Pussy for Sale” or “Whore for Sale” because love was maybe missed in the pages where I got bored and skipped over. There is no love. Men don’t buy love. Men buy pleasure and service and power. Love cannot be bought even though women buy love bullshit all the time. Love is the catch word, the power word like “all natural”, “organic” or "new and improved.” Love happens on its own but love-like acts can be purchased and so broken down simply, men don’t buy love but instead the actions of love, namely sex and intimacy at best.
This book covered every major culture in history from the Babylonians to current feminist minded societies and the basic unsurprising fact is, women who exchange sex for money - specifically prostitutes - are treated as though lower in all ways than women who do not. Whoredom is a hole that needs filling and it is also a societal balance that demands its (silent) existence. As the author notes, “…historians and social scientists have often seen the two institutions [family and prostitution] as polar oppositions, both morally and culturally.” (2) Families, we all know, are very different but the nuclear family unit of a man, wife (wives) and kids is most dominant. (2) Being that there are differences in this nuclear family though – monogamy vs polygamy for example or free choice for partnership vs. purchased brides – the organization and function of a family unit’s expression will ultimately have “structuring impact on family and prostitution”. (2) Basically, one feeds the other.
On a moral scale, most societies consider a man who takes responsibility for his paternal role as more moral than one who does not. Ringdal notes on this point, “Understood in this way, the family is a positive servitude, while prostitution is a negative freedom. (2)
Isn’t that an oxymoron? That stopped me and made me really think about the other side of the coin we keep flipping back and forth: “Madonna” and “Whore”; Mother and Wife; Girlfriend and “Hookup”. The difference between these is only in the way money and sex are distributed.
The Guts of the Book
The book itself is great if you’re into historical and Biblical references segregated between chapters that offer a synopsis of each time era and how prostitution was viewed. There’s a lot to learn here. If this were a documentary on Netflix, it would probably be more engaging. What I found interesting and surprising and unfortunate however, was how filthy – for lack of a better term - this book made me feel about being a woman, believing in men or enjoying sexuality. I noticed the front cover quoted it as being “entertaining”. I did not find it so.
To clarify, it wasn’t the book itself but the factual and vast examples culturally on the topic of prostitution it presented: the reality of female sexuality and male gain from it. I can’t explain how much unexpected anger the book provoked within me, and so again, it was rough to get through and much skipped for a variety reasons. One may have simply been the dark reality that this book is a presentation of the ugly truths about sexuality and the sexes and the depth in which they originate is surely as mysterious and difficult to manage through as the Marianna Trench! This wasn’t a philosophical or scientific theory - which I typically read. This was history and on this topic, more impactful on my emotional centers.
One quote below I will share to help illustrate the ugliness I felt. Few concepts could be more offending than understanding that men need porn and then they need to fuck that porn out of themselves and if they do it with a woman who is willing to do it (prostitute, whore, wench – thx Lady Gaga), assuming their wife, girlfriend, or other female body (or male body) isn’t willing to, then why is the prostitute being put down for filling a need for the man who couldn’t fill his own needs in the first place? Why is SHE getting the heat and not him when he needed HER? Consider this reality:
“The general view of prostitute women… is they continue to be seen as second-class species, with the double stigma of their gender and profession. … The attitude of the police has also remained firm. Gloria Lockett, former California prostitute and present activist, tells stories about the LA police…
Gloria had gone into a drugstore and bought twelve dozen condoms. The boys in blue must have had her under surveillance. In any case, they accosted her outside the drugstore. They grabbed her purse and shook it upside down. Then they punctured every single condom, one by one, pushing the knife down into the latex membrane, slowly and with great enjoyment. Gloria got her purse back…: “G’night, honey! Happy hunting!” (400-401)
To be or not to be
I don’t condone or condemn prostitutes. It’s too complex a topic for such views. Many prostitutes aren’t in this by choice but by need to make money or sadly, get drugs. I watched every sex show on Netflix in the past year that dealt with strippers, prostitutes or porn stars. The stories are harsh. These girls didn’t always have the best life circumstances and yet, as trash they are treated, and eventually shamed they feel. They talk themselves into the state of self-empowerment but you can see there is confusion in what that means intellectually and logically versus what it shows via behaviors and feelings. How can we help them by further punching them into the moral ground and calling and treating them second class when some of these women fuck high class traveling businessmen, the lonely fathers, the kinky bastards or those awkward guys who can’t get a date much less sex? Some prostitutes are in it by choice: I knew one who used the cash to go through med school. I don’t know if she finished or if her career finished her but she used men for her own good. Because she gave sex and not PR consulting, she’s the whore and the guys, they are still the businessmen, the lonely fathers, the kinky bastards and those awkward boys; but if she was good, they are still thinking about her because that’s her only ride up in this field unless you turn stone cold from the inside. You have to because you have to protect your inner-self.
There are plenty of women who go bar hopping and bang a new guy weekly and because they didn’t cash in on a few men a night the old fashioned way but instead got drinks and bullshit pickup lines, they aren’t called prostitutes. What makes a woman a prostitute, a whore, a slut or a second-class sexual citizen anyway? It is, of course, the ownership of her goods, that glorious tunnel of sin that also leads towards creation. How she uses it that determines the words that describe her. Isn’t it really just our perspective with an appropriate slant that allows room for many to be promiscuous without actually being titled “prostitute” (or gigolo) because they are not taking money but basically still giving sex to people they hardly know in exchange for other “things” such as conversation, time, drinks, food, gifts, loneliness, hope, etc.? So it’s okay to accept all that in the name of a maybe potential relationship but taking money for it without strings is not? What makes the difference when meeting a man, having dinner, having sex, having him never call again and doing it again with another guy next month than meeting a “John”, having sex, having him pay her and calling her to do it again? Seems the exchange is more fair for the so-called whore.
Prostitutes and the Johns know what they’re there for: money talks and bullshit walks. In a bar, bullshit talks and money just helps the conversation move forward to the goal, which is, of course, sex with a better quality girl aka not a prostitute. Rarely is conversation the actual goal for a male. It’s a benefit but the goal is sex. Friendship happens by accident, if you don’t mind my forthrightness here.
I consider males mostly the exploited ones in the current modern society in which Westerners live (not counting the women who are truly drug addicted or pimped out or trafficked because that’s another avenue of this that’s too complex to get into right now). It’s not presented that way but every divorced man will agree with me. I think females are better at sexual exploitation of men and the women who don’t know how to use their sexuality are unfortunately the ones exploited by men sexually but men are almost always exploited financially. In other words, men and women exploit each other and the one who can gain an advantage over the other will win. Society doesn’t allow women that advantage sexually but it should because if women didn’t make themselves available, who is left? Male asses and animals? If we keep women in the mix, if they don’t offer consent then we are lead to true rape culture. In fact, current definition of rape culture is a far cry from the rape culture of the Medieval times, where women were regularly raped and it was accepted:
“Gang rape was a common phenomenon in the late Middle Ages. Any woman traveling the streets along at unorthodox times or in unusual places was in danger of being raped. The attackers signaled their approach by shouting ‘whore’, which legalized the deed.” (148) Apparently hundreds of such rapes occurred each year back in the 1400 and 1500s. (148)
To rape a girl all one needed was to believe she acted like a whore and it was okay. According to the author, “Having sex with a prostitute against her will was considered almost legal…and it was not really a criminal act to rape or gang-rape a prostitute. Fathers were responsible for protecting their daughters and husbands were responsible for protecting their wives.” (149)
It seems logical such ingrained philosophies were passed down through the centuries. They didn’t come from illusion but from truth. “Rape functioned as disincentive to unruly women and a general form of oppression of actual prostitutes; in the corridors of power, it was tolerated, indeed encouraged. (149) … In the canonical registry of sins, rape was only a subsidiary form of whoredom, admittedly more violent in form, but viewed as no worse a sin. And there was much in Church doctrine that legitimized the activity…” (149)
Sex Between Gods Leads to Conclusions
While we’re pretty familiar with all the rape in the Bible and mythology, the Qu’ran has a rather “sex-friendly tone in Muslim texts”. (131) While Allah finds nothing wrong with sexual desire, sex cannot threaten society in any way (131) and the “Qu’ran does not condemn men who pay for sex with women who offer it willingly (133) though Islam discouraged prostitution, among Muslim-born girls in particular, and presumable even more among Shi‘ites than among Sunni Muslims. Some prostitutes were always accessible in the cities but the rule was that a prostitute and her brothel owner were foreign and belonged to one of the oppressed minorities. The girl would either be a Christian slave from the periphery of the Byzantine Empire or Jewish.” (133) Seems Muslims had standards.
So, many such good and interesting quotes were dotted throughout the book, again going back from Babylonians to Greeks, Romans, Asians, and so on. Whoredom was everywhere and where there is need for pleasure in a world full of weight and pain, there will be men willing to pay and women willing to please (vice versa too). If prostitution was legal – and it should be – and if these women had the protection they needed, society would be a more satisfied and safe entity. Sex makes people happier, even sex with a prostitute or the local bar whore. Enough empty sex makes people change for the better usually, not for the worse. Most people have better intentions and hopes for themselves than we credit them for. Interestingly on this point, how is being a porn star not being a prostitute? It’s the same thing except one is accepted and glorified with hand picked “actors” and the other is shamed for fucking non-actors. One is protected and the other shunned. Sex for money equals sex for money but one whore is better than the other. There’s another double standard to add to your mix.
This all boils down to a few simplicities:
Don’t put down women who do what the wives won’t or can’t and don’t put down women who fuck the ugly, creepy, weird, fat or sometimes disabled guys most of us ladies won’t give a chance. Doesn’t everyone deserve the opportunity for sexual pleasure? Why does faking love for sex out-value offering money? Don’t judge the women who give pleasure to the men who didn’t seem to find it on their own or who have fantasies they can’t tell their loved one or have tiny penises and can’t find a woman to make them feel like a man. Don’t assume every John is beating up a girl and using her in a violent way. Yes, men do this but many men don’t and those in a legalized brothel won’t dare because they won’t be allowed back. If you want to play, you must play by the rules and some responsible force HAS to make some rules to protect these women and frankly, men too. It’s a public health matter. Banning prostitution isn’t a solution just like prohibition wasn’t a solution. Regulation is the solution (for now).
Remember the bell curve and most men fall in between the extremes. This means they just need someone to feed them a fantasy and/or pleasure and for that, he deservingly should pay (love or hooker, he pays), but why should she pay? She already did. Prostitute sex is empty sex and so it takes a hard woman (often broken into hardness) to be the bearer of pleasure for others while she’s treated as poison to herself, those she fucked and the society that is too shamed to admit it needs her services.
Prostitutes deserve respect if not on any ground but the one that makes them human beings of consent and no judgment. That’s valuable in a relationship, we profess, but not for money and no strings? A little dogmatic, I think. Morality needs just a little loosening to see what’s within the crevices of judgments and prejudiced minds built over millennia of female abuse and not just physical but verbal, legal and mental. Prostitutes provide two vital values to men: pleasure and power. So do porn stars. There should be no discrimination between the two.
A prostitute has much more value than the average person who shuns her. One way to help her is to legalize prostitution and create safer environments for her and the men who support her offerings. Morality is relative and must be placed aside to the valuable cause of safety and necessity, both individually and publicly. That’s a big statement on a slippery slope topic but fact is, like pornography, prostitution will never go away so treat it right within the domain it belongs in, or put down the men who buy sex and stop calling prostitutes whores and derogatory names. Is there a personal subtle insult within the buyer of sex that somehow suggests he’s a loser because he has to pay for something he could get for free? Maybe but women want relationships and those are not free; thus, men find value in the hooker as much as in the hook up and there will always be a willing girl. That being the case, it’s time for a paradigm shift in the way we view prostitution and the mental and physical health matters that surround the issue.