Jean-Léon Gérôme’s painting ‘Phryne Revealed Before the Areopagus’ depicts the hetaira (a type of prostitute) Phryne on trial. The sight of her nude body, according to legend, persuaded the jurors to acquit her

It is said a bit of indulgence now and then is cherished by the wisest of men (and women). Then again how do we classify an indulgence and what is the hallmark of wisdom? Euphemistically referred to as the world’s oldest profession prostitution has evolved into a high return business with many stakeholders. Tagged as call girls, hookers and escorts thousands of women continue to sell their bodies and emotions for money.

Whilst every nation makes pharisaical claims to purity and cultural heritage, all have contributed to the sex trade. Prostitution was aglow along the banks of the fertile Euphrates and Tigris rivers. The Greeks enjoyed the passion of both female hookers and young boys. The word pornography derives from the Greek word porne meaning prostitute. The enterprising Greeks levied taxation on the sex workers with the women of the Lais clan being the most beautiful! A temple was built in Athens for the sex goddess Aphrodite, today we only remember Athens for the Olympics! Prostitution was legal in ancient Rome. State registered call girls were known as meretrix.

The Japanese had their own Oiran (women of pleasure) for seducing the elite wealthy men. The Oiran girls were skilled in dance; music and poetry. Talk about value added services. In terrible contrast ,the Japanese hired almost 200,000 innocent Korean women to work as ‘comfort girls’ to bring relief for battle weary Japanese soldiers during World War II. The flames of lust permeated in China as Emperor Wu had his private Ying-Chi (meaning camp harlot) who also serviced his troops. Ancient India, a magnificent land, was conducive to the upbringing of the Devadasi, a temple prostitute. Parents used to auction the virginity of their daughters. The young girls were then offered to the temple.

Although this practice was outlawed in 1988, the women still offer their ‘sacred service’ in allegiance to the fertility goddess Yellama. Intriguingly an Indian woman had to learn and master 64 life skills to be sanctioned a Ganika, the top most prostitute. In his novel Resurrection author Leo Tolstoy boldly talks about the sex trade in Russia. European prostitutes were brought to resplendent Ceylon to yield to British soldiers! Even comrade Karl Marx once opined that “prostitution must be abolished to abolish capitalism”. The female sex worker was very distasteful to Vladimir Lenin, strangely the most expensive escorts in Colombo today are from Russia!

Most women justify their sex-oriented income as a form of ‘economic empowerment’. This may be true in a few cases. Globally, women are forced into brothels as they were born into low income families and didn’t have a good education. Lack of productive skills and self-confidence left them no choice but to venture into prostitution. Hundreds of such girls can be found in Thailand, Philipines, India and our own sunny paradise. The ‘happening places’ are the midnight hangouts labelled as karaoke lounges with a bevy of hostesses, often rural girls plastered with makeup and bizarre rudimentary English. They can’t sing, but are expert at fixing a rendezvous later for an intimate date with clients. Society is rapid to accuse these lasses, who are often victims of genuine poverty, though there are a cunning few who simply desire to be ‘laid and paid’.

On a higher league are Colombo’s dignified ‘passion partners’, women having degrees and working in executive capacities. Some deliberately single. Others married but ready to mingle. All for the simple joy of increasing their purchasing power via cash. Some engage in this to support a secret addiction to narcotics. These souls begin their date with star class cuisine supplemented by wine. A trip before the deluxe bedroom strip, is a visit to a pulsating up market retro night club.

The darker side of this posh indulgence leaves many families in a dysfunctional state. The emotional scars left on innocent children are terrible and will impact their own marriages in the future.
There is some debate whether prostitution should be legalized and the sex workers subjected to periodic medical exams, to restrain sexually transmitted diseases. Many former and older sex workers claim they live as outcasts. Some are inflicted with illness. They have severely stained both their emotions and conscience. They have not enjoyed a genuine motherhood. The bottom line issue is a question of moral and personal choice. The client and prostitute are both equally responsible. Indeed as Shakespeare warned us “These violent delights, lead to violent ends”.

The Triumph of Flora (ca. 1743), an Italian Baroque interpretation based on Ovid’s account of the Floralia,  by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
The Triumph of Flora (ca. 1743), an Italian Baroque interpretation based on Ovid’s account of the Floralia,
by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo