Prostitution is commonly defined as the custom of having sexual relations in exchange for economic gain. Although the sex is traditionally traded for money, it can also be bartered for jewelry, clothing, vehicles, housing, food—anything that has market value. It is typically seen as an aberrant way to make a living and is illegal in many countries. The word prostitution can also refer to any act that is considered demeaning or shameful.
The term prostitute is customarily used to refer to a female person who engages in sex in exchange for money as a profession. Depending on the culture, the attitude toward the job, and the socio-economic region in which the business of prostitution is conducted, other terminology is often used. These monikers often include streetwalker, sex worker, hooker, escort, sex trade worker and commercial sex worker.
Male prostitutes are generally considered less prevalent in the occupation. They are typically referred to as escorts or gigolos if their clientele is female. If they specialize in providing their services to men, rent boy or hustler are terms frequently used to describe them.
Similar to most occupations, a prostitute may have an employer or work as an independent contractor. Men who market and sell prostitution services are usually referred to as pimps. Women with the same job description are commonly called madams. Both normally take a percentage of the prostitute’s income as payment for their promotional services.
Prostitutes who work independently have the advantage of keeping all of their earnings. The presumed advantage of having representatives such as pimps and madams involved in the process is safety. These agents are generally expected to screen prospective clients to ensure the safety and security of their staff.
Pimps, however, are frequently portrayed to be less than forthcoming with the agreed upon pay for prostitutes who work for them. In a significant number of cases, pimps have been known to physically and psychologically abuse their employees. Madams are less known for abuse, but are often accused of mishandling the funds of call girls in their employ.
Depending upon the country and the culture, prostitution may be considered a legal or illegal profession. In areas where it is lawful, there are commonly rules imposed by governments to ensure local prostitutes practice safe sex in their business activities to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). The workers are also generally required to have regular physical exams to ensure they are healthy and pose no threat to their customers’ well-being.
In regions where prostitution is deemed a crime, the punishment ranges from simple fines or short stints in jail to death. Some jurisdictions recognize the business transaction of prostitution as legal, but make it difficult to lawfully practice by imposing restrictions on how and where it can be conducted. These controls commonly include the prohibition of pimping, running a brothel and publicly offering prostitution services.