Whoring in the Information Age by Gregory Purvis

Whores–or prostitutes, if that sounds less vulgar to you–have been around for countless centuries. So long, in fact, that prostitution has often been called “the world’s oldest profession”. Sexual economics operate in the same basic way as any commodity, regardless of whether it is legal (and therefore subject to taxation and regulation) or available only through the black market (and subject to exploitation by criminal enterprise). If there is a demand, there will be a supply.

Though prostitution is illegal and frowned upon in many nations, it hasn’t always been associated with immorality. Today, escort services, massage parlors and discreet ads in magazines and on the Internet offer on-call sexual services. Prostitution operates within a caste system that influences the price of these services. At the top of the hierarchy are the modern equivalent of courtesans. These women (or men) generally have one or a select few clients that pay for companionship and/or sexual services. Sometimes they act as social escorts (unlike the typical call girl from an “escort service”). The famous Japanese geisha is arguably the best example of this. Of course, a wealthy client often does expect sex in exchange for paying the living expenses and buying expensive gifts for the “kept woman”. Below the courtesan are the call girls that may or may not work for a service that takes a percentage of her earnings in exchange for setting up appointments (or “dates”), providing transportation and offering security. Other call girls run their own business, usually through a phone service or website. Below the call girl are the prostitutes who work for massage parlors or in “cribs”. In areas like Nevada or Amsterdam, where prostitution is legal (and regulated), these call girls are sometimes considered a higher class of hooker, primarily because regulation by the state makes exploitation less common and the money to be made (often thousands of dollars an hour) gives a prostitute much more control over her finances. By comparison, many massage parlors in areas where prostitution isn’t legal use sex workers imported (often against their will and illegally) from other countries. The last rung on the ladder are streetwalkers and the “lot lizards” that ply their trade at truck stops. These prostitutes are often supporting a drug habit and/or are being exploited sexually and financially by pimps.

Even the highest class and most expensive courtesan are likely to be considered whores–a derogatory term that demonstrates the moral convictions and prejudices of the general public and even the clients that pay for their services. But throughout history, prostitutes have often been considered as revered members of the community. In ancient Mesopotamia and Greece, temples handmaidens and priestesses often performed sexually, sometimes for payment and in other instances for free. Of course, sometimes these priestesses were chosen for their purity instead of their promiscuity. The Vestal Virgins, for example, were chosen from the best noble families in Rome. Reay Tannahill, in “Sex In History” describes the importance of purity to the state: 

“Her morals were a matter of national importance. When Rome suffered disaster at Cannae in 216 B.C., the blame was placed not on military incompetence but on erring Vestals. Two were denounced and condemned. A century later, all six were declared corrupt, and three were found guilty of having surrendered their virginity.” [“Sex In History”, pp. 116-117, Stein and Day, New York 1980]

Vesta–like her Greek counterpart Hera–was the goddess of home, family and the sanctity of marriage. In many ancient and classical civilizations, sacred prostitutes offered their services to men as a religious rite, to honor their goddesses (of love and beauty, among others). It is no surprise that sexual religious rituals were often condemned by the priestesses of goddesses that represent home, marriage and family. In this way, prostitution is often considered to be responsible for divorce, the dissolution of the “happy home” and as a corruption of family values in general.

So how has modern society changed prostitution? Very little, it would appear. Technology has changed the way sexual services are marketed in the same way that it has changed the way other goods and services are bought, sold and advertised. But the Information Age has changed the sex industry as a whole. Pornography has come out of the closet in recent decades. In the first half of the 20th century, porn was generally something confined to the underworld. From the harlot starlets and cameramen to the production personnel and the organized crime rings that distributed “stag films”, porn was an underground commodity that most Americans would undoubtedly call “sleazy”. And of course, many pornographers (then and now) were sleazy, at least according to mainstream morality. Even so, the 1960’s and 70’s saw porn becoming more and more commonplace, if often kept confined to red light districts. But when VCR’s became common in the 1980’s, porn exploded into the mainstream consciousness and pop culture. It seemed like regular, average people knew all about “Deep Throat” and similar films. Suddenly, porn was a little more classy. But the popular acceptance of prostitution didn’t follow in porn’s wake. Though it could be argued that porn stars were selling their bodies for money in the same way, the differences were enough to keep sex industry workers divided into the same sort of caste system that divided a courtesan from a streetwalker.

But there are changes. Half-listening to a late night infomercial while blogging, it suddenly occurred to me that this particular infomercial was something radically different from the get rich quick schemes most of them seem to be selling.

EstablishedMen.com sounded like a dating service, at first. Internet matchmakers promise love and romance to lonely hearts in exchange for membership fees, and the largest of these services have begun advertising on television. But EstablishedMen.com wasn’t one of these matchmakers…not exactly. Their infomercial and website proclaim that they are “where the beautiful and successful meet”. Basically, it markets itself like the traditional matchmaker, but if you read between the lines it’s obvious some other game is afoot.

The host tells the television audience (me) that their services are simple: prospective ladies tell you, honestly and upfront, what they want out of the “relationship”. Two beautiful young ladies tell the host that they are interested in having a threesome with what is obviously supposed to be a sugar daddy. Somewhat paraphrased, they say:

“[He/the client would]have to be rich, take us to fancy restaurants, to parties where you introduce us to celebrities, and buy us nice things.” In other words, buy us jewelry and other expensive gifts, take us out to nice restaurants and clubs, and we’ll let you touch us in our naughty places. In other words: we’re whores.

You may think that the definition of “whore” precludes this type of arrangement, since it’s not strictly a cash for sex arrangement. You would be wrong. According to my own dictionary and Dictionary.com‘s definition, whoring doesn’t have to be a cash-for-sex transaction, though it generally is. But a $100 bill (as a piece of paper with green ink) isn’t worth much. The worth is the value the Federals give it in terms of buying power. After all, throughout most of human history transactions have been made with precious metals like gold and silver as well as by barter. The two buxom bisexual fantasy girls on the EstablishedMen.com are basically bartering their bodies for items and services of value. This, then, makes them whores, does it not?

To make the infomercial more sleazy, a bubblegum pop song is playing over-and-over in the background. As hard to ignore as Muzak, I listen closer and hear the lyrics: “Come on, come on! Money’s what it’s all about! Come on, come on! Money’s what it’s all about.” I suppose this is in case you forget that you are buying sexual services for money. After all, if these girls were interested in a long-term relationship with a man they love, why cheapen their desire by making it a financial transaction?

Of course, I’m sure the money behind EstablishedMen.com would disagree. After all, introducing rich bachelors (or rich married men who play bachelors online) to hot young girls seems like a great way to make money.

If you’re a pimp.


1 Comment so far
Leave a comment

Cool story, bro.
So much for your Wikipedia-esque research.
Too bad none of it rings true.
I ain’t buyin’ it.

Comment by Some Guy

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