CHAPTER VII, Part II.
From Studies in the Psychology of Sex
II. The Origin and Development of Prostitution.
The more refined forms of the orgy flourish in civilization, although on account of their mainly cerebral character they are not the most beneficent or the most effective. The more primitive and muscular forms of the orgy tend, on the other hand, under the influence of civilization, to fall into discredit and to be so far as possible suppressed altogether. It is partly in this way that civilization encourages prostitution. For the orgy in its primitive forms, forbidden to show itself openly and reputably, seeks the darkness, and allying itself with a fundamental instinct to which civilized society offers no complete legitimate satisfaction, it firmly entrenches itself in the very centre of civilized life, and thereby constitutes a problem of immense difficulty and importance.
It is commonly said that prostitution has existed always and everywhere. That statement is far from correct. A kind of amateur prostitution is occasionally found among savages, but usually it is only when barbarism is fully developed and is already approaching the stage of civilization that well developed prostitution is found. It exists in a systematic form in every civilization.
What is prostitution? There has been considerable discussion as to the correct definition of prostitution. The Roman Ulpian said that a prostitute was one who openly abandons her body to a number of men without choice, for money. Not all modern definitions have been so satisfactory. It is sometimes said a prostitute is a woman who gives herself to numerous men. To be sound, however, a definition must be applicable to both sexes alike and we should certainly hesitate to describe a man who had sexual intercourse with many women as a prostitute. The idea of venality, the intention to sell the favors of the body, is essential to the conception of prostitution. Thus Guyot defines a prostitute as "any person for whom sexual relationships are subordinated to gain." It is not, however, adequate to define a prostitute simply as a woman who sells her body. That is done every day by women who become wives in order to gain a home and a livelihood, yet, immoral as this conduct may be from any high ethical standpoint, it would be inconvenient and even misleading to call it prostitution. It is better, therefore, to define a prostitute as a woman who temporarily sells her sexual favors to various persons. Thus, according to Wharton's Law-lexicon a prostitute is "a woman who indiscriminately consorts with men for hire"; Bonger states that "those women are prostitutes who sell their bodies for the exercise of sexual acts and make of this a profession"; Richard again states that "a prostitute is a woman who publicly gives herself to the first comer in return for a pecuniary remuneration." As, finally, the prevalence of homosexuality has led to the existence of male prostitutes, the definition must be put in a form irrespective of sex, and we may, therefore, say that a prostitute is a person who makes it a profession to gratify the lust of various persons of the opposite sex or the same sex.
It is not altogether easy to explain the origin of the systematized professional prostitution with the existence of which we are familiar in civilization. The amateur kind of prostitution which has sometimes been noted among primitive peoples—the fact, that is, that a man may give a woman a present in seeking to persuade her to allow him to have intercourse with her—is really not prostitution as we understand it. The present in such a case is merely part of a kind of courtship leading to a temporary relationship. The woman more or less retains her social position and is not forced to make an avocation of selling herself because henceforth no other career is possible to her. When Cook came to New Zealand his men found that the women were not impregnable, "but the terms and manner of compliance were as decent as those in marriage among us," and according "to their notions the agreement was as innocent." The consent of the woman's friends was necessary, and when the preliminaries were settled it was also necessary to treat this "Juliet of a night" with "the same delicacy as is here required with the wife for life, and the lover who presumed to take any liberties by which this was violated was sure to be disappointed." In some of the Melanesian Islands, it is said that women would sometimes become prostitutes, or on account of their bad conduct be forced to become prostitutes for a time; they were not, however, particularly despised, and when they had in this way accumulated a certain amount of property they could marry well, after which it would not be proper to refer to their former career.
When prostitution first arises among a primitive people it sometimes happens that little or no stigma is attached to it for the reason that the community has not yet become accustomed to attach any special value to the presence of virginity. Schurtz quotes from the old Arabic geographer Al-Bekri some interesting remarks about the Slavs: "The women of the Slavs, after they have married, are faithful to their husbands. If, however, a young girl falls in love with a man she goes to him and satisfies her passion. And if a man marries and finds his wife a virgin he says to her: 'If you were worth anything men would have loved you, and you would have chosen one who would have taken away your virginity.' Then he drives her away and renounces her." It is a feeling of this kind which, among some peoples, leads a girl to be proud of the presents she has received from her lovers and to preserve them as a dowry for her marriage, knowing that her value will thus be still further heightened. Even among the Southern Slavs of modern Europe, who have preserved much of the primitive sexual freedom, this freedom, as Krauss, who has minutely studied the manners and customs of these peoples, declares, is fundamentally different from vice, licentiousness, or immodesty.
Prostitution tends to arise, as Schurtz has pointed out, in every society in which early marriage is difficult and intercourse outside marriage is socially disapproved. "Venal women everywhere appear as soon as the free sexual intercourse of young people is repressed, without the necessary consequences being impeded by unusually early marriages." The repression of sexual intimacies outside marriage is a phenomenon of civilization, but it is not itself by any means a measure of a people's general level, and may, therefore, begin to appear at an early period. But it is important to remember that the primitive and rudimentary forms of prostitution, when they occur, are merely temporary, and frequently—though not invariably—involve no degrading influence on the woman in public estimation, sometimes indeed increasing her value as a wife. The woman who sells herself for money purely as a professional matter, without any thought of love or passion, and who, by virtue of her profession, belongs to a pariah class definitely and rigidly excluded from the main body of her sex, is a phenomenon which can seldom be found except in developed civilization. It is altogether incorrect to speak of prostitutes as a mere survival from primitive times.
On the whole, while among savages sexual relationships are sometimes free before marriage, as well as on the occasion of special festivals, they are rarely truly promiscuous and still more rarely venal. When savage women nowadays sell themselves, or are sold by their husbands, it has usually been found that we are concerned with the contamination of European civilization.
The definite ways in which professional prostitution may arise are no doubt many. We may assent to the general principle, laid down by Schurtz, that whenever the free union of young people is impeded under conditions in which early marriage is also difficult prostitution must certainly arise. There are, however, different ways in which this principle may take shape. So far as our western civilization is concerned—the civilization, that is to say, which has its cradle in the Mediterranean basin—it would seem that the origin of prostitution is to be found primarily in a religious custom, religion, the great conserver of social traditions, preserving in a transformed shape a primitive freedom that was passing out of general social life.
Prostitution was practically unknown in Burmah, and regarded as shameful before the coming of the English and the example of the modern Hindus. The missionaries have unintentionally, but inevitably, favored the growth of prostitution by condemning free unions (Archives d'Anthropologie Criminelle, November, 1903, p. 720). The English brought prostitution to India. "That was not specially the fault of the English," said a Brahmin to Jules Bois, "it is the crime of your civilization. We have never had prostitutes. I mean by that horrible word the brutalized servants of the gross desire of the passerby. We had, and we have, castes of singers and dancers who are married to trees—yes, to trees—by touching ceremonies which date from Vedic times; our priests bless them and receive much money from them. They do not refuse themselves to those who love them and please them. Kings have made them rich. They represent all the arts; they are the visible beauty of the universe" (Jules Bois, Visions de l'Inde, p. 55).