They say that prostitution is the world’s oldest profession. The job sure lives up to its reputation – the first recorded incidence of paying money for sex is in 2400BC, where prostitution is recorded among a list of professions in ancient Sumer. Of course, there is no proof of it being literally the “oldest” profession, because the money (or any currency) to pay for sex must have come from somewhere else. Evidence of prostitution can be found in almost every other ancient civilisations, including the ancient Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Jews, Aztecs, Korean, Chinese and Japanese. It is also heavily referenced in the Bible, suggesting that it was a widely spread profession.
As unnatural as the act of paying for sex may seem, prostitution has been recorded in animals as well. In 1998, a marine biologist named Fiona Hunter was studying the mating behaviour of Adélie penguins. She observed that the penguins would couple up and begin building a nest for their future offspring. The females would go out alone to look for pebbles at the beach. But then, she noticed that some female penguins would not head to the beach to collect the pebbles. Instead, they approached another male penguin (usually one that was single) and engage in courtship rituals to lure them into having sex. The female would then grab some pebbles and run off, while the male just let her go. Hunter concluded that this behaviour was indeed a material exchange for sexual pleasures.
Similar behaviour of offering food or grooming for sex has been observed in different primate species such as chimpanzees and crab-eating macaques. The most interesting study on this topic was that of training capuchin monkeys to use a currency. As soon as they learned that the silver discs could be used to purchase food, monkeys were seen “gifting” these silver discs to each other in exchange for sex. This kind of behaviour does not seem too unnatural if you consider that sex is a biological need (or at least a strong want), and sexual pleasure is, psychologically speaking, one of the strongest rewards.
Prostitution is generally deemed immoral and looked down upon, especially given the exploitation of women for their bodies and cheapening the act of making love. However, it should also be noted that throughout history, there are several cases of women using it as an opportunity to achieve something great. For example, Rahab was a harlot from Jericho in 1400BC. Back then, intelligent, independent women could not have much freedom as a married woman was treated as a slave to her husband. As a harlot, Rahab could live her own life and make her own decisions. When the city of Jericho was laid under siege by King Joshua, he sent in two spies to scout the area. Rahab hid these two men from the guards of the king of Jericho and showed them the secret passages of the city, ultimately allowing for Joshua to conquer the city with easy.
There is also the case of Theodora of Constantinople, who rose from being a harlot to an empress by seducing the Emperor Justinian, who made her a valued co-ruler of the empire. She then proceeded to use her power to crack down on the exploitation of women and protecting women’s rights.