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date: 21 April 2024


The Oxford Encyclopedia Women in World History
Philip HowellPhilip Howell, Philip HowellPhilip Howell

This entry consists of two subentries:


Comparative History

Practices that have been labeled “prostitution” are extremely varied and defy easy summary. They include, for example, sacred prostitution, in which women are supposed to have engaged in sex with strangers as part of spiritual or religious rites. Sacred prostitution is thought to have existed in the oldest civilizations, and there are parallels to practices in southern India. The term “prostitute” may also be extended to women who acted as companions, entertainers, and courtesans of various kinds, provided that the woman's role was something more than straightforward carnal services. Such roles for women can be found in many different societies, from antiquity to the modern period, and there are again prominent non‐Western exemplars in Asia and Africa. The history of these higher‐status institutions, both sacred and secular, is complex and much disputed. Nevertheless, they provide a contrast to the experiences of less‐privileged prostitute women.... ...

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