Prostitution is the promiscuous bartering of sex favours for money or gifts. Most prostitutes are females serving male customers, the next largest group are male prostitutes serving homosexual clients. There are some male prostitutes who serve female customers and a few female prostitutes who have lesbian clients. In some countries prostitution is a crime; in others it is legalized in so far as all prostitutes must be registered and submit to regular medical examinations to check for venereal disease. Where it is illegal, prostitutes are usually subject to intimidation and extortion from pimps or organized crime. Prostitutes often blackmail their clients or rob them. Social stigma may prevent prostitutes from becoming rehabilitated into normal life.
Prostitution is closely related to urban life and mobile populations. In primitive tribes it is virtually unknown, although promiscuity before marriage, and polygamy or polyandry, may be accepted. Economic factors are important reasons for going into prostitution, which is often very marked in poverty stricken areas where there is little employment for either men or women, or among indigenous tribes which have suffered cultural invasion and have not been able to adapt economically to a new way of life. Frequently there are social reasons also; broken families, disgrace that comes with abandonment by a boy friend, pregnancy and single parenthood, encouragement or outright sale by parents and violence in the family. Prostitutes may be very young and coerced into prostitution. Children who are gaoled for vagrancy are bailed out by recruiters of prostitutes and forced into the trade. So-called employment agencies recruit women from poor areas, promising jobs, paying their parents in advance and then forcing them into prostitution.
Prostitution continues to spread and, along with it, the exploitation of prostitution. In one country studied, about 10% of women aged between 15 and 30 live from prostitution; in another, the proportion of prostitutes in the female population of the capital is over 13%. In yet another country, a government decree allows for the registration of prostitutes, yet offers them no financial protection. Prostitution is beginning at an increasingly younger age.
Prostitution exists and no law, except perhaps a Draconian one which no democratic society could, or would, contemplate, can make it disappear. The more regressive the law against the provision of meeting places for prostitution becomes, the more expensive become the services and the more organized the exploitation of prostitutes.