Love for Sale: A World History of Prostitution

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9780802117458: Love for Sale: A World History of Prostitution

The exchange of sex for money is often cited as the first profession, and it is certainly the most controversial - from Eve and Lilith to Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, the prostitute has been a lightning rod for changing notions of love, sexual identity, morality, and gender. Now eminent historian Nils Johan Ringdal delivers a magisterial, extremely readable world history of this most maligned, and most persistent, form of human commerce. Beginning with the epic of Gilgamesh, the Old Testament, and ancient cultures from Greece to India and beyond, Love for Sale takes the reader on a tour through the entire recorded history of prostitution around the globe up to the modern red-light district. It shows how different societies have viewed and dealt with prostitutes and uncovers the first manuals of sex and seduction. It closes with the rise of the sex-workers' rights movement and "sex-positive" feminism, and a realistic look at the true risks and rewards of prostitution in the present day. Love for Sale spans a wide historical swath armed with illustrations, a lively wit and no-nonsense grasp of sex that recalls Camille Paglia's Sexual Personae.

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About the Author:

Nils Ringdal is a Norwegian historian and writer.

Review:

At first acquaintance with this book, its heft may well intimidate you into thinking that this is a book best left for academics festering in the Sociology departments of provincial universities, but start making progress into this book and you realise the writing style and subject matter give this book a very broad appeal. One of the main impressions you are left with after reading this book is how, in many phases in history across the globe, prostitutes ranked as being some of the most important and respected women in their societies. It actually seems a recent phenomenon that prostitutes are widely regarded as undesirables, living on the fringes of society. Ringdal s book gives both a broad overview of prostitution over time and also takes the opportunity to look in-depth at various countries (e.g. India) at particular times (British rule). --By Balraj Gill

Norwegian historian Nils Johan Ringdal traces the history of what is, if not the oldest profession, at least the most notorious, and covers just about everything: he begins with world literature's first lady of the night, found in the 4,000-year-old epic of Gilgamesh, includes a chapter on the nature of the relationship between Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene, shows how ancient Greece and Rome incorporated prostitutes into several social echelons, and how the rise of the courtesan in nineteenth-century Europe shaped literature (e.g Zola's Nana), fashion, arts, and modern sensibility. It tells the stories of the British Empire's campaigns against prostitution in India, and of the "comfort women" who served the armies in the Pacific theater of World War II. It closes with the rise of the sex-workers' rights movement and "sex-positive" feminism, and a look at risks and rewards of prostitution in the present day. Nevertheless, Ringdal's tone is so matter-of-fact that at times it seems more like a recital than a narration. Ringdal illustrates prostitution's pragmatic benefits, which have dwindled only recently with the sexual revolution (with the advent of birth control and the women's movement, prostitution has lost its basic functions as a pastime and a training ground for young men; even so, women willing to have sex for money continued to fill pragmatic roles up to the present). In fact, he assures us, the prostitute was regarded as nothing less than "a guarantor and stabilizer of morality and matrimony" until Victorian times; it was only during the Victorian era, with its emphasis on individual morality, that prostitution took on the cloak of sin. In his opinion, no one is entitled to sex -- paid or unpaid. But, if both parties agree that one will sell sex to the other and if both parties behave decently, then prostitution should be considered a private transaction. --By César González Rouco

This is a very recent look at an old topic. The author, Nils Johan Ringdal, has written about Germans and the Norwegian police in World War II, but has been collecting information about prostitution for so long that the final 30 pages of the books are references, ending with a page of movies. People who have hoped that condoms might be useful to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases will wonder what the Los Angeles police were thinking in 1990 when Gloria Lockett, now an activist, bought twelve dozen condoms in a drugstore, walked outside, and the police "grabbed her purse and shook it upside down. Then they punctured every single condom, one by one, pushing the knife down into the latex membrane, slowly and with great enjoyment. Gloria got her purse back, along with a pile of useless rubber." (p. 401). This book does not have an index, but the short "Quotes and References" for each chapter at the end of the book includes the King James English Bible verses used in Chapters 2, Patriarchs and Priestesses, and 7, Repentant Sinners, with a few references from the Qu'ran for Chapter 9, Muhammad's Women. There is no Table of Contents for finding anything at the beginning of the book, but pictures appear between pages 150 and 151, just before Chapter 11, Celestial Whores, and between pages 310 and 311. The page facing 311 shows most of the world for two maps, "The origin and early spread of prostitution 3000 B.C. - 1000 B.C." and "Migration of Prostitutes 1914" (European women and Japanese women, loosely taken from Ronald Hyam). The second map shows four arrows pointing directly at Shanghai, one of which is from San Francisco, but the arrow in the Pacific Ocean near San Francisco is labeled "To Hong Kong from Shanghai." Page 311 itself is interesting for the overthrow of the Ottoman Empire by the Young Turks. "When the grand harem of Constantinople closed down in 1909, 370 wives and attendants and 127 eunuchs became homeless. The deposed sultan was allowed to take a few favorites into exile in Salonica. The others were set free." This book is highly aware that "Sex and reproduction, happiness and security, have, to an almost absurd degree, become themes of public debate in Europe and the U.S., though the discourse is political and not moral. Hypocrisy and ambiguous argument rule the day." (p. 3). Trying to find a frame of reference that recognizes any individual's rights is far less clear than opting for personal viewpoints: "Nobody has the right to sex, either unpaid or in exchange for payment: If nobody wants to sell sex, it is a crime to force anyone to do so. But when men or women do want to sell their bodies, they should have that full right without encountering punishment or discrimination. If the client behaves decently, the relationship between the sex buyer and the sex seller must be considered a purely private transaction." (pp. 3-4). Striving to find limits that satisfy political economy and the ethical interests of people who avoid such activity as a matter of principle make this a tough issue in the field of philosophy, and Chapter 4, Greek Liberalism, begins with the philosopher Socrates drinking hemlock "surrounded by his young male admirers, such as the young Phaedon of Elis, who had just purchased his freedom from a brothel." (p. 52). Possibly Socrates was not the greatest Greek, since "Solon founded Western democracy." (p. 54). "But Solon is also the father of the sex industry, and his sexual reforms were closely linked to his other reforms." (p. 55). "The sex industry quickly became a lucrative supplemental income for Athens and stole an important section of the market from the previously very popular Ephesus in Asia Minor, where a more old-fashioned, temple-related prostitution was still practiced." --By Bruce P. Barten -

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