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Courtesans in History: Not Just a Sexual Matter

The word courtesan often evokes provocative and often sexual imagery when heard, but this is not always what it has meant throughout history. Often social and political climbers, courtesans were nearly always members of court, though their wealth and status level often motivated them for further advancement through the act of becoming a courtesan. In order to obtain either a stable income if they were on the less wealthy side or to gain more status and influence social or politically, courtesans were passed from benefactor to benefactor in order to gain their means to an end. Often times, if a courtesan was not wealthy, but held a place in court, she would accept this profession as a stable income or to obtain better status for their spouse (if married), or both. Although, if the courtesan chose benefactors, yet not as a means of income (ie., she was already wealthy), then her means to an end would be to obtain a better status for either herself or her husband.

In the latter arrangement in which the courtesan had embarked upon this profession for means of a stable income, she was often treated less as an equal than a courtesan who was seeking only social or political advancement. Whereas the former ran the risk of ending up in the streets as a common prostitute if she dissatisfied her benefactors due to her financial vulnerability, the latter often made arrangements with benefactors as a strict business agreement and would encounter fewer troubles given her financial security.

Whatever their status of wealth, courtesans all usually had a common basis in that they were artists, performers, or had a particularly witty personality that set them apart from others. They were usually well-educated and cultured, often times more so than many other upper-class women. They were well-versed in the art of conversation, companionship, appealing in appearance, and usually from an appropriate background either by status or wealth. While it’s true that sex was often one of their obligations as a courtesan, it was only a small part of what the profession entailed. In fact, by the early 1900’s, courtesans were seen as more socially acceptable in wealthier societal circles.

Famous Courtesans

  • Madame de Pompadour
  • Cora Pearl
  • Su XiaoXiao
  • Marie Duplessis
  • Yang GuiFei
  • Clara Ward
  • Mata Hari
  • Mary Boleyn

7 Things You Didn’t Know About Prostitutes

 

Although many things are heard about the world of prostitution, the actual facts may surprise and even shock you. Here are some interesting facts you didn’t know about this mysterious and often risky profession.

  1. During WWII, French prostitutes began the trend of women shaving their legs. They did so to create the illusion of silk stockings when stockings were hard to come by.
  2. 83% of sex workers have Facebook pages from which 25% gain regular clientele.
  3. In November 2000, the former prostitute Georgina Beyer became the first transgendered member of any parliament in the world. She also helped in the decriminalization of prostitution in New Zealand.
  4. Ishtar, the famed goddess of Babylon, was a prostitute. Also the goddess of love, war, sex and money, she was given many names such as the Heavenly Prostitute, the Mother of Harlots and the Great Whore of Babylon. She was also known by Har and Hora which are derivatives of the modern words whore and harlot.
  5. 86% of sex workers have gained a high school diploma while 19% have college degrees. Nearly half of all sex workers work day jobs in retail and food industry.
  6. The word “hooker” comes from the verb ‘hook’ meaning ‘to entice or swindle,’ while the -er suffix refers to a person. Therefore, a hooker literally means a person who entices and swindles.
  7. In Nazi Germany during WWII, prostitutes were sent to concentration camps. They were forced to wear white arm bands with black upside down triangles on them to identify them as prostitutes.