Prostitution is not just a service industry, mopping up the overflow of male demand, which always exceeds female supply. Prostitution testifies to the amoral power struggle of sex…. Prostitutes, pornographers, and their patrons are marauders in the forest of archaic night. – Camille Paglia
Just how old is the “world’s oldest profession”? Many people (including myself) feel it’s just a formalized version of natural female behavior, and I’ve discussed this idea at least twice before (on October 12th and January 17th). The latter column was inspired by one written by Amanda Brooks, and a number of working girls commenting on these columns stated that the work felt perfectly natural to them, or that they were drawn to it at an early age. But whores aren’t the only ones contemplating the origins of our profession; some evolutionary biologists think about it as well. Regular reader Joyce sent me a link to the March 6th entry in a blog called The Scientific Fundamentalist which appears on the Psychology Today website. The blog is written by Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics (who is currently a visiting scholar at Cornell) and the column is called “Do Men Try To Impress Prostitutes?”:
…In the epilogue of… [Superfreakonomics] entitled “Monkeys are people too,” Levitt and Dubner discuss the research by M. Keith Chen and Laurie R. Santos with capuchin monkeys. Chen and Santos introduced money in a small group of capuchin monkeys and taught them how to use it. Eventually, the capuchins learned that coins had value and they could exchange them for valuable commodities like food. One of the things that Chen and Santos discovered in their research is just how humanlike the capuchins are. As soon as they learned that coins had value, one of the male capuchins gave a coin to a female in exchange for sex. Yes, capuchins engage in prostitution. The observation that nonhuman species engage in prostitution is not new, however. Frans de Waal and other primatologists have long observed that bonobos also engaged in prostitution, by exchanging food for sex.
If monkeys and apes routinely engage in prostitution, then it means that the evolutionary origin of prostitution probably dates back before we were human. It means that prostitution is indeed the world’s oldest profession.
Kanazawa then goes on to describe a passage of the book in which a man describes an encounter with an escort in which he tried to impress her, and then continues:
…This does not make sense…if the evolutionary origin of prostitution thus dates back long before we were human, then it means that prostitution is evolutionarily familiar…[and] men’s brains should be able to recognize prostitutes and to treat them differently from “ordinary” women, whom they do have to impress if they want to have sex with them. In other words, there should be an evolved “hooker module” in the brain. The deep evolutionary origin of prostitution and prostitutes and thus their evolutionary familiarity suggest that men would not try to impress prostitutes, because they know it is not necessary…I don’t suppose there are any systematic and high-quality data on how men treat prostitutes, whether they indeed try to impress them, even when sex with them is a sure thing. If it turns out that men routinely attempt to impress prostitutes before having sex, then it means that prostitution is evolutionarily novel and it is not the world’s oldest profession.
He then went on to cite research showing that “intelligent men are significantly more likely ever to have paid for sex”, which he said also suggested that prostitution is a recent development. While I was glad to see the subject seriously being studied, I was a little put out over Kanazawa’s conclusions. Still, he seemed like an open-minded person so I decided to take the plunge: I looked up his email address and sent him an email stating that I had read his article and was confused by his logic:
This presumes that prostitutes are fundamentally different from what I call “amateurs”, which we aren’t; your assumption seems to be based on the fallacies that 1) prostitutes provide a consistent level of service no matter how we’re treated, and 2) that to a man, all sex is good sex. While the second statement may certainly be true of some men…it isn’t by any stretch of the imagination true of most; the average client of a $300/hour hooker…wants a good, quality “girl friend experience” (GFE) which will be much more likely if he treats his “date” like a lady. Most escorts who are treated as though they’re “bought and paid for” will try to complete the act as quickly as possible and get such a client out the door. Furthermore, in my experience the typical client enjoys the illusion that a beautiful woman wants to spend time with him, even if he intellectually knows she is there for the money. I guarantee you that the majority of my clients tried their utmost to impress me, even to the point of bringing me gifts, flowers and the like.
I went on to say that I reckon intelligent men are more likely to have patronized us because they are more likely to make “the reasonable and pragmatic decision to spend [their] money on a ‘sure thing’ rather than chasing women whose price and quality are uncertain.” I rather expected to be ignored; I worried that my letter might be taken as rude and I thought Kanazawa might dismiss me as some silly tart with notions. Well, I was pleasantly surprised; less than two hours later he replied very graciously thanking me for my input and asking a number of questions which let me know that he was not merely being polite, but was genuinely interested in my thoughts on the subject. We exchanged several emails over the next few hours and he told me he’ll be doing a follow-up article based in part on our conversations, and will let me know when it’s published. In the meantime, I read a number of his other columns (especially this one on modern feminism and the ones on sex differences linked within it) and found them quite interesting; I suspect y’all will, too.