Thoughts on Prostitution

by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright March 2008


The Eliot Spitzer scandal of 2008 brought sex scandal to the media again, and this prompted me to think about the subject of prostitution and how it fits into the concept of evolution and the human condition.

Prostitution has the nickname "the world's oldest profession" for a reason; it's been a around for a long time. And for as long as it's been around, it's been vilified by the part of the community promoting respectable sex.

The question that comes to my mind is: Why is it such an enduring part of human social structure? Why is there always a prostitution part of the community as well as a respectable part of the community?

The beginning and basic answer is: It's serving a useful function for human society. If it was not useful, it would be discarded, and it would not be found in most human communities. But it is around, and it is in human communities around the world, and it has been in human communities since prehistoric times, so it must be providing value in its own right or be tightly linked to some other value-providing human thinking.

The next questions become: What is the useful function it is serving, and what is the downside?

This we will find out -- after a break for some caveats.

Yes... but...

Human societies are varied and adaptable. This means that there are many, many variations on respectable relations between men and women and many, many variations on desired-but-condemned relations between men and women.

To cite just one example of human variation, compare how a woman must prepare for being seen in public. Compare how a woman must prepare for going shopping in the conservative Muslim communities in South Tehran, to how a woman must prepare for going jogging in Central Park in New York, to how a woman must prepare to go sunning on Ipanema Beach in Brazil. And then compare all of the above to how women had to prepare one hundred years ago.

This is an example of the variation that is possible in how humans do things, and keep in mind, all these variations are successful. They are all "right".

In a discussion of prostitution, similar wide variation in “acceptable” and “successful” is also part of the landscape.

I am going to look at this phenomenon from the perspective that the human brain is, for some reason, hardwired to accommodate this respectable/shunned dichotomy of human sexual behavior. Evolution says, for some reason, that the human brain that thinks about sex in this dual way is the successful one.

If this is so, why is this kind of hardwiring part of the human brain? Why does the human brain support the thinking that supports prostitution?

It is... because... here we goooo!


Humankind: a Boom Species

Keep in mind that the human species is enormously successful. It is a boom species.

It has spread farther than any other species on Earth, it grows thickly in most places it spreads to, and it modifies the micro-environment in its favor wherever it spreads by building a civilization there.

The basic keys to human success are: High language skill, high tool using skill, and communities that support assisted child birth and child raising.

The human brain has had to evolve a lot -- a whole lot -- to support the thinking that supports all three of these distinctive features. That's why it's so big compared to other animals, and why the adaptation is incomplete; what we have now works well, but not perfectly. Prostitution is an example of that.

Prostitution: A Surprise Result of Promoting Assisted Childbirth

Prostitution is a surprise spinoff of designing human thinking to support assisted childbirth and assisted child raising.

The part of human thinking that supports assisted child rearing is the part that also supports prostitution. Prostitution is the "surprise benefit" of building the assisted child birth/child raising feature into humans.

To do assisted child raising well, humans have had to become very cooperative. One way of changing thinking to promote that extra cooperation is to make woman sexier.

Designing human women to be sexier is a quick-and-dirty design technique to build cooperation between men and women. When a man (or a woman) looks at a woman and thinks "she is sexy", that person is also thinking the woman should be cooperated with -- they should be given things.  The “sugar daddy effect” is a name I like for this way of thinking.

Evolution has supported human thinking of the form that causes people, both men and women, to want to be sugar daddies to attractive women.

This form of thinking is successful because the people in every human community who need the most help are those having their first and second children. These are the young mothers who are doing the most learning about child raising and have the fewest personal resources to help with the task. If they are helped successfully, their children do well, and the human community grows and prospers.

This is why young women are a community's most beautiful people. Beauty is a signal to cooperate.

Young and beautiful, old and assertive

(Note: The ideas in this section are also discussed in the sections “Brides and Matrons” and “The Sacred Masculine”. This chapter is an example of discovering implications from the insights I’m discussing.)

Two things happen as a young woman gets old: First, she masters the skills of child raising and dealing with her community, and second, her growing family can help her more.

For these reasons, an older woman doesn't need as much cooperation -- as much spontaneous giving from the community -- as a younger woman. She can fend for herself better. When many of her children have grown, she becomes a fully capable member of the community and needs average cooperation, not special cooperation.

This change in a woman's role has been true for a long time, and it is true throughout the many, many kinds of communities that humans form, so the human brain has evolved to support this.

The adult woman's brain supports this by going through two stages of thinking.

The young woman is a "bride thinker" who promotes cooperation with herself by being very cooperative and thankful for cooperation. For Mother Nature, this an easy design change to accomplish. It is done by extending some parts of childhood thinking into young adulthood. The younger woman will not assert herself often, as a child will not, and instead she will count on the spontaneous graciousness of others, as a child does.

The older woman is a "matron thinker" who is still cooperative, but she is willing to be assertive as well. She is willing to argue to get her fair share. The older woman is now fully adult in her thinking.

Men -- God bless them -- have to deal with this evolution of female thinking, and evolution has changed their thinking a lot as well.

The generic mammal male -- the male cow, the male dog, the male deer -- are not particularly cooperative animals. They are loners. They spend most of the year alone, then during mating season they get together with females and fight other males. When mating season ends, they move off to be alone again.

This means that human male thinking has had to undergo a lot of change.

The biggest change is transforming human males from loners to cooperators. One easy pathway to do that is to move human female cooperative thinking into males, and build more from there. Human males have taken this feature of cooperative thinking from human female thinking and enhanced it a lot.

The second change is that human males spend a lot more time around human females. This is valuable because when the men are around, they can assist in child raising and they do better providing. Mother Nature found that an easy way to make this happen was to make women sexy all year around.

Combine these two features: Making women sexy all the time so men will hang around, and having young women look especially sexy and think in an especially cooperative way because they need more cooperation, and you lay the groundwork for the surprise benefit that started this whole discussion: Prostitution.

A prostitute is a woman who is extra willing to cooperate with a man

A prostitute is a woman who is two things: A woman who is extra willing to cooperate with a man, and one who can "twiddle" the sugar daddy instinct in a man extra well.

Part of a man's hardwiring is to be cooperative with women. But as a woman moves from bride thinking into matron thinking, she starts to "stand up for her rights". This evolution in thinking affects her dealings in many circumstances, such as day-to-day shopping, dealing with neighbors, and in dealing with her husband.

This transition shows up in literature, too. This transition from bride thinking to matron thinking is the heart of many romance stories. At the start of the story, the protagonist is cursing herself for not being more assertive; she gets roped into helping too much and too easily. At the end of the story, she is more assertive, more in charge of her life -- she is transitioning from bride thinking to matron thinking.

This is a good evolution for the woman because she gets more from her community if she is more assertive, but it can be hard on her relation with her husband. This change in thinking from bride to matron is the root of the mid-life marriage bromide, “Young people don't understand. You have to work at marriage. You have to work every day at making it better." To young people in love, this is a very curious message.

As a woman transitions from bride thinking to matron thinking, what does a "significant other" do? Some look for that which they once had and liked -- a situation where they feel like spontaneously giving to a woman, and she in turn is unobjectively grateful for what she gets. If he has to pay for that situation ... well ... that's what being a sugar daddy is all about, anyway, isn't it? It's about giving.

This Explains...

What This Doesn't Explain

The curiosity of this is that the unsanctioned relation -- the prostitute relation -- is both tolerated and treated so hostilely. The men who engage prostitutes can't defend doing it, and the respectable community generally responds hostilely when such a relation is revealed. In spite of this hostility, prostitution is always around.

The most obvious cause for the hostility is that in societies with arranged marriages, the marriage is a bond between two families, as well as between two people. If a marriage bond is breaking down because a man is showing his affection to a new woman, a whole lot of people are inconvenienced.

The result of this hostility is that prostitutes are disenfranchised. They are outcasts, and relations with prostitutes are generally defector relations, not cooperator relations. (For more information on defector/cooperator relations check out my “Evolution and Thought” book, some of my essays on enfranchisement in the “Cyreenik Says” section of, or look up “The Prisoners Dilemma” in your favorite reference.) The disenfranchisement explains why there is so much lying and crime associated with prostitution.

In societies without arranged marriage -- and thus without larger social groups depending on the marriage to define their relation -- the hostility is more of a mystery, but still very real. A contemporary example, what teenage girl in high school wants to have a reputation for being “loose”?

Degrees of Sanction

In those situations where the man-second woman relation is more socially sanctioned -- where the woman is called a courtesan, a geisha, or an entertainer, rather than a hooker or a whore -- there is more cooperation in the relation, more enfranchisement, and the relation functions more smoothly.

The ultimate in enfranchisement is when a man establishes two families, as in being a polygamist. The man can either be an open polygamist, such as Brigham Young, the Mormon leader, or he can head and support two families, but keep them in the dark about each other's existence.

At first, it might seem odd that a woman would be content with having a husband that she sees less than half the time. But then again, that's the experience of any woman who marries a sailor. There are few social sanctions against marrying sailors, and it seems that many women are content to raise families in such a circumstance.

Once again, the human experience shows lots of variation in how polygamy can function and function successfully.


Prostitution is the surprise feature of building thinking patterns that support assisted childbirth and child raising. It happens because young women need a lot of community support and older women need average community support.

The successful design of the human brain includes features which allow men and women to recognize young women as beautiful and in need of special cooperation. This allows some young women to tweak sugar-daddy thinking in some men and get paid for doing so. When this practice is marriage threatening, it is censured by the respectable community. This censure can be mild or extreme and disenfranchising. The more disenfranchised the relation between prostitutes and the respectable community is, the more crime, lying, and other defector behavior it supports.

Back to Elliot Spitzer

Back to Eliot Spitzer.

Eliot Spitzer's spectacular fall had little to do with his crime of consorting with prostitutes being horrific and a lot to do with the reputation he built for himself before the scandal unfolded. Many men, public and private, have been either rumored or uncovered in having unsanctioned relations with women. Most survive the discovery with little damage done.

Spitzer's case blew up because he made a lot of powerful enemies earlier in his career by using gray-area tactics in his climb to fame (He stepped on many toes of many powerful people.) and because he campaigned on being a "clean" person. The cause of his fall was hypocrisy, not prostitution.


-- The End --