Is prostitution really the oldest profession in the world?

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Prostitution is the engaging of sexual activity with someone in exchange of money or similar benefits. In a so-called civilized society, it is considered an abominable profession though many countries have legalized it now. It is ubiquitous, and is often called the oldest profession in the world.

Even though the history of prostitution is long, no one had called it the oldest of profession till the late 19th century. The first person to make such a remark in popular culture was the renowned English writer and Nobel Prize winner Rudyard Kipling. He made this remark in the 1888 story 'On the City Wall' about a prostitute.

Later a number of others popularized this idea through writings. The article The Oldest Profession in the World: Prostitution by physician William Josephus Robinson in 1929 and The Story of the World’s Oldest Profession by Joseph McCabe in 1932 were among the major ones to promote this view. Similarly various other languages and culture have proposed the same views.

There is no doubt that prostitution had been there since ancient times. Nearly every civilization has had the practice of prostitution. Since the beginning of the Barter system, there had been sexual services as well. One of the earliest references to it can be seen in the Code of Hammurabi, one of the first law codes in history. The charter which dates back to 1754 BC has reference to the inheritance rights of women including prostitutes.

However, the argument that prostitution is the oldest profession is debatable. But is it really? The answer actually depends upon various factors. First of all, we might want to look at the definition of the term profession. According to the Oxford dictionary, profession is a paid occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification. But it itself is subject to unending debates. Prostitution could only have begun after the man started to live as a society. If a prostitute had to be paid, there must have been something to pay to her. Since the food and survival came before sexual pleasure, hunting and gathering food should be the first profession. And there had been artworks from pre-historic era while there had been no information on prostitution.

Interestingly, the fact that prostitution is seen among animals points to the chances of it being very old, predating even humans. Some chimpanzees have been observed to offer sex in exchange of food. Similar observations have been done among some monkeys and penguins.

But as far as the humans and social life are concerned, I would prefer hunting to prostitution to be considered the first profession in the world.


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