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I have a character in a fiction I am writing. She's a prostitute but she takes great pride in her work. In the scene where she makes her first appearance, she does try and seduce one of the heroines (she's bi so she doesn't care for the gender of her clients), but later when asked why she feels no shame about selling her body she says,

"We have our skills hon. Some cook, some clean, some heal, some destroy. Some heal scars, some heal minds, some destroy building to clear the way for new one... some destroy to incite the chaos"
...
"I always wanted to help people but the only skills I could make use of is that with my body so I use it to heal the hearts of men and women alike, allowing them to drown in pleasure and forget the world which puts them down. Sure some will despise me, some will think I'm broken and try and take advantage of that while other will try and offer me escape, but I don't want to, I'm not broken, I do this because I enjoy it, and making the people I serve happy"

Now she never gave her name to the heroine and when they next meet the heroine points out she's the prostitute she met. The heroine herself; however, is being very respectful and polite, so the terms: hooker, whore, and prostitute at least to me have a negative feel for them since even using prostitute I imagine a scantily dressed woman on the corner which this woman isn't.

So what's a polite and respectful name for a prostitute?

closed as off-topic by tchrist, Drew, andy256, anongoodnurse, Robusto Dec 1 '14 at 18:11

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  • 7
    Prostitute is a polite word for prostitute. There are also lots of euphemisms, if that's what you are after. Look in a synonyms dictionary. Google for prostitute synonyms. Etc. – Drew Dec 1 '14 at 0:29
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    What about "professional in pubic relations"? – Pedro Werneck Dec 1 '14 at 14:03
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    'Sex worker' is the term used nowadays intended to be non-judgmental. It covers more than prostitution (dancers, surrogates, porn, etc things that are not necessarily sex for money). – Mitch Dec 1 '14 at 16:17

11 Answers 11

16

Consider escort, in wiktionary's sense 7, “A sex worker who does not operate in a brothel, but with whom clients make appointments; a call girl or male equivalent”.

Also consider demimonde, “A class of women kept by wealthy protectors; female prostitutes as a group”, and demimondaine, a woman of the demimonde.

Also consider the phrase a professional.

  • 2
    There are all those wonderful collective nouns/terms of venery, too: an "anthology of pros"; an "essay of trollops"; a "jam of tarts"... – MT_Head Dec 1 '14 at 4:18
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    A flourish of strumpets. – Malvolio Dec 1 '14 at 16:45
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Someone else took my favorite, demimondaine, so I'll plump for courtesan, which literally means a woman who attends a royal court, the distaff equivalent of courtier, but has come to mean extremely high-end prostitute.

12

How about call girl, see urban dictionary, http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=call+girl. It is the most polite word for prostitute I've ever heard. Another one is "lady of the evening," although this is a trifle coy. Radical prostitutes of both genders sometimes call themselves "sex workers", see http://swop-nyc.org/. I don't know of any way to address the sexual preference of your character.

12

The space Western series Firefly featured a 26th century version of an escort or prostitute - a profession which enjoyed a high social standing. She was referred to as a Companion.

As a metaphor, you could use this, with a bit of qualification if it's not obvious what is meant. A "companion for consideration" or a "professional companion" would be fairly clear in most cases.

  • 4
    This probably doesn't really count since it's not common outside of the Firefly 'verse, but this was actually the first thing I thought of. Kudos. – stewSquared Dec 1 '14 at 18:11
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    @stewSquared As a metaphor, it almost stands alone (perhaps on a street corner). A quick search for "professional companion" yields a Craigslist ad for a Ms. Mya Madison who plies her profession in Poughkeepsie. – Spehro Pefhany Dec 1 '14 at 18:23
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I suggest 'Lady of the night'.

It's an alternative form of 'Woman of the night', which is in turn a corruption of 'Belle-de-nuit', which is a french euphemism for a prostitute as well as the french term for a type of flower. Belle-de-nuit literally means 'beauty of the night', which sounds reasonably affectionate or polite.

Alternatively 'Courtesan'.

Whilst it has been corrupted from its original meaning and is typically only applied to prostitutes with wealthy clients, it does make the job sound somewhat more respectable.

5

the only skills I could make use of is that with my body [...] allowing them to drown in pleasure and forget the world which puts them down.

If the protagonist uses her body as an instrument and firmly believes she is performing a service, that the sexual intercourse she sells is therapeutic then the heroine might need to coin a new term to reflect the prostitute's creed.

  • a sex maid has a late nineteenth century, Downtown Abbey feel to it, but still implies the sex worker is paid for her services. As an added bonus the term maid also refers to a virgin, which is mildly ironic.

  • a sex practitioner or physician is more clinical. Overall it has neutral connotations.

There is however a real profession that views sexual rapport between a patient and his or her helper as a form of therapy and the person who provides that service is called

Barbara Krakower, a sex therapist from Boca Raton, Fla., isn't hands-on when it comes to treating her patients for sexual issues, but sometimes she relies on those who are— sex or partner surrogates. [...] In each case, Krakower offered to call in a surrogate, someone who is paid to consult with the therapist to get to the root of the patient's phobia or inhibition and then ultimately work it out between the sheets.

Sex surrogacy may be the oldest or the newest profession in the world. And like the former, it's very hands on. "Philosophically, it's been around a long time," she said.[...]

Sex surrogacy emerged in the 1970s and flourished for more than a decade before the HIV/AIDS epidemic put a focus on safe sex practices, according to Barbara Keesling, who for 12 years worked as a sex surrogate and is now a professor at California State University at Fullerton

Another article dated Feb 01, 2013, which illustrates how sex surrogates or surrogate partners do not feel exploited nor consider their lives or well-being to be potentially at risk.

They're called surrogate partners. Helen Hunt plays one in the new independent film "The Sessions" her client is a 38-year-old virgin quadriplegic. Surrogates are typically women, but there are some men who do this for a living too.

[...] "Is it difficult though just being a man to go through intercourse with somebody that you may not be physically attracted to?" we asked Rotem.

"That's actually a very good question," he says. "With each every one of my clients I found this thing I like about them, this place that opens my heart and to have so much compassion for them, I know how to transform this energy into sexual energy."

According to Rotem, the pay is around $120-200 a session -- similar to what a regular therapist charges.

Source: ABC News, Fox 10 News

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    +1 Very informative. I read with great interest the code of ethics of the IPSA, especially section 1. This was very much in line with the second article you link to, where the surrogate therapist explains that he already had a degree in psychology. – user98955 Dec 1 '14 at 20:21
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The most commonly used polite terms in common use are escort and courtesan. A variety of other eufemisms exist but usually carry an automatic negative connotation. Here's a summary of synonyms as listed by @HotLicks:

call girl, whore, hooker, working girl, lady of the evening, streetwalker, member of the oldest profession, moll, fille de joie, escort, courtesan, hustler, ho, hoe, tart, scarlet woman, camp follower, cocotte, strumpet, harlot, trollop, woman of ill repute, wench, slut, tramp, floozy, fallen woman, woman of easy virtue

Of these, only escort and courtesan carry a fairly neutral connotation (it's interesting that the majority of these are actually dysphemisms). Call girl and working girl would be typical non-judgemental jargon that might be used by police officers or social workers.

If you're asking for a term that holds a positive connotation in modern society: there is none. For better or worse, all major cultures and societies currently see prostitution in a negative light. The only way to link positive qualities to a term of your choice would be to explicitly rationalise that in your fictional universe. I know of at least one case where this is done in fiction: the Chicagoland Vampires series has a courtesan role that's actually considered a position of honor. The author has to actually explain this in his story and only after that can characters discuss a courtesan without the reader getting a negative impression of that character.

This is very closely tied to cultural norms. The reason that courtesan is still a neutral term is precisely because it used to be a position of some esteem in certain societies or royal courts. Your basic problem is that our modern society does not see prostitution as positive so referring to it in a positive way is simply not possible without first defusing that notion in context.

  • From 2+ years of firsthand experience in the US, "escort" is the most common neutral-to-positive self-label. "Companion" and "courtesan" are used more positively and less commonly to denote a more specialized, thorough/personal/exclusive/refined service. Some circles in the South use "hooker" affectionately, though it is still offensive to most, and those circles are more misogynistic. All other terms mentioned on this page are not used, excepting "sex worker" in more technical/political contexts. – Rachel Apr 26 '15 at 2:25
  • Thanks for the input @Rachel. My answer was mainly to preserve the list of synonyms provided by user Hot Licks in a comment that has since been removed. I'd encourage you to post your comment as an answer but it seems the question has been closed. – Lilienthal Apr 26 '15 at 10:17
2

The origin of the verb to prostitute is about exposing publicly and making stand. Around 100 years ago, the meaning was basically the same as today: someone who engages in (promiscuous/indiscriminate) sexual activity for some form of payment. Depending on the society and the time reactions vary. But aside from very specific historical/religious settings, and but for a trivializing and romanticized view of what this is about, that always meant the very same thing; basically asking someone to withstand a sexual assault for money. Only a self-serving industry can come up with a polished/commoditized version of that—and it has been very busy crafting this: the sex worker. The job is about caring, sort of like a nurse but with sex.

So your book might explore the very great challenge of caring for women(and children) who are exploited, from violence, safeguarding communities, while disabling the criminal networks which indulge in human trade and drug trafficking; as those are always systematically connected. In any case the concept of a worker is a useful vector for legal protection yet it is unconscionably recycled by an industry always on the lookout for new "talent"(money).

In some juridictions soliciting sexual services could be illegal. Synonyms, when not derogatory, are not about politeness imho, but rather about shielding the client's social status and not attracting attention. This is something done routinely with drugs.


A. So in my book, prostitute or (women/children/men) victim of sexual exploitation/assault for money (and not much at that for all the prejudice compared to what education will provide) would be equally polite, and realistic1. I can only hope your discriminating cocotte will be spared reality.


1. In your documenting of prostitution for your work, consider watching Cronenberg's Eastern Promises for a soft look into it.

  • @Ben Kovitz Thank you for the edit. In the same way I mean damage when I talk about prejudice in the last para. I have a penchant for archaic forms. – user98955 Dec 1 '14 at 20:59
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Along with the other fine examples here:

  1. Working Girl
  2. Woman of Easy Virtue
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    the second example is clearly an insult and not at all polite. – March Ho Dec 18 '14 at 14:17
1

Since it's not come up yet, you might consider the, relatively coy expression "Seamstress"

"She was working as a seamstress, if you know what I mean."

1

There is a common noun, 'Magdalene' that would do. 'Daughter of Venus' might say it more kindly, though.

  • Do you happen to have any references to these terms being used? I've never heard of either of them, and I think the first one is somewhat dubious given that people still debate as to what Mary of Magdala's role really was. – Pharap Dec 1 '14 at 8:19
  • "Magdalene" is/was used as a euphemism for "prostitute" in parts of the British Isles, I believe. (And there is a sorry history of sending "wayward" girls -- often those who are just too outspoken at school, etc -- to "Magdalene laundries" which were in reality "reform schools"). – Hot Licks Dec 1 '14 at 12:35

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