In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Prostitution

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Careers
  • Social Work and Helping Industries
  • Legal History and Analysis
  • Research and Methodology
  • Youth
  • Feminism
  • Violence
  • Sex Workers’ Rights
  • Trafficking

Criminology Prostitution
Melissa Hope Ditmore
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 April 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 April 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0113


Prostitution is usually understood as a sexual exchange for gain. The term “sex work” was coined to avoid the stigma associated with prostitution and to emphasize the fact that sexual commerce generates income, like other work. Sexual exchange is depicted in classical art and literature and has been a topic of scholarship. Scholarship on sex work has traditionally been dominated by discussions of the topic as a social problem, deviance, or vector of disease. However, more recent scholarship innovatively addresses burnout and coping, in addition to a small but widely cited number of articles addressing trauma. There is a growing body of work produced by sex workers, starting with prostitutes’ memoirs but now including sex workers on research teams and producing magazines and informational websites. Far more literature exists, even when limited to the very best examples, than can be included in this bibliography. Therefore, it is recommended that this bibliography be seen as a starting point rather than a complete list of worthwhile reading on a topic that intersects every sector of every society. Items that merit more attention and newer work expanding scholarship in new directions have been prioritized. Most of the selections feature citations offering additional material for more in-depth investigation. Each item is listed only once, but because prostitution and sex work are not discrete but instead overlap with every sector of society and form microcosms within many social concerns, many selections could be placed in more than one section. These have been included in the best-fitting section, although in some cases other decisions regarding classification could well have been justified.

General Overviews

These books describe and analyze a variety of venues for prostitution and sex work. Some offer an in-depth focus on a particular place or gender, such as De Becker 1971 on Japan, Friedman 2003 with its focus on American men, and Ditmore 2011, a textbook of American history. Others include chapters or entries covering wider geography and topics, such as Ditmore 2006, an encyclopedia featuring more than three hundred entries, Roberts 1992, a historical survey by a sex worker and feminist historian, and the anthologies Weitzer 2010 and Ditmore, et al. 2010.

  • Ditmore, Melissa Hope, ed. 2006. Encyclopedia of prostitution and sex work. Westport, CT: Greenwood.

    A–Z reference work including extensive front matter and 342 entries on cultural, legal, and social phenomena and concepts of prostitution and sex work.

  • De Becker, J. E. 1971. The nightless city, or the history of the Yoshiwara Yukwaku. Rutland, VT and Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle.

    Description of the red light districts of Tokyo, including all strata of establishments from the lowest and cheapest to geisha houses featuring women who might be “kept” by an exclusive patron. Originally published in 1899.

  • Ditmore, Melissa Hope. 2011. Prostitution and sex work. Historical Guides to Controversial Issues in America. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood.

    Historical guide to prostitution and sex work in the United States, including history of regulation, widespread criminalization in the 20th century, and morality, syphilis, and “white slavery” panics.

  • Ditmore, Melissa, Antonia Levy, and Alys Willman, eds. 2010. Sex work matters: Power, money and intimacy in the sex trade. London: Zed.

    Anthology with chapters about Asia, Europe, and North America, including sections addressing research frameworks, the roles sex workers play outside work, economics and money, government approaches to sex work, and organizing within the sex industry.

  • Friedman, Mack. 2003. Strapped for cash: A history of American hustler culture. Los Angeles: Alyson.

    Historical overview and cultural history of male prostitution in the United States, including references to transvestite prostitution, from the colonial era through the 20th century.

  • Roberts, Nickie. 1992. Whores in history: Prostitution in Western society. London: HarperCollins.

    Sex worker and feminist historian reclaims the word “whore” in a historical survey of famous and noteworthy citizens of the demimonde.

  • Weitzer, Ronald John, ed. 2010. Sex for sale, 2d ed. New York and London: Routledge.

    Anthology including a broad array of topics related to sex, including research methods, political agendas, and strong essays comparing sex workers across genders and venues. First ed. 2000.

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