Prostitution Being Deviant: History and Theory

It is well known that following social standards and norms of behavior are crucial for establishing effective communication among people. However, some individuals prefer to ignore generally accepted rules of conduct and stick to their life concepts. This type of behavior is usually called deviant and implies a violation of social norms, both formal and informal. There are different types of abnormal behavior, such as drug trafficking, robberies, sexual harassment, and so on.

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One of the forms of deviance is prostitution, which has existed in almost every civilization on Earth (Jenkins, 2019). Prostitution occurs as a result of an imbalance between the goals of people and how these goals can be achieved. In this paper, the history of prostitution and the theory that supports the fact this sexual activity is considered deviant will be included. Also, the primary problems of those who are involved in sex work and the ways how to resolve these issues will be discussed. At the end of the paper, the information about the new things that were learned during the work, as well as the conclusion, will be presented.

History of Prostitution

Prostitution is the world’s oldest profession, which appeared in the Middle East region a long time ago. The oldest form of prostitution was associated with religious practices (Rostamzadeh, Rahim, & Mohseni, 2016). Parents used to send their young daughters and boys to temples for committing sexual rituals as they believed that it would guarantee them access to heaven. This form of spiritual activity marked the beginning of the formation of prostitution as a form of deviance.

However, the attitude to sex work changed by the fifteenth century. Historians reveal various reasons for that, such as the advent of the Protestant Reformation in Europe and the outbreak of sexually transmitted diseases in Naples, which later swept across Europe (New World Encyclopedia 2019). Then, prostitutes started using contraceptive methods to reduce the spread of infections. However, the issue of the legalization of this sexual activity remained controversial.

In the USA, prostitution was originally legal but then was banned due to the influence of religious groups and institutions. Nowadays, there are only two states in the USA where sex work is legal, namely, Nevada and Rhode Island. In all the other states, it is considered a criminal activity because the criminalization of prostitution deters the soliciting of these services. Moreover, prostitution facilitates the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, which is a threat to public health (Hayes-Smith & Shekarkhar, 2010). Therefore, sex work is considered deviant because it creates social disorders in communities, and, as a result, violates social norms and rules.

Theory of Prostitution

Various social theories can be applied to deviant behavior. In terms of prostitution, the best theory that supports the idea that sex work is deviant is the strain theory. Strain theory is invented by an American sociologist, Robert Merton. The theory explains that deviant behavior occurs as a result of certain circumstances in individuals’ lives that do not allow them to achieve culturally valued goals. The inability of people to achieve their goals leads to their engagement in deviant behavior (Crossman, 2019). Thus, Merton asserted that when people fail to attain their ultimate goals legally due to financial restraints, they start using illegal means to acquire wealth.

Thus, prostitution is one of the illegal means of earning money, which, in many cases, occurs as a result of financial difficulties and the inability of people to meet their needs. Making money for sexual activity remains one the least prestigious and the most dangerous types of work, which is chosen by people when they have a limited set of options (Monto, 2014). Because of that, the ability to get a high salary in a short time remains the main reason why people engage in prostitution. Therefore, the strain theory explains why individuals are involved in criminal behavior and support the deviant label of prostitution.

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Problems and Solutions

Various issues are caused by sex work. Those who work in the sexual industry suffer most of all. Thus, prostitutes are always at the risk of meeting an aggressive or criminal client who can hurt them physically. The second problem of sex workers is that they always have to stay hidden from representatives of police and justice as this activity is illegal in most countries. Moreover, due to the unlawful nature of prostitution, sex workers can never use social privileges, such as to get approval for a mortgage and receive a pension or compensation for sick leave.

As it was mentioned above, prostitution brings some problems to society as well. First of all, it facilitates the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases. Also, due to its deviant nature, prostitution promotes the distribution of criminality and violence. As a result, sex work creates social disorders and instability. However, it is worth mentioning that society itself provokes the development of prostitution through the utilization of the provided services.

Different methods can be suggested to resolve the problems caused by prostitution. First of all, it can be beneficial to introduce a state program that will implement a stricter control of prostitution. Also, it is necessary to hire more police officers to perform more frequent prosecution of those arrested for sex work. In addition, it is essential to involve social workers in fighting against prostitution so they could develop social plans to provide working places for those who are in need. Raising people’s awareness about the negative impact of prostitution through commercials and other mass media tools is another excellent method of fighting against prostitution.

Things Learned in this Paper

The most surprising thing that was learned during the work on this paper is that prostitution as a form of activity appeared for religious purposes. Also, it is surprising that there are still some states in the world where sex work is legal. It seems particularly irrational after consideration of problems that are faced by people because of prostitution. The thing that concerns me most of all is the fact that many people have to engage in illegal activity due to their poverty. Unfortunately, some humans do not have a choice because they struggle to meet their basic needs and are not able to achieve their goals.


Therefore, it can be concluded that prostitution is a form of deviance that has existed in almost every civilization on Earth. It appeared thousands of years ago in the Middle East as a religious ritual and then developed in working activity. The best theory that supports the label of prostitution as deviant is strain theory, which proves the thesis of the paper. It states that prostitution occurs as a result of an imbalance between the goals of people and how these goals can be achieved. In addition, the problems that are caused by sex work, possible solutions, as well as things that were learned in the paper were included.


Crossman, A. (2019). Deviance and Strain Theory in Sociology. Web.

Hayes-Smith, R., & Shekarkhar, Z. (2010). Why is prostitution criminalized? An alternative viewpoint on the construction of sex work. Contemporary Justice Review, 15(1), 73–84.

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Jenkins, J. (2019). Encyclopedia Britannica: Prostitution. Web.

Monto, M., A. (2014). Prostitution, sex work, and violence: Lessons from the Cambodian context. Studies in Gender and Sexuality, 7(5), 232–240.

Prostitution. (2019). In new world encyclopedia. Web.

Rostamzadeh, E., Rahim, R., & Mohseni, F. (2016). Historical background of prostitution and typology: A social-legal perspective. Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, 7(5), 232–240.

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