Sex work researcher and writer Gail Pheterson writes that these metaphorical usages exist because "the term "prostitute" gradually took on a Christian moralist tradition, as being synonymous with debasement of oneself or of others for the purpose of ill-gotten gains".In the Ancient Near East along the Tigris–Euphrates river system there were many shrines and temples or "houses of heaven" dedicated to various deities documented by the Ancient Greek historian Herodotus in The Histories As early as the 18th century BC, ancient Mesopotamia recognized the need to protect women's property rights.

A variety of terms are used for those who engage in prostitution, some of which distinguish between different types of prostitution or imply a value judgment about them.

Common alternatives for prostitute include escort and whore; however, not all professional escorts are prostitutes.

Those offering services to female customers are commonly known as gigolos; those offering services to male customers are hustlers or rent boys.

Organizers of prostitution may be known as pimps (if male) and madams or Mama-san (if female).

It is sometimes referred to euphemistically as "the world's oldest profession" in the English-speaking world. Brothels are establishments specifically dedicated to prostitution.

In escort prostitution, the act may take place at the client's residence or hotel room (referred to as out-call), or at the escort's residence or a hotel room rented for the occasion by the escort (in-call). Although the majority of prostitutes are female and have male clients, a prostitute can be, and have clients, of any gender or sexual orientation.Most sex worker activists groups reject the word prostitute and since the late 1970s have used the term sex worker instead.However, sex worker can also mean anyone who works within the sex industry or whose work is of a sexual nature and is not limited solely to prostitutes.For instance, in the book, The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield says of his brother ("D. Usage of the "political prostitute" moniker is by no means unique to Russian political lexicon, such as when a Huffington Post contributor expressed the opinion that Donald J.Trump was "prostituting himself to feed his ego and gain power" when he ran for President of the United States.Prostitution is one branch of the sex industry, along with pornography, stripping, and erotic dancing.