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pros·​ti·​tute ˈprä-stə-ˌtüt How to pronounce prostitute (audio)
prostituted; prostituting; prostitutes

transitive verb

: to offer for sexual intercourse in exchange for pay
prostitute oneself
: to devote to corrupt or unworthy purposes : debase
prostitute one's talents

intransitive verb

: to act as a prostitute : to prostitute oneself
When she prostituted, she worked as a call girl …Joanne Meyerowitz
prostitutor noun


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: devoted to corrupt purposes : prostituted


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plural prostitutes
sometimes offensive; see usage paragraph below : a person who engages in sexual intercourse in exchange for pay : sex worker
: a person (such as a writer or painter) who deliberately debases his or her talents (as for money)
Usage of Prostitute and Prostitution

The words prostitute and prostitution in their senses relating to sex work are now increasingly rejected as offensive.

"… the word 'prostitute' itself has very much fallen out of favor. Very few people who are engaged in sex work describe themselves as prostitutes outside their own communities, and in some circles the word prostitute is considered a derogatory term. …" Melissa Gira Grant, quoted in, 11 Aug. 2014
These days Marie prefers to use the term escort when describing what her mother does, and dislikes the word prostitute for its "negative connotations". Chloe Morgan, MailOnline, 30 Nov. 2020
"Some sex workers find the term 'prostitute' offensive because of the intense stigma and baggage that goes with it. I feel that for me it's important to take back that name in order to fight the stigma. …" unidentified sex worker, quoted in Tucson (Arizona) Weekly, 6 Oct. 2016
Labor member Irene Pnevmatikos told Parliament that the terms "prostitution" and "prostitute" had negative connotations. "Sex worker groups in Australia reject the word prostitute and have done so since the 1970s," Ms Pnevmatikos said. Casey Briggs, ABC Premium News (Australia), 20 June 2019
Because of the degrading history of the term "prostitution," I confine my use of the word to two scenarios: when it is used in a direct quotation, and when I am referring to the laws themselves that are so titled. Mary Felder, University of Pennsylvania Law Review, 1 Jan. 2021

When used in contexts relating to victimization especially of children, the words have also been criticized as mischaracterizing sexual exploitation.

The term "child prostitution" is being removed from official statistics over concerns it is an outdated phrase that encourages "victim-blaming". Belfast (Northern Ireland) Telegraph Online, 7 Mar. 2016
I, with the Human Rights Project for Girls, understand it is the media's job to convey a situation or an issue with precision and clarity. "Child prostitute" may seem clear because it conveys the fact that money is exchanged for sex, but it is also misleading because it suggests consent and criminality when none exists. Withelma "T" Ortiz Walker Pettigrew,, 2016
"It comes back to the word prostitute … and it is biasing our laws when the act would be considered statutory rape because it involves a child if no money were exchanged," said Linda Smith, who founded Shared Hope in the late 1990s after serving in the U.S. Congress for Washington state for four years. James Pilcher, Chillicothe (Ohio) Gazette, 24 Nov. 2019

Examples of prostitute in a Sentence

Verb a writer who prostituted his talents by writing commercials a serious writer prostituting himself by writing pulp novels for money Noun was caught procuring the services of a prostitute
Recent Examples on the Web
Please in future say no when you are asked to prostitute yourself. Emily St. Martin, Los Angeles Times, 28 July 2023 And that’s what got talked about and prostituted by the media, in the most derogatory manner. George Varga, San Diego Union-Tribune, 26 July 2023 Operating out of three hotels, two in Mason and another in Blue Ash, Barron forced a female victim to prostitute herself by threatening her with physical force and at times beating her with phone cords and burning her with a methamphetamine pipe, the release states. Quinlan Bentley, The Enquirer, 9 Nov. 2020 This film of a widowed housewife (Delphine Seyrig) — her routine chores, maternal social-role obligations, and limited freedom (to prostitute herself, then exact murderous revenge on a male client) — is deliberately anti-dramatic and misandrist. Armond White, National Review, 7 Dec. 2022 Roberts portrays prostitute Vivian Ward, who is hired by businessman Edward Lewis (Richard Gere) to be his fake girlfriend for a week of events in Los Angeles. The Editors, Town & Country, 9 July 2022 Gormican and co-writer Kevin Etten don’t account for filmgoers’ ironic awareness that actors can prostitute themselves and occasionally redeem lousy assignments with exemplary work. Armond White, National Review, 22 Apr. 2022 Prosecutors said Price met the two underage girls from Texas through Instagram and encouraged both to prostitute themselves. Alex Riggins, San Diego Union-Tribune, 21 Sep. 2020 But over the years, like in Venice and Barcelona, floods of visitors have overwhelmed local lives -- from puking stoners to prostitute stalkers. Ruben Munsterman, Fortune, 9 June 2020
Speed portrayed Lulu, the prostitute girlfriend of Max Julien‘s pimp character, in The Mack (1973), the girlfriend of a lion-owning club owner (Rockne Tarkington) in Black Samson (1974) and a mute woman in the cult martial arts drama Dynamite Brothers (1974), starring Timothy Brown. Mike Barnes, The Hollywood Reporter, 19 Jan. 2022 And the rest is history: Marshall waved his sitcom-ic magic wand over the whole thing and turned into a Disney princess story while also keeping the prostitute part. Debby Wolfinsohn,, 4 Jan. 2023 Everett Collection Abused by his prostitute mother, Frank Zito (Joe Spinell) turns to a life of crime as an adult and becomes a vicious serial killer. Steven Thrash,, 27 Oct. 2022 Police are thinking differently about the undetermined death of a woman previously thought to have been killed in a rash of prostitute murders on Long Island, New York. Aaron Katersky, ABC News, 13 May 2022 But the record suggests that Comey might have had another reason for taking the unverified story of the prostitute video to Trump. New York Times, 15 Jan. 2017 Now Julianna cobbles together a living as a cocktail waitress, part-time exotic dancer and quasi-prostitute. Oline H. Cogdill,, 11 Aug. 2020
At some point, Perkins reportedly introduced Millard to a Black prostitute but Millard wanted a White one instead, the news report said, citing warrants. Louis Casiano, Fox News, 24 Mar. 2023 Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields, named after Shields’s controversial first film about a young girl who was a child prostitute, features interviews from her childhood friend and actress Laura Linney and Drew Barrymore and how to contrasted with Shields’s experience in the spotlight. Vulture, 22 Mar. 2023 The artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, who often painted and patronized prostitutes and had a studio nearby on Avenue Frochot, is said to have been in residence for a time on the top floor. Nancy Hass François Halard, New York Times, 20 Mar. 2023 Lines are crossed by two of the three women in Esther’s life: white client Mrs. Van Buren (the always compelling Lindsay Hayward) and prostitute-friend Mayme (a sympathetic Kayland Jordan). Manuel Mendoza, Dallas News, 16 Mar. 2023 After reviewing his social media activity, it was revealed Green had messaged several other Instagram users with proposals to work for him as prostitutes, according to prosecutors. City News Service, San Diego Union-Tribune, 17 Feb. 2023 John Hudson Odom soared as Madame Millie, a prostitute who befriended Toni when the team bedded down a brothel because black people weren’t allowed to use hotels. Adrienne Gibbs, Forbes, 10 Feb. 2023 One of the many Westerns starring and directed by Clint Eastwood, Unforgiven sees a prostitute disfigured, narrowly escaping death, prompting co-workers to post a reward for the murder of those responsible. Carly Thomas, The Hollywood Reporter, 1 Jan. 2023 Book a hotel room and hire a prostitute who goes by the name of Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack). ELLE, 22 Dec. 2022 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'prostitute.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



Latin prostitutus, past participle of prostituere, from pro- before + statuere to station — more at pro-, statute

First Known Use


1530, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1563, in the meaning defined above


1607, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of prostitute was in 1530

Dictionary Entries Near prostitute

Cite this Entry

“Prostitute.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Oct. 2023.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 verb
pros·​ti·​tute ˈpräs-tə-ˌt(y)üt How to pronounce prostitute (audio)
prostituted; prostituting
: to put (as one's talents) to unworthy uses : debase


2 of 2 noun
: a person who engages in sexual activities for money

Legal Definition


1 of 2 noun
ˈpräs-tə-ˌtüt, -ˌtyüt
: a person who engages in sexual activity indiscriminately especially for money compare panderer, pimp


2 of 2 transitive verb
prostituted; prostituting
: to offer as a prostitute

Transitive verb

Latin prostitutus, past participle of prostituere, from pro- before + statuere to cause to stand, place

More from Merriam-Webster on prostitute

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