pros·​ti·​tu·​tion ˌprä-stə-ˈtü-shən How to pronounce prostitution (audio)
sometimes offensive; see usage paragraph below : the act or practice of engaging in sexual relations for money : sex work
: the state of being prostituted : debasement
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The term "child prostitution" is being removed from official statistics over concerns it is an outdated phrase that encourages "victim-blaming".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 prostitution in a Sentence

She was arrested for prostitution. Writing commercials was a prostitution of his talents.
Recent Examples on the Web The men face charges of solicitation of prostitution, a felony in Texas punishable with up two years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Sarah Bahari, Dallas News, 5 Apr. 2023 Street prostitution has been an issue on Capp Street in the Mission District for decades. Fifth & Mission Podcast, San Francisco Chronicle, 9 Feb. 2023 In Texas, the solicitation of prostitution is considered a felony and is punishable with up two years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Sarah Rumpf, Fox News, 25 Jan. 2023 Some of the acts of prostitution were carried out in Nesbitt’s condominium building in the 2400 block of West Augusta Boulevard. Jason Meisner, Chicago Tribune, 8 Feb. 2023 Likewise, police won’t be able to ticket people for loitering for the purpose of prostitution. Wire Reports, oregonlive, 1 Jan. 2023 So for me, initially, prostitution was an investigation. Neil Genzlinger, New York Times, 18 Nov. 2022 From 8:15 pm to 6:00 am each day, prostitution is legal in Germany, where working call girls staff brothels, sauna clubs, and other such establishments. Veronique Greenwood, Discover Magazine, 2 Sep. 2011 See More

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

Word History

First Known Use

1553, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of prostitution was in 1553

Dictionary Entries Near prostitution

Cite this Entry

“Prostitution.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


pros·​ti·​tu·​tion ˌpräs-tə-ˈt(y)ü-shən How to pronounce prostitution (audio)
: the acts or practices of a prostitute
: the state of being prostituted

Legal Definition


pros·​ti·​tu·​tion ˌpräs-tə-ˈtü-shən, -ˈtyü- How to pronounce prostitution (audio)
: the act or practice of engaging in sexual activity indiscriminately especially for money
also : the crime of engaging in such activity

More from Merriam-Webster on prostitution

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!