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Volume:7, Number:30
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Living
THIS WEEK

Sitting Too Long Makes You Fat, Age Faster

Sitting down for long periods of time is not just bad for your metabolism, it can make you age quicker too. New research has found that sitting down for 10 or more hours a day without regular exercise can make a person's cells age prematurely. The University of California San Diego study looked at nearly 1,500 women aged between 64 and 95. It found the cells of women who sit for over 10 hours and do less than 40 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise a day have are biologically eight years older than women who are less sedentary. The women with biologically older cells had shorter telomeres which are found at the end of DNA strands and help to protect chromosomes from deterioration.

The Oldest Profession

The sex trade transitioned from the scared procession of fertility cults to the most sordid of commercial transactions

Beginning in the third millennium B.C, the Sumerians, the first major inhabitants of ancient Mesopotamia, worshiped the goddess Ishtar, a deity that would remain a constant throughout Mesopotamia’s Babylonian and Assyrian empires. Ishtar was the goddess of love and war, symbolized by the planet Venus, and was born anew as a maiden every morning only to become a ‘whore’ every evening – the etymology of the word lying in the Indo-European root meaning ‘desire.’ The irony is that Mesopotamian religious practices gave birth to the prostitution trade. Women in Ishtar’s service would help men who offered money to her temples with the ‘sacred’ powers of their bodies. Men of all rank could hire these women and, in turn, make an offering to the goddess from whose temple the prostitute came. Thus Ishtar became known as the protector of all prostitutes.

So how did the sex trade made transition from the scared procession of fertility cults to the most sordid of commercial transactions? The first account of prostitution in the Bible is found in Genesis, where Judah – one of Jacob’s twelve sons, descended from Abraham – paid the bride price for Tamar. Though no fault of her own, Tamar was sent back to her relatives in shame as a poor investment, as she produced no children. Determined to prove that the fault lay with Judah’s sons, she approached his tents disguised and exchanged sex with Judah for a goat. Tamar became pregnant, and avoided harsh punishment for being a pregnant widow that shamed Judah and his sons by revealing keepsakes given to the prostitute employed by Judah. Through prostitution, Tamar proved that it was her husbands who failed in conception.

These narratives demonstrate that a bride’s ability to produce offspring, especially of the male variety, was integral to her social value. Rape was thus seen as a violation of property, not of person. The sale of wives and daughters was commonplace, as was informal sex, in Canaan. Since tribal honor was in some measure tied to the fidelity and fertility of the women, only foreign prostitutes were tolerated. Thus the Semitic prostitute had to practice from sufficient distance from her male relatives with clients that were unknown to her brothers and fathers.

The proliferation of foreign gods, temples and priestesses also led to a rise in the sex trade on the Canaanite periphery. Prostitution began to become more pejorative, a sign of immorality, corruption, and foreign deities. One of the Semitic peoples’ most impervious enemies was a lecherous woman: the foreign Queen Jezebel, married to King Ahab, favored the foreign gods Baal and Ashera, and was subsequently depicted as purveying orgiastic cults and being both sexually and commercially covetous. According to the story, she spawned a religious war that ended with her defeat at Elijah’s hands. Prostitution became part of the rhetoric of the religious war between the adherents of Yahweh and those of Ashera and Baal. Prostitutes were accorded more power, Succubuslike in their ability to lure young men astray. Semitic prophets utilized this image of the prostitute in their thunderous proclamations and condemnations.

As in Sumerian and Babylonian societies, there existed a hierarchy of prostitutes. The elite hetaerae – a term always denoting female prostitute entertainers – made substantially more money, and had to be freeborn; this meant that slave prostitutes were motivated to earn enough money so that they could purchase their freedom and thereby increase their income. However, the expenses of this upper class were also greater: they offered symbolic gifts to the gods and had to maintain beautiful bodies and homes. The pornai, on the other hand, could be either male or female and were accessible to all classes of men.

Roman prostitution was also highly categorized, yet legal and licensed. As we will see in Japan, these sex workers were skilled in the arts and could become coveted party guests. Brothel owners could include those were only renting rooms to prostitutes or those who oversaw the women and their business more strictly. Actors, dancers, and other members of the lower entertainment class were also seen as people from whom sex could be purchased. As with many earlier periods of our history, the moral valence of prostitution was not nearly as strong as it is today.

In Mesoamerica, the Aztecs called buildings where prostitution was permitted by political and religious authority cihuacalli, meaning ‘house of women.’ Centered on the goddess of ‘filth,’ these brothels were closed compounds. As seen throughout most of our history, prostitution is ‘ghettoized,’ relegated to specific spaces and increasingly treated as a (sometimes necessary) vice. Despite Islam’s strict forbidding of prostitution, sexual slavery persisted and, some would say, persists today. Slaves served as concubines in the harems of the East, while fixed-term marriages – where the length of marriage was outlined at its inception – allowed for a persistence of the sex trade following the proliferation of Islam.

Prostitutes also enjoyed a particular status within Hindu religious practice. Devadasis were girls who were symbolically married, and thus pledged, to a deity; their responsibilities included the care and maintenance of the temple. Many also exercised religious prostitution, and this practice proliferated as the arrival of West Asian invaders precipitated the decline of the temple status and the turn towards prostitution as a means of income, as the temples lost their patron kings. This system of religious dedication was outlawed in India in 1988. In Japan’s Edo period (1600-1868), oiran were courtesans who were also entertainers. Delegated to the city’s outskirts, brothels became quarters that offered a variation of entertainment. Like the Greek hetaerae, these women were elite prostitutes who could achieve significant social status. Artistic skill, along with beauty and education, determined a courtesan’s rank, and only the most highly ranked entertainers were deemed suitable for the daimyo, the military leader of Japan. The oiran gave way to the geisha, who was much more accessible and did not sell sex, only entertainment in the form of dance, poetry and music. It was, and is, a grave and offensive mistake to attempt to purchase sex from a geisha. With the rise of Catholic Europe, all forms of sexual activity outside of marriage were regarded as sinful. However, prostitution persisted in urban environments and was seen as a lesser evil that prevented other, more deviant, sexual behaviors. Specific districts were allocated for the trade, and some brothels even came to be owned, and of course used, by religious authorities.

Eventually prostitution became a prosecutable offense. As European colonization continuously expanded, legislation increasingly enacted a tighter control of the sex trade. Britain’s Contagious Diseases Act is one such example of the attempt to curb the spread of venereal disease and represented a trend of increasing political regulation over the practice. For example, physical examinations could be compulsory and prostitutes are forced to undergo them. The sex trade persisted, and continues to persist, in the face of social condemnation. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union contributed to the outlawing of prostitution in almost all of the United States in the early 20th century. Countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom would not overtly outlaw prostitution, but would enact legislature that severely restricts the trade and the activities that surround it. Today the sex trade continues as it always has, with many governments officially maintaining its illegality, while some restrict certain sex trade-related activities and others keep it legal and regulated.

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