The Online Etymology Dictionary states, "The notion of 'sex for hire' is not inherent in the etymology, which rather suggests one 'exposed to lust' or sex 'indiscriminately offered.'" The word prostitute was then carried down through various languages to the present-day Western society.

Most sex worker activists groups reject the word prostitute and since the late 1970s have used the term sex worker instead.

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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.

There are about 42 million prostitutes in the world, living all over the world (though most of Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa lacks data, studied countries in that large region rank as top sex tourism destinations).

Female prostitutes could be independent and sometimes influential women.

They were required to wear distinctive dresses and had to pay taxes.

Use of the word whore is widely considered pejorative, especially in its modern slang form of ho.

In Germany, however, most prostitutes' organizations deliberately use the word Hure (whore) since they feel that prostitute is a bureaucratic term.

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.

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.

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