In recent years I have increasingly heard or read the term "Sex Worker". As a feminist and "concerned citizen", I deplore the exploitation of young women, lured abroad and forced into prostitution. I well understand that references to "sex workers" is typically sympathetic to the plight of those who are forced to turn "tricks" to pay for food and shelter.
I guess one of my reasons for disliking the phrase is the juxtaposition of "sex" and "work".Sexual activity, at its best, and when it is what the lawyers call "consensual", is joyful activity. Musing on the concept, I began to run over in my mind the many terms used in English to describe those who "play for pay". These terms are by no means synonymous; let's consider some of those terms, and what lies behind the words.
Starting at the pinnacles of the profession, I like the term "courtesan".I visualize an intelligent beauty, not promiscuous, but able to choose her lovers from the ranks of Society, the European equivalent of a well-trained geisha.
An ambiguous term is "harlot". In the bible, it seems to call for approval, in the person of Rahab, who helped in the capture of Jericho. However that may just be from an Israelite perspective. In general the term (which is seldom used today) simply means a woman who "sells her body"
. A "prostitute" is a generic "sex worker".
Another generic term is "hooker", but the origin of the word has nothing to do with the Civil War General Joe Hooker. Wikipedia led me to the actual origin, via a four-minute video. (You will find Marina Orlova is not your typical philologist.)..
"Streetwalkers" ply their trade outdoors, taking their "johns" to their apartment or a cheap hotel.
A "call girl" sets up her appointments.to meet her "clients" at the location (usually a hotel or motel) of their choice.
A "tart" is usually an "amateur". A "woman of easy virtue" is also typically an amateur. A "lady of the night" is typically a streetwalker.
There are other terms with the implication of sexual activity, often words used of women being disparaged by a man: "slut", "floozie", "bitch" and so forth. Shakespeare wrote of a child "ditch-delivered by a drab".
"Whores" are looked down on by most folk who use the term.
Perhaps I should disclose not merely that I have never paid for sex, and that I'm not obsessed by the topic. I am just a lover of words!.