Analysis Shows We're Talking About Prostitution More Than Ever Before

Study of sexual lingo in literature and historical documents shows shifting social concerns when it comes to sex.



A new analysis from the website charts the usage of various sex-related words in English-language literature, nonfiction, and historical documents between 1810 and 2009. The results offer some stats that modern audiences may find surprising—for instance, use of the word condom peaked in the early 1800s. The words virginity and pornography, meanwhile, peaked in the early 1990s. One result that I found particularly notable: use of the word prostitution spiked in the early aughts, reaching its 200-year peak in 2009.

Before this, the word's peak usage occurred around 1980. Among the 10 words most frequently found within 10 words of prostitution were childgamblinghousereligious, pornography, and narcotics. conducted the analysis using the Corpus of Historical American English, a collection of more than 100,000 historical texts (totaling 400 million words) dating back to 1810. A few other interesting findings: 

• The word sexual peaked in the early 1800s, when it was commonly used in conjunction with the words age, women, and education. After going out of fashion for a while, its reemergence in the 1960s through today has been most closely associated with the words discriminationoffenders, and partners

• Homosexuality started popping up in the 1920s, really hitting its stride in the '60s-'90s, when it was frequently found near the words abortion, adultery, incest, and divorce.

• Among the 10 words most frequently found near pornography were obscenity, child, censorship, prostitution, and sadistic. 

• The word orgasm didn't appear frequently until the 1930s, around the same time pornography appeared.

• In the 1950s and '60s, the word penis was frequently associated with the words mother and envy

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  1. All sex is paid for. Some involves direct money transfer. Some involves other far more expensive costs….

    1. no, no. all sex is rape. get it right.

  2. I blame Internet porn. And Pretty Woman.

  3. I thought that first word in blue was gamboling.

    1. Nobody wants that kind of prostitution.

  4. Basically no one in the US wrote about vaginas at all until the 1960s. Impressive.

    1. Before that they were referred to obliquely with a variety of nautical terms.

      1. They weren’t even discovered until the Age of Exploration.

      2. and flowers.

        1. If you include Georgia O’Keefe’s visual vocabulary, it’s clear that people discussed little except for vaginas prior to the 60s.

      3. Here be monsters?

        1. you must be doing something very wrong…

      4. a variety of nautical terms








        1. Seachest

          Auxiliary Propulsion Unit

          Roll Stabilizer


    2. God damn it, Nicole, the correct term is va-jay-jay.

      1. hoo-haa, but not like al pacino in that one movie about smelling chicks.

        1. Uh, no, that’s actually what Pacino was referring to every time he said it.

          1. So why did he want to take a flamethrower to it then?

          2. I don’t know for certain, but I think that makes the movie much, much better.

    3. The chart just doesn’t go back far enough. Looking at churches and cathedrals from the middle ages on we see the Vesica Piscis many places. Most modern Christians think that this is the sign of a fish (and it is) but it’s a symbol of rebirth…which means…

      1. Smells like fish but it tastes like chicken?

  5. Tell me more about this religious prostitution, popular in the 1940s.

    1. get thee to a nunnery!

  6. We’re talking about blowjobs more too- but that doesn’t help me with the mrs. any!

  7. It’s always seemed backwards to me that guys who lie to and manipulate women into sex are looked up to as ‘studs’ and ‘playas,’ yet men who seek a professional and negotiate a mutually-beneficial arrangement in advance are looked down upon as creeps, losers and (literally) criminals. Some states require convicted Johns to register as sex offenders right alongside rapists and child molesters. Hopefully, that will all change someday…

    1. Don’t hate the playa…

    2. In these two cases, the current reactions better allow women to be treated as victims, not responsible for their actions.

      1. Except in Hawaii, where prostitutes who give undercover cops handjobs or blowjobs can be charged with sexually assaulting a police officer. I guess male cop victimhood trumps female victimhood, huh?

    3. Maybe it’s for the same reason most people look up to politicians who lie and manipulate, and look down on businesspeople who negotiate mutually-beneficial arrangements.

      1. The attitudes you note exist pretty exclusively on the Left (but they only make excuses when their politician lies). The situation I cited is pretty universal–except for Libertarians, of course.

        1. Oh, I think you will find a fair number of right-wingers who will support their leaders if they lie and manipulate for the greater good, national security, etc.

          1. You think? That has not been my experience with Right-Wingers at all, many of whom oppose lying even if it is for the greater good. Yet when I ask non-religious Lefties how they can support these Democrats who talk about God and Jesus and stuff, they defend it by saying that it’s just an act to get elected, just like Obama claiming he supported traditional marriage when everyone knows he never did.

            1. I think in the aftermath or 911 you saw a lot of right wingers defending lies, or at least things that were not clear presented as truth. And depending on what you consider lying, defending domestic surveillance and all of the other clandestine stuff done in the name of national security could count as defending lies and manipulation.

    4. I think both groups are looked down upon by a large portion of society. Both are seeing sex as a transaction, and most people don’t want to think of it that way (even if that’s often what it is). I would certainly regard someone who frequents prostitutes more highly than some PUA asshole. But both look kind of sad and pathetic to someone who finds the personal intimacy and connection to be a very important part of the sexual experience.

      1. While aggressive pickup artists might be looked down on by some, it’s the John’s activities that are criminalized (but I don’t support ‘rape by deception’ laws). Besides, some guys just don’t have the qualities or confidence to attract or become involved with ‘regular’ women. Why should they be denied sexual intimacy just because they can’t (or don’t) play the ‘game?’ Especially when there are women out there willing to please them in exchange for cash?

        1. Don’t get me wrong, I think prostitution and being an asshole should both be legal on principle. And I don’t think visiting whores means you are a failure as a human being or a bad person. I’m just talking about the social perceptions of those people.

          1. Of course. You and I are on the same page, as I assumed.

      2. And PUA’s are the extreme form of people who manipulate to get laid.

        The dude with three girlfriends and a wife (none of who know about the others) is ‘OK’ but the dude who visits a pro is a loser because he can’t get any without paying for it.

        And this even goes on in the feminist/SJW circles – a john is ‘victimizing’ these women, is complicit in ‘trafficking’ while the ‘player’ is just an uber-manly arsehole.

        1. Perhaps for not much longer. It’s only a matter of time before a state passes a ‘rape by fraud’ law (New Jersey has already tried) and then it spreads throughout the nation. But who would decide what’s fraud, and what isn’t? Would exaggerating to make yourself look better to a woman be a crime? How about failure to disclose something from your past–a lie of omission? Face it, sooner or later all us guys will be treated just like accused college students.

        2. Just to make sure no one is getting the wrong idea, I am not suggesting that any of these things should be illegal, or even that it is any of my business. People can do whatever they want (within limits of the NAP, of course). I just might think they are sad or pathetic or assholes.

  8. How much does a house prostitute charge?

    1. I see what you did there….

  9. I am puzzled about the word “temporary” on the chart. Any ideas?

    1. It was temporary for some people because of economic circumstances?

      1. OK, but why in just those two time periods?

  10. I blame hip hop.

    1. comment of the day, sir!

      1. Full of ennui, yet energetically a nullity.

  11. The word orgasm didn’t appear frequently until the 1930s, around the same time pornography appeared.


  12. Also, Elizabeth, I am *shocked* by your (non-alt-texted) illustration!

    1. At least tell us where we can buy those. That’s what I’m giving everyone for Christmas this year.

  13. I yearn for a simpler time when subjects like…fornication…were not discussed in public. Keep that malarkey behind closed doors, where it belongs.

    1. I yearn for an even simpler time when people just fucked wherever they felt like it.

      1. And kept their yaps shut about it.

  14. Get back to me when one of the top words is ‘legalize.’

    1. I just realized one of the words is legalized.

      I’m going to take the rest of the day off. I’ll…I’ll just show myself out.

  15. Did they use SNOBOL? Maybe SPITBOL?

  16. I am curious about the methodology used to gather this data and how accurate it is.



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