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Prostitution is one branch of the sex industry, along with pornography, stripping, and erotic dancing.

The legal status of prostitution varies from country to country (sometimes from region to region within a given country), ranging from being permissible but unregulated, to an enforced or unenforced crime, or a regulated profession.

The English word whore derives from the Old English word hōra, from the Proto-Germanic *hōrōn (prostitute), which derives from the Proto-Indo-European root *keh₂- meaning "desire", a root which has also given us Latin cārus (dear), whence the French cher (dear, expensive) and the Latin cāritās (love, charity).

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

A streetwalker solicits customers on the streets or in public places, while a call girl makes appointments by phone, or in recent years, through email or the internet.

Correctly or not, use of the word prostitute without specifying a sex may commonly be assumed to be female; compound terms such as male prostitution or male escort are therefore often used to identify males.

In the Code of Hammurabi, provisions were found that addressed inheritance rights of women, including female prostitutes.

A literal translation therefore is: "to put up front for sale" or "to place forward".

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.

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.