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

Prostitution is sometimes described as commercial sex or hooking.

Depending on the jurisdiction, prostitution can be legal or illegal.

A person who works in this field is called a prostitute, and is a kind of sex worker.

Prostitution is one of the branches of the sex industry: other branches include pornography, stripping, nude modeling, 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.

It is sometimes referred to euphemistically as "the world's oldest profession" in the English-speaking world. Brothels are establishments specifically dedicated to prostitution.

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 identify as female and have male clients, there are also gay male prostitutes, lesbian prostitutes, and heterosexual male prostitutes.

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).

Another explanation is that prostituta is a composition of pro and statuere (to cause to stand, to station, place erect).

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.