What is Buddhist attitude towards prostitution?
Every time when I attended an international conference abroad I was asked: why does Thailand with its population of 60 millions and 94% of which are Buddhists still have so many prostitutes? Even women travelling outside the country often are mistreated, being taken to have the same profession.
As Buddhists, we have to understand that Buddhism does not blame women who have to work as prostitutes for their living. But prostitution promotes unwholesome acts both on the parts of the men and prostitutes themselves. In a research by Dr Thepanom Muangmaen, he reported a girl who had to provide sexual service to 30 men a night during Chinese New Year. It is understandable from the prostitute's point of view that she was forced to do it out of poverty and need for survival, but what about the 30 men buying service from her? What necessity do they have apart from the answer to their lustful desire?
The Buddha did not look down upon prostitutes. On the contrary he provided opportunity for them to enter the rightful path in the same manner as other. Once he accepted an invitation from Ambapali, a courtesan, for lunch on the next day. After that the Licchavi princes came and offered him an invitation again. He declined as he already accepted an invitation form Ambapali. This courtesan was the same person who later offered him and the Sangha a mango grove for the monks' residence.
Jivaka, the famous physician who attended personally to the Buddha and the Sangha was also born of a prostitute. He was never frowned upon for his birth.
Being a prostitute is not an obstacle to enlightenment if she is willing and diligently practises dharma. In fact, the experience of a prostitute could help her towards enlightenment sooner than otherwise.
Buddhism does not support prostitutes. On the contrary it points out that prostitution is an unwholesome act. Buddhists do not look down upon prostitutes. If they choose to practice dharma, they have an equal, if not better chance to become enlightened.