In Ancient Greece prostitution was practiced legally. In Athens in particular the great lawmaker Solon constructed public brothels with cheap prices for easier access but mostly as a public health measure. The use of brothels was not equally targeted for both sexes but they were mostly created for a male clientele.
The most sophisticated courtesans in ancient Athens were the Hetaerae and were put at the top of the hierarchy. They were educated and performed various forms of arts. They were considered to be the only truly free women of the time. The Hetaerae were independent women that were not restricted into offering sexual services but were mostly conceived as companions. They resembled in many ways the Japanese geishas. They could go out freely and take part in symposiums, surrounded by sophisticated men. Their education would give them the chance to participate in philosophical conversations. Usually in their houses a crowd of young men constituted by artists such as poets and writers would gather in order to sing about their beauty and grace.
The Hetaerae were companions with a higher social status and thus they were paid accordingly. They would usually come from the Ionic or Aeolian areas of Greece, where they would have an easier access to education and the arts. During a symposium they would have the chance to practice their virtues, such as dancing, singing, playing musical instruments, participating in constructive dialogues with men and finally offering sexual stimulation during the stage of ‘komos’. During ‘komos’, the last part of a symposium, all the men would perform sexual acts of a variable content. From an expression of tenderness to unrestricted group sex and from a gentle stroke to the ultimate stimulation, komos was a procession with a ritualistic character.
The evidence for the actions that were performed during those rituals derive only from ancient Greek ceramics.
In the lower bottom of the scale were the ancient Greek Pornai. They were enslaved by a pimp that was collecting a share of their earnings. The pimp could either be male or female and his professional position was considered to be an ordinary occupation. Pornai were hired in brothels situated mostly near ports, such as the port of Piraeus, that were considered to be deprived urban areas.
In the middle of the hierarchy we can find the free Pornai. These women were once enslaved but they managed to gain their freedom. The free Pornai would come from various areas and would have different social status. Underprivileged widows or older women would easily find themselves practicing this occupation. The way to distinguish a free pornai from an enslaved one in those days was the amount of makeup the first would use. It was suggested that the amount was tremendous. The fee that they would charge varied, according to their age, social status and the amount of tax they had to pay.
In order to conceive the relationship between social and political frame of female and male sexuality and the freedom of its expression through the ancient Greek Era we can refer to the history of ceramic art and the transition of the visual imagery that ceramics portrayed through the centuries. During the sixth century man and woman would perform sexual intercourse facing each other as equals. During the fifth century the representations are portraying the woman as inferior degrading her into almost being a sexual object. The political conditions of those times are reflecting the isolation of female existence, as men were overpowered by public responsibilities with the result of depriving sexual and social freedom from their other half.