Prostitution is referred to as the oldest profession, but the modern Russian word for a prostitute, "проститутка," is a relatively new borrowing, which started being used in the Russian language just a couple of centuries ago. I am curious what the prostitutes were called in Russia before.

My question is this: What are the original Russian words or short expressions for women who regularly engage in sexual activity for payment to make a living?

Please kindly note that my question is not about women who have many casual sexual encounters or relationships just for fun. My question is about making a living in this way.

Please also kindly note that my question is not about being financially supported or provided for by a lover. My question is about selling sex to different customers and taking money for individual sex sessions.

Also, my question is not about old words that recently acquired an additional meaning as a slang word for a prostitute, like "фея." I am looking for words that were used as standard words for a prostitute before the word "проститутка" came into existence in the Russian language.

My question is not strictly limited to words of Slavic origin, although my primary interest is about them. At any rate, only those borrowed words qualify that were borrowed well before the word "проститутка" was.

I know the Б word, but my impression is that it is very derogatory, so I especially want to learn nice Russian words, similar to 遊女 (woman of pleasure), which pay more respect to the oldest profession.

  • 2
    Either "traditional" or "non-derogatory". Can't have both, I'm afraid. Jul 9, 2019 at 18:42
  • What's wrong with writing the Б word in the question? A question is not self-contained, if one needs to follow a link to figure out what you mean...
    – Arsak
    Jul 10, 2019 at 7:33
  • @Arsak : I humbly think that any Russian does not have to follow the link in order to understand what word I mean. My understanding of the Russian culture is that under no circumstances a girl should say that word. This is why I did not write it in full.
    – Mitsuko
    Jul 10, 2019 at 14:17
  • 1
    @Mitsuko: there are settings in Russian culture when it's appropriate for a woman to operate under a fiction of not being aware of this word at all (я ваших морских терминов не разумею), or to refuse to utter this word. I don't think we're in any of these settings right now.
    – Quassnoi
    Jul 10, 2019 at 14:48
  • @Mitsuko I just find it odd to avoid spelling out a certain word in a discussion about language, where this word is relevant. But maybe that's just me. And I guess you are aware that not just native speaker but also learner of Russian are reading here, and the latter ones might be irritated or feel excluded...
    – Arsak
    Jul 10, 2019 at 20:28

6 Answers 6


At least starting from XVIIth century - we know it through some legislation acts banning prostitution, such women were called "бродячие женщины", as well as "непотребные женщины". For instance, in 1750 Catherine the Great signed act called "О поимке и приводе в Главную Полицию непотребных жён и девок". Other recognizable idioms were "уличная девка" or "продажная девка".

The casual word - one that was not in legislative acts I guess would be "шлюха". Other words, like "блядь" or "шалава" are closer to just being you know, let's put it this way - sexually open-minded. There's also a biblical term "блудница" which also was quite often used till the October revolution.

  • 7
    @Mitsuko: In modern Russian поеду к блядям would mean "I'll spend some time with a (hired) prostitute", even though блядь does not necessarily mean a professional prostitute. People who are using prostitutes' services don't usually bother to call them nice words among their friends
    – Quassnoi
    Jul 8, 2019 at 19:39
  • 2
    oh, those Russian academic visitors and their knowledge of specific slang )
    – shabunc
    Jul 8, 2019 at 19:46
  • 1
    @Quassnoi is right, it would be поехать "к шлюхам" оr "к блядям"
    – shabunc
    Jul 8, 2019 at 19:52
  • 1
    @shabunc i think he was rather being sarcastic... фея-малафея Jul 8, 2019 at 20:23
  • 1
    Quassnoi is actually right. The answer is good too. But, answering @Mitsuko's comment, there is a difference. Гопники говорят "поедем к блядям", взрослые состоятельные люди говорят "снять девушку", например. А называют их "ночная бабочка" или "девушка лёгкого поведения".
    – spbnative
    Jul 9, 2019 at 7:16

There is a passage in an anonymous XVI century missal:

Ціи корчму и блудныя жены держалъ на блужение приходящимъ

(Ask him if) he has ever held a tavern and employed prostitutes to serve its visitors

Блудная жена here unequivocally means a prostitute.

In XII century "Kyrik's Enquiry" (Вопрошание Кириково) there's another passage:

Просфуры такой женѣ пещи аже бы не бляла, аже бы чиста; аще ли будеть нечиста, тогда да не печеть.

Prosphora should be baked by a woman who is not engaged in harlotry and is (ritually) pure. When she's impure, she should not be baking.

Some scholars believe it's an indication of existence of prostitution as a trade in Old Novgorod.

In this case the word блядь would mean a professional prostitute as well.


Neutral - "девушка лёгкого поведения"

Rude - "шлюха", "шалава"

Usually people use "шлюха" or "проститутка"


When you have a certain context, you can easily substitute "I'm going to the prostitutes" for "I'm going to the girls". The russian equivalent of "girls" is "devochki" (plural form), whose ending you should take care to change according to its declension ("to the girls" means "k devochkam" or "po devochkam").


Блядь, шлюха, шалава. Первое считается нецензурным и запрещено к употреблению в публичных местах, средствах массовой информации (попало под запрет со времен имератрицы Екатерины Великой), вторые два могут встречаться в художественной литературе (например, у Чехова), но в отличие от проститутки, не являются употребимыми в СМИ. Также встречается и понятен практически всем полонизм (то есть заимствование из польского языка) "курва". В разговоре употребляются также слова "давалка", "фея", в качестве полуофицального эвфемизма - выражение "девушка легкого поведения", "ночная бабочка" и т.п.

  • Хороший ответ, согласен со всем, кроме "курвы". Сомневаюсь, что это всем понятно.
    – spbnative
    Jul 9, 2019 at 7:09
  • Жрица любви//Представительница древнейшей профессии
    – Elena
    Jul 9, 2019 at 16:25
  • "Курва" заимствовано в русский язык скорее как просто ругательство, без конкрктной смысловой окраски.
    – Alexander
    Jul 9, 2019 at 20:28
  • Курва не понятно. Я думал, это означает "горбатая"
    – Anixx
    Jul 19, 2019 at 4:03

If you want a neutral term, there is "жрица любви", which probably would not be used as an official term, but it has been used in literature.

  • I wan't one who down-voted you however I'd rather say that "жрица любви" is used more in bad newspaper articles rather than in literature in general.
    – shabunc
    Jul 10, 2019 at 10:44

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.