Hetairai and Sex
Superficially hetairai seem to fill the role of prostitute (i.e. one who provides sex in exchange for money), but that is a simplistic understanding of their participation in symposia. Prostitutes (or porne) were the occupants of brothels or were streetwalkers paid with money for sexual services (Kurke 1997; 108).
Hetairai on the other hand received no money in exchange for their work. Instead they survived “within the framework of gift exchange” (Kurke 1997; 112), which fostered a bond between giver and receiver. A hetaira was not just someone that could simply be paid to show up to a symposium. The characters of Aristophanes jokingly point out the dichotomy between "good" sex workers (aka hetairai) and the prostitutes (aka porne):
Chremylos: I’ve heard Korinthian courtesans don’t notice
If someone poor should make a pass at them.
But once a wealthy man comes on the scene,
Without delay they thrust their arse at him.
Karion: And boys, I’ve eard, behave in just that way.
The lovers themselves don’t matter, it’s just the money!
Chremylos: But not the good ones, only the prostitutes.
The good ones never ask for money.
Karion: Then what?
Chremylos: [ironically] Perhaps a pedigree horse, or hunting dogs!
Karion: No doubt they feel ashamed to ask for money,
And dress their vices up with pretty words.
In order for this gift-exchange to form, a relationship with an individual woman must be fostered, and she must be taken care of and wooed with gifts in order to access her sexual services (Kurke 1997; 112). Their services were furthermore framed as “favors” that the woman was “persuaded” to give up. It fostered the narrative not of monetary exchange, but rather a meaningful personal connection between the symposiast and hetaira.