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I have seen the words 売春 and 買春 pronounced "ばいしゅん". From my understanding 売春 is taken from the perspective of the "seller" whereas 買春 is taken from the perspective of the "buyer". However, when I pronounced the later as "ばいしゅん" in front of a native, I was told that it is pronounced "かいしゅん" (買春). Is this reading valid and does it carry a different context when pronounced this way than the former reading?

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Short answer: Both readings have the same meaning. Whether you consider かいしゅん as a valid reading of 買春 or not depends on what you count as “valid.”

Some Sino-Japanese words have not only an on reading which is shown in dictionaries as the primary reading but also an alternative reading which avoids ambiguity with some other words. 買春 is such a word. According to dictionaries (Daijirin, Daijisen), 買春 is primarily read as ばいしゅん, but it is often read as かいしゅん to avoid possible confusion with 売春 because the context is not always enough to distinguish 買春 and 売春. Here かい comes from the kun reading of kanji 買. Whether it is read as ばいしゅん or かいしゅん, the meaning of the word 買春 does not change.

Daijisen lists かいしゅん as an alternative reading of 買春. Daijirin does not. (I suspect either the word 買春 itself is new or it became common recently, and that the need for the alternative reading arose recently; but I do not have any source to back up this speculation.)

Other examples of alternative readings like this are 市立 and 私立. The primary readings of both words are しりつ, but particularly when talking about schools, しりつがっこう can mean both 市立学校 (school operated by a city) and 私立学校 (school operated privately), and this is extremely confusing. Therefore, 市立 is often read as いちりつ and 私立 is often read as わたくしりつ.

Returning to your question, whether かいしゅん is a valid reading of 買春 or not depends on how you define the word “valid.” It is common, and there is a reason for this reading. My personal impression is that reading the word 買春 as かいしゅん is much more common than reading it as ばいしゅん; at least, I have never heard 買春 read as ばいしゅん. I think that these are the reasons why you were told that it is read as かいしゅん. However, not every dictionary lists it as a reading of 買春.

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To clarify when I used "valid", I meant whether one reading of the word carries any differing significance than another. –  Chris Harris May 31 '12 at 0:42
    
I thought (but am not that sure) that 買春 was a word artificially created under the feminism movement, whose idea is that the responsibility of prostitution should not be only on the provider but also on the consumer. Therefore, its reading is to be defined artificially as well. I have almost never heard 買春 being read as ばいしゅん, and I suspect Daijirin and Daijisen are probably being prescriptive about this. When used in the form 売買春, that is a different story, and is always pronounced ばいばいしゅん. –  user458 May 31 '12 at 1:27
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@sawa: I have been suspecting exactly the same things (both about the origin of the word 買春 and about Daijirin and Daijisen being prescriptive about the primary reading of 買春), but I am not sure, either. At least we are on the same page. :) –  Tsuyoshi Ito May 31 '12 at 1:31
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Still another example is 科学 and 化学. In addition to both reading being かがく, the latter is often pronounced ばけがく. –  user458 May 31 '12 at 1:31

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