10 Things That Prove Prostitution Has a Very Intriguing History

10 Things That Prove Prostitution Has a Very Intriguing History

Larry Holzwarth - April 13, 2018

10 Things That Prove Prostitution Has a Very Intriguing History
The arrival of the First Fleet at Botany Bay in 1788 brought prostitution to Australia in the form of convicts from British Courts. Wikimedia

Prostitution in Australia

Australia was born out of a prison colony and some of the deportees who arrived in 1788 with the First Fleet were there because of conviction for prostitution. In 1817 the British legal system and the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies wanted an investigation to determine the effectiveness of transportation as a deterrent and penal measure. John Bigge was sent to the New South Wales colony to conduct this investigation and in his report he mentioned the existence of brothels in the colony, although they were largely prostitutes working individually out of their homes.

During Australia’s colonial period brothels did appear, as in the United States, near mining and lumber camps, railroad construction camps, and other areas where large groups of men were gathered without their wives and families. The colonial administration established laws which were aimed at the control of sexually transmitted diseases. These required women suspected of engaging in prostitution to submit to medical examination and while not specifically making prostitution illegal, they did give the authorities power to place women who were infected in locked down medical facilities until they were cured. The laws were mainly to protect members of the military from infection.

When Australia became federated the laws regarding what was and what was not criminal activity were left to the states. Not until 1910 were laws regarding prostitution enacted and enforced. These again did not make prostitution itself a crime, but soliciting for prostitution was criminalized as was operating a brothel. Most of the laws regarding prostitution had to do with soliciting minors and the use of accommodations for the sole purpose of prostitution. Enforcement of laws against prostitution was lax, with the exception of those regarding minors throughout most of the twentieth century.

Beginning in the 1970s Australia’s Capital Territory’s already liberal attitudes towards prostitution began to become even more liberal, as studies showed laws against the practice to be inefficient and enforcement did little to eliminate or control the practice. Australia in the 1970s banned soliciting in the same place on a consistent basis. It also prohibited using prostitution as one’s primary source of income. Brothels were not allowed. The police and the courts found the law unenforceable and it was not enforced. In 1992 the Capital Territory passed the Prostitution Act 1992, which allowed for the establishment of brothels and required “sex workers” to register with the government.

Prostitution is legal across all of Australia today, though each state has its own regulations and limitations. New South Wales is the most liberal of the Australian states as regards prostitution, allowing brothels, and by law someone living on the earnings of a prostitute – in American lexicon a pimp – is a criminal. In other areas of Australia streetwalking is illegal, but prostitution through an escort service is legal. The state of Victoria had over 90 legal brothels around the turn of the 21st century. Throughout the Australian continent assault of a sex worker is a crime separate from ordinary assault, and most locales require sex with a sex worker be protected with a prophylactic.

10 Things That Prove Prostitution Has a Very Intriguing History
One of Justine Paris’s regular clients was the Marquis de Sade, who published the violently pornographic novel Justine years after her death, possibly using some of her tales as inspiration. Wikimedia

Marguerite Gourdan and Justine Paris

Marguerite Gourdan was the wife of a French soldier who with her husband’s permission prostituted herself with a wealthy nobleman. She delivered a daughter following this liaison and either through blackmail or the good wishes of the nobleman she obtained a monthly stipend from him, which continued until his death. The stipend enabled Marguerite to establish a series of brothels in and around Paris. By 1765 her husband had had enough of her activities and left her. Marguerite used agents to find prostitutes to employ in her brothels, and she divided her charges into four categories.

The first were the women who worked and lived in her brothels. The second were prostitutes in her employ who lived in their own homes and entertained their clients either there or in the client’s home. Third were artists, singers, actors, and musicians who supplemented their income through prostitution, dispatched to the client on a call basis. Finally were the wives of wealthy merchants and noblemen who wanted to obtain their own source of income, or merely enjoyed the work. Marguerite also rented rooms in her brothels to partners involved in illicit affairs, ensuring them a place to meet in privacy.

Justine Paris opened her first brothel in Paris around 1730 and after running several brothels in the city opened one at the Hotel du Roule which rapidly became one of the best known brothels in a city which held hundreds of them. Because the Hotel du Roule was located outside of the city limits it could be reached comfortably only by coach or horseback, which ensured that her customers were well heeled and discreet. Casanova described the Hotel du Roule in his memoirs in elaborate detail, indicating that he was a frequent and favored guest.

Justine too offered private rooms for the accommodation of couples who sought privacy away from prying eyes and gossiping tongues. Casanova reported that Justine charged her clients by the hour, both for the rooms and for the services of her women. She changed her staff twice a year and maintained a diverse collection of women of differing sizes, shapes, and coloring. Justine allowed her clients who were so motivated to purchase one of her prostitutes as a kept woman, and retained her in the house with the rest of her staff. While prostitution was illegal at the time, French authorities allowed her to operate as long as she kept them informed of the doings of certain of her clients.

In 1772 Marguerite Gourdan and Justine Paris met each other and began the planning of another brothel, to be operated by them as partners. This brothel was opened in 1773 and would become one of the most famous in all of Paris. However, the partnership did not last very long. Gourdan and Paris met in a Paris hospital where they were both undergoing treatment for syphilis. Although she lived long enough to see the brothel opened, Justine Paris died in September 1773. Her partner carried on without her in the brothel, which featured a main entrance and a secret entrance through a neighboring art dealer’s shop, offering unobserved entry to the brothel.

Marguerite Gourdan soon found herself in difficulty with the authorities and facing arrest fled from Paris in 1776. She had not returned a noblemen’s wife too her home after a shift at the brothel. The brothel was left without capable management and was soon forced to close its doors. Meanwhile Marguerite used her influence with some of her better connected former clients, and likely her records of their use of her services, to get them to lobby on her behalf. After some effort, charges against her were dropped and she returned to Paris and the brothel, which by then was near bankruptcy. It closed for good in 1778 and Marguerite Gourdan returned to one of her earlier brothels to live out her years. She died of complications of syphilis in 1783.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Devil’s Perch: Prostitution from suite to cellar in Butte, Montana”, by Ellen Baumler, Montana Historical Society

“Sexual Practices and the Medieval Church”, by Vern L. Bullough, 1982

“Prostitution in Victorian England”, by Judith Flanders, The British Library, online

“Disorderly women in eighteenth-century London”, by Tony Henderson, 1999

“Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies”, by H. Ranger, 1786 edition, online

“The economy of prostitution in the Roman World”, by Thomas A. McGinn, 2004

“Behind the happy face of the Swedish anti-prostitution law”, by Dr. Laura Agustin, April 7, 2010, online

“Why sex workers are disappearing from our streets”, by Megan Palin, news.com.au. August 20, 2017

“Casanova: Actor, Lover, Priest, Spy”, by Ian Kelly, 2011