What Prostitution Looked Like in England’s Victorian Era

Queen Victoria’s rain in the UK lasted 63 years, which is longer than any other woman’s rain who sat on the throne. Numerous history books and romantic novels characterize this era as being cheerful. But rarely do they mention how sex-obsessed the culture was. The cities were full of brothels, with more than 80 000 prostitutes working in London.

The stigmatization of prostitutes was ever present. People called them the “fallen women”, because upstanding women would never stoop so low to behave as they do. They were an example of what women in society should never become. Yet prostitution was still legal and even encouraged in numerous social circles. People thought that it was an absolute necessity for men to have an outlet for the sexual desires they were forced to repress in their day-to-day lives. It was also an outstanding opportunity for women to earn the kind of money they couldn’t have earned otherwise.

So, here are some interesting facts about prostitution during Queen Victoria’s rain.

Even Married Women Were Part-Time Prostitutes

Women’s lives in marriage and society operated according to different rules than what we’re used to. It was quite common for the views of street vendors to sell their bodies and sexual services. It helped their husband run the business and support their family.

The husbands didn’t have a problem with their wives sleeping with other men. In fact, about 50% of women have reported being prostitutes on the side back then. Everyone was doing it because sexual services were a great way to supplement their low income. In a lot of cases, the husband was her wives pimp and rented her services whenever he pleased. In other cases, the woman was in charge of her services and was glad to be able to earn her income.

Although there was one rule they had to follow. They couldn’t lose their virginity before marriage, because it meant that they are doomed to a life of prostitution.

Prostitution Was the Most Well-Paid Job For Women

Most of the jobs women could take up were really low-paid and done under dangerous conditions. They worked in factories, shops or as street vendors. The luckiest ones became house servants. Yet no job would be enough for women to support themselves and their family. Even jobs that required educated women only paid them £25 per year.

Prostitution allowed a woman to have a lot shorter work hours and get a much better pay. They could depend on it to support their families. If she was really beautiful, she could support the whole family or become financially independent.

A Lot of Sex Workers Had Good Education

Most of the women in the 1800s received a proper formal education. It taught them the social skills and the etiquette that was required for living in society. They also learned drawing, music and dancing. The aim of the school was that the women should receive everything that would make them attractive for marriage. But they were rarely taught skills that would actually earn them a living.

Among prostitutes only higher class women knew how to read and write, which made up about 5%. Others would regularly ask men to read them the newspapers so that they could stay up to date with current events and also to become more cultured.

Pile of books

Prostitute Catalogues

Maxim Vien wasn’t the only one to provide you with a catalogue, that would let decide what prostitute you want to have sex with before you visit the brothel. They were around even in the Victorian society among wealthy men.  They could see a girl’s physical features, age, what kind of personality she has and her wage, which was usually £2–£3.

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Prostitutes Had Three Different Ranks

The concept of prostitution is providing sexual services for money, that much doesn’t change. But the conditions under which a woman does this do. There were three different classes of prostitutes men could visit. The first one was the lowest class, which was made up of girls who worked in a brothel. They often lived in poor and dirty conditions and had to have sex with whatever client came through the door. Most of their profits were also taken by a madam or pimp.

The second one was middle-class. It was made up of independent women who would accept clients in their own apartment or visit theirs. They could freely choose who they wanted to sleep with and didn’t have anyone cutting their earnings. But they didn’t have the protection of a brothel and access to on-site medical examination.

The highest class was made up of women who were the most beautiful and well-educated women. They worked with high-class clients only, such as aristocrats and members of the parliament. Some of them were even devoted to a single man, who they eventually married.

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