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History of Prostitution in France in 1700s

Prostitution is the oldest profession. Research has shown that prostitution has been a survival strategy for women in difficult financial or economic circumstances. In many places this old trade has largely been illegal and a taboo. This explains why there is limited information on prostitutes in many cities around the world. However, Paris, France’s capital city is different on this respect because the authorities routinely registered and monitored prostitutes in its territory.

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The available information shows that things changed after the French Revolution when the state started recording data on women arrested during the 1760s with details such as their occupations, ages and where they came from.

After sometime, the state concluded that prostitution was inevitable and consequently started regulating the trade. All women working as prostitutes were required by law to register with the police and they were subjected to regular health tests. Public health experts such as Alexandre Parent-Duchatelet have extensively analyzed the records provided in the registration documents. This researcher was very hands on, he also paid regular visits to the brothels (in the company of an inspector) to collect additional data on prostitutes.

Alexandre conducted numerous interviews with those prostitutes and published the findings in De la prostitution dans la ville de paris in 1836.  This is touted to be the most systematic study ever conducted on prostitutes.

The study covered various aspects of sex workers’ lives which included description of their clients, lodging houses and how the sex workers conducted their trade on the street of Paris.

His research revealed that sex workers in Paris were mostly young and working class women. They were illiterate and they reported to have been driven into the prostitution by their economic conditions at that time.

The research also reveals that the love for luxury and efforts to avoid working drove some women to sex work in Paris. The reasons given by the Parisian prostitutes were recovered and below are some of them:

  1. Destitution
  2. Being expelled from home or being orphaned
  3. ‘kept women’ who were discarded by their lovers which means they converted from being unregistered to registered prostitutes.
  4. Low wages and poor employment conditions left the women with a choice between prostitution and starvation.

The majority of sex workers who were registered by the city of Paris were aged between 16 to 25 years. Their modal age was 20 years. It was noted that among those who registered as practitioners of the oldest traded were children aged between 10 and 15 years. Illegal.

It’s worth noting that no one was coerced or trafficked to join the trade. This was because there was enough destitution to have a constant supply women sex workers into the trade.

Even in a country as developed as France, young girls were sold by their parents from time to time to madams or other brokers to serve as sex workers.

Research findings have revealed that in Paris “men out-numbered women 2:1, this imbalance has been argued to been a driving force for the market for prostitution.”

Surprisingly, these findings were similar to those of studies conducted in London in the 18th century.

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