Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Salon at the Rue des Moulins, 1894

Brothels are business establishments where patrons can engage in sexual activities with prostitutes.[1] Brothels are known under a variety of names, including bordello, cathouse, Knocking shop, whorehouse, strumpet house, sporting house, house of ill repute, house of prostitution, and bawdy house. In places when prostitution or the operation of brothels is illegal, establishments such as massage parlors, bars or strip clubs may also offer sexual services to patrons, and illegal brothels usually also exist.

The size and style of brothels vary considerably, as do the range of sexual services available.

Laws which regulate brothels vary considerably. These laws vary between countries as well as within countries, and have varied over time. In some jurisdictions, brothels are legal and regulated, while in others they are illegal. However, even in jurisdictions which regulate brothels, there are brothels which operate outside the officially approved system.



Prostitution and the operation of brothels are illegal in many countries, though known illegal brothels may be tolerated. Brothels are illegal in the United States, except in rural Nevada. In many countries where brothels are officially illegal, the laws are ignored; often brothels in such countries are not only tolerated, but also regulated by authorities. Such situations exist in many parts of the world, but the region most often associated with these policies is Asia—a notable example being Thailand. Such brothels often operate (thinly) disguised as legitimate business, such as massage parlors, saunas or spas. See also massage parlor.

In other countries, prostitution itself is legal, but most activities which surround it (such as operating a brothel, pimping, soliciting in a public place etc.) are prohibited, often making it very difficult for people to engage in prostitution without breaking any law. This is the situation, for example in the United Kingdom.

In a few countries, prostitution and operating a brothel is legal and regulated. The degree of regulation varies widely by country. Most of these countries favor brothels, at least in theory, as they are considered to be less problematic than street prostitution. In parts of Australia, for example, brothels are legal and regulated. Regulation includes planning controls and licensing and registration requirements. Brothels are not permitted to advertise and there are other restrictions. However, the existence of licensed brothels does not stop illegal brothels from existing. According to a report in the Daily Telegraph (Australia), illegal brothels in Sydney now outnumber licensed operations by four to one;[2] according to a 2009 report, in Queensland only 10% of prostitution happens in licensed brothels, the rest remains either unregulated or illegal.[3]

The Netherlands has one of the most liberal prostitution policies in the world, and attracts sex tourists from many other countries. Amsterdam is well known for its red-light district and is a destination for sex tourism. The largest brothel in Europe (the Pascha) is situated in Cologne, Germany.

Business models

Window prostitution, in De Wallen, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Brothels use a variety of business models:

  • the prostitutes can operate as contract workers who split their earnings with the brothel. They can at times be expected to "tip" support staff (cleaners, limo drivers, etc.). They will usually receive no benefits, such as health insurance, and no withholding for taxes.
  • the prostitutes can be employees who receive a small fixed salary and a portion of the money paid by the customer, the balance of which is retained by the brothel.
  • the prostitutes pay a fee for use of the facilities, with the brothel owner not being involved in the financial transaction between a prostitute and client. In cases of illegal brothels, this arrangement provides some level of plausible deniability to the facility owner, who maintains that the facility is legitimate, such as a massage parlor, bar, strip club or similar business.


The earliest recorded mention of prostitution as an occupation, appears in Sumerian records from before 4000 BC, and describes a temple-bordello operated by Sumerian priests in the city of Uruk. The 'kakum' or temple, was dedicated to the goddess Isthar and housed three grades of women. The first group performed only in the temple sex-rites, the second group had the run of the grounds and catered to its visitors as well, and the third and lowest class lived on the temple grounds but were free to seek out customers in the streets. In later years, similar 'temple' or 'sacred' bordellos and similar classifications of females were known to have existed in Greece, Rome, India, China and Japan. [4]

State brothels with regulated prices were created in ancient Athens by the legendary lawmaker Solon. These brothels catered for a predominantly male clientele, with prostitutes being women of all ages and young men. (see Prostitution in ancient Greece.) In ancient Rome, soldiers had sexual access to female slaves, with brothels being located close to barracks and city walls. Brothels opened everywhere. They displayed candles to signal that they were open.

Before the appearance of effective contraception, infanticide was a common occurrence in brothels. Unlike usual infanticide—where historically girls have been more likely to be killed—prostitutes in ancient times preferred to kill their male offspring.[5]

From the 12th century, brothels in London were located in a district known as the Liberty of the Clink. This area was traditionally under the authority of the Bishop of Winchester, not the civil authorities. From 1161, the bishop was granted the power to licence prostitutes and brothels in the district. This gave rise to the slang term Winchester Goose for a prostitute. Women who worked in these brothels were denied Christian burial and buried in the unconsecrated graveyard known as Cross Bones.

By the 16th century, the area was also home to many theaters, (including the Globe Theatre, associated with William Shakespeare), but brothels continued to thrive. A famous London brothel of the time was Holland's Leaguer. Patrons supposedly included James I of England and his favourite, George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham. It was located in a street that still bears its name[6] and also inspired the 1631 play, Holland's Leaguer.

The authorities of Medieval Paris followed the same path as those in London and attempted to confine prostitution to a particular district. Louis IX (1226-1270) designated nine streets in the Beaubourg quartier where it would be permitted. In the early part of the 19th century, state controlled legal brothels (then known as "maisons de tolérance" or "maisons closes") started to appear in several French cities. By law, they had to be run by a woman (typically a former prostitute) and their external appearance had to be discreet. The maisons were required to light a red lantern when they were open and the prostitutes were only permitted to leave the maisons on certain days and only if accompanied by its head. By 1810, Paris alone had 180 officially approved brothels.

During the first half of the 20th century, some Paris brothels, such as le Chabanais and le Sphinx, were internationally–known for the luxury they provided. The French government sometimes included a visit to the Chabanais as part of the program for foreign guests of state, disguising it as visit with the President of the Senate in the official program.[7] The Hotel Marigny, established in 1917 in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris, was one of several that were well known for catering to gay male clients.[8] Premises suspected of being gay brothels, including the Hotel Marigny, were however subject to frequent police raids,[9] perhaps indicating less tolerance for them from the authorities.

In most European countries brothels were made illegal after World War II. France outlawed brothels in 1946, after a campaign by Marthe Richard. The backlash against them was, in part, due to their wartime collaboration with the Germans during the occupation of France. Twenty-two Paris brothels had been commandeered by the Germans for their exclusive use; some had made a great deal of money by catering for German soldiers and officials.[10]

Italy made brothels illegal in 1959.

Military brothels

A young ethnic Chinese woman who was in one of the Imperial Japanese Army's "comfort battalions" is interviewed by an Allied officer after being liberated in Rangoon in 1945.

Until recently, in several armies around the world, a mobile brothel service was attached to the army as an auxiliary unit, especially attached to combat units on long-term deployments abroad.

Because it is a touchy subject, military brothels were often designated with creative euphemisms. Examples of such jargon are la boîte à bonbons (English: "the candy box"), replacing the term "bordel militaire de campagne". Women were forced into prostitution by the Japanese occupation armies as a form of sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II.[11][12] Drawn from throughout East Asia, the prostitutes were individually referred to as "military comfort women" or jūgun-ianfu and were collectively known as "comfort battalions".

It has been estimated that 34,140 women from occupied states, particularly in Poland, were also forced to work as involuntary prostitutes for the Nazis during WWII.[13]

See also


  1. ^ [1] Definitions of brothel on the Web
  2. ^ NSW papers urged to cut brothel ads, ABC news
  3. ^ Queensland sex industry still largely illegitimate, Brisbane Times
  4. ^ Great Bordellos of the World, Emmet Murphy, Quartet Books, 1983
  5. ^ Roman dead baby 'brothel' mystery deepens, BBC
  6. ^ Edward Walford (1878). "'Southwark: Winchester House and Barclay's Brewery', Old and New London: Volume 6". British History Online. Retrieved 30 January 2011. 
  7. ^ Die Sphinx im Freudenhaus, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 17 August 1996. (German)
  8. ^ "Sin city: show celebrates the Paris brothel that was loved by Cary Grant". The Independent. 6 November 2009. Retrieved 30 January 2011. 
  9. ^ Julian Jackson (2009). Living in Arcadia: homosexuality, politics, and morality in France from the liberation to AIDS. University of Chicago Press. p. 29. ISBN 9780226389257. 
  10. ^ Peter Allen, Sleeping with the enemy: How 'horizontal collaborators' in Paris brothels enjoyed a golden age entertaining Hitler's troops, Daily Mail, 1 May 2009
  11. ^ Tessa Morris-Suzuki (March 8, 2007), Japan’s ‘Comfort Women’: It's time for the truth (in the ordinary, everyday sense of the word), The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus,, retrieved 2008-12-15 
  12. ^ WCCW 2004.
  13. ^ The Blessed Abyss: Inmate #6582 in Ravensbruck Concentration Prison for Women by Nanda Herbermann

Further reading

  • Burford, E. J. The Bishop's Brothels. London: Robert Hale, 1993. ISBN 9780709051138.
  • Ka-tzetnik 135633 (Karol Cetinsky). House of Dolls. Moshe M. Kohn (trans.). New York: Simon and Schuster, 1955. A novel about the Holocaust, including a description of a brothel staffed by concentration camp inmates.

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.


Look at other dictionaries:

  • Brothel — Broth el, n. [OE. brothel, brodel, brethel, a prostitute, a worthless fellow, fr. AS. ber[ o][eth]an to ruin, destroy; cf. AS. bre[ o]tan to break, and E. brittle. The term brothel house was confused with bordel brothel. CF. {Bordel}.] A house of …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • brothel — bawdy house, 1590s, shortened from brothel house, from brothel prostitute (late 15c.), earlier vile, worthless person of either sex (14c.), from O.E. broðen pp. of breoðan deteriorate, go to ruin, from P.Gmc. *breuthanan, var. of *breutanan to… …   Etymology dictionary

  • brothel — [n] house of prostitution bagnio, bawdy house*, bordello, call house*, cathouse*, den of iniquity*, house of assignation, house of ill repute, house with red doors*, massage parlor, red light district, whorehouse; concept 449 …   New thesaurus

  • brothel — ► NOUN ▪ a house where men visit prostitutes. ORIGIN originally in the sense «worthless man, prostitute»: related to an Old English word meaning «degenerate, deteriorate» …   English terms dictionary

  • brothel — [bräth′əl, brôth′əl] n. [ME, wretched person < OE brothen, pp. of broethan, to waste away, go to ruin; confused with BORDEL] a place where prostitutes may be engaged for hire …   English World dictionary

  • brothel — noun VERB + BROTHEL ▪ go to, visit ▪ He used to visit a brothel on the outskirts of town. ▪ run ▪ His aunt ran a brothel. ▪ She ran a bro …   Collocations dictionary

  • brothel — [14] Originally, brothel was a general term of abuse for any worthless or despised person (John Gower, in his Confessio Amantis 1393, writes: ‘Quoth Achab then, there is one, a brothel, which Micheas hight [who is called Micheas]’); it was a… …   The Hutchinson dictionary of word origins

  • brothel — [14] Originally, brothel was a general term of abuse for any worthless or despised person (John Gower, in his Confessio Amantis 1393, writes: ‘Quoth Achab then, there is one, a brothel, which Micheas hight [who is called Micheas]’); it was a… …   Word origins

  • brothel — brothellike, adj. /broth euhl, brodh , braw theuhl, dheuhl/, n. a house of prostitution. [1350 1400 for earlier sense; short for brothel house whore house; ME brothel harlot, orig. worthless person, equiv. to broth (ptp. s. of brethen, OE… …   Universalium

  • brothel — UK [ˈbrɒθ(ə)l] / US [ˈbrɑθ(ə)l] noun [countable] Word forms brothel : singular brothel plural brothels a place where men pay to have sex with prostitutes …   English dictionary

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.