Societal Views on Prostitution
Contagious Diseases Acts & Middle Class Campaign
Why Victorian Women Became Prostitutes


Prostitution is often referred to as the world’s oldest profession so it is not hard to believe that this is the case for London, England. Women in nineteenth-century England were not supposed to engage in sexual activity unless it was solely for the purpose of procreation. Nonetheless, in Victorian England, Victoria's Englandprostitution was quite common.

Victorian societal ideals placed women in the role of the virginal 'angel in the house', expecting them to be pure and dutiful. In contrast then, those who turned to prostitution were considered 'fallen women'. However, a growing acceptance of the belief that men naturally possess very strong sexual desires seemingly began to pose a social dilemma. How could men's sexual needs be met without corrupting the purity of the women? As historian Susan Kent suggests, "Prostitution operated through the double standard of morality to accommodate both the recognized waywardness of men and the purity of the middle class wife and home…The system of prostitution was the squalid basis of much Victorian rectitude and respectability. It must be understood and interpreted as an essential element in Victorian sexual morality."

Victorians' societal views toward prostitutes evolved from an initial sense of compassion, to an unbearable hatred. People became increasingly aggravated by the growing number of prostitutes and wanted the industry stopped. As a result of prostitution, many men, especially those in the military, had become infected with venereal disease. Reformers felt that an end to prostitution would also bring an end to the spread of venereal disease. By the turn of the nineteenth century, a reform movement sought to save prostitutes through religion. These reformers agreed to help prostitutes and provide them with a place to stay, and in turn, the women agreed to accept this religion. Hence the reformers only agreed to help women who would accept religion as an alternative to prostitution. Many of the prostitutes chose to live in brothels, usually run by former prostitutes, so that they would not be forced to sell themselves on the street. However, this further contributed to the industry's growth because society it became increasingly difficult to stop men from seeking their services.