There were many prostitutes during the Victorian era. Most were lower-class women, with the exception of the mistresses kept by upper-class men. According to Victorian standards, respectable women did not consider sexual intercourse pleasurable. It was their duty to be intimate with their husbands. Having affairs was disgraceful (Waters). Prostitutes, on the other hand, were sexually intimate with men because they enjoyed sex. Men enjoyed prostitutes because they could not enjoy their wives. Victorian femininity was not defined by sexual pleasure, while Victorian masculinity was defined by sexual pleasure and conquest.
Prostitutes did not necessarily “enjoy” their sexual encounters with men, as Victorians tended to believe. Prostitution was their survival. Lower-class women did not become prostitutes because they wanted to. They became prostitutes because they had no alternate choice for survival. There were few options that allowed women to live off her own income instead of her family’s income, and once she entered the profession, Victorian society did not allow her back into “respectable” society.
A new type of “slavery” arose during the Victorian era: prostitution. “Respectable” men and women would lure young women, usually from a lower-class background, away from their homes and sell them into prostitution. Rarely did these young women go back to their families; not because they free to go, but because the procurators and procuresses never allowed these women a moment to be truly alone in public. These horrible men and women controlled these young women’s lives as if they were possessions. In the off chance that a young woman escaped her “bondage,” she was not welcome back into her family with open arms. She was an outcast because she was a “prostitute” (by society’s standards). Unfortunately, there was no help for these young girls, or any other prostitute. The people in a position to help them, like The Society for the Protection of Women and Children, turned a blind eye towards these women. The Society for the Protection of Women and Children only helped the privileged, not the needy (Wells 56).
Prostitutes were not confined to one way of presenting their services. There were many types of brothels that serviced men from all social classes visited. Streetwalkers lived in Accommodation houses, which is one type of brothel (Wells 56). These women did not pay a “Madame” for their room and board, but accountable to themselves. Other prostitutes lived under the watchful eyes of their procuresses. These women lived in Introduction houses, a second type of brothel, where the procuress would “introduce” her women to clients she communicated with. The third and “worst type of brothel operating in Victorian times...was the dress house, where women lived under constant debt to the owner” (Wells 58). There was not a chance for women to become free from this servitude. Their rent was high and they were paid little. These prostitutes were extorted. If they did not work, they were thrown out, but if they left, they had no place to go, so they continued to work for owner of the brothel.
The most valued and popular prostitute was a virgin. Many women altered their bodies in order deceive men into thinking they were virgins (Wells 59). Despite the moralistic attitudes during the Victorian era, there were many prostitutes, ranging from streetwalkers to mistresses.