Medieval Prostitution - Life in Medieval Days

They say it's the oldest profession. In medieval times, people viewed sex not only as healthy, but as necessary. They grew up in a world where farm animals had sex openly and an animal which was not having sex was deemed to be ill. The same mentality applied to humans. An adult who wasn't regularly having sex was thought to be ill or even "blocked up". The solution for those who weren't married was to have sex with someone available. This is where prostitutes came in. They were almost thought of as "health workers".

St. Augustine stated, “the removal of the institution would bring lust into all aspects of the world.” Prostitues were seen as a normal, natural way to ensure lusts did not build up and damage the health of the person in question.

The thought was also that prostitution helped protect "innocent" women from being raped. Men married in their mid-twenties in this time period and were not expected to be celibate until then. That would have been health-damaging. So they needed some outlet for their natural energies.

There were certainly brothels, often associated with bath-houses, and as the bath-houses were known as "stews" (where they in essence stewed their human patrons in water) the brothels also became known by this name. They were alternatively accepted and banned. In 1277 London tried to ban all "whore of a brothel" - this didn't work very well.

However, brothels were not that common in England as a whole. They were "big city" contrivances. According to "Common Women: Prostitution and Sexuality in Middle Ages" by Ruth Mazo Karras, "Despite variations in the operation of legal brothels throughout Continental Europe (which this brief summary has necessarily glossed over), we can discern some overall contrasts with the English situation. The most important difference is that officially operated or regulated brothels were far less common in England, where toleration tended to be unofficial and prostitution sees to have operated on a more casual basis." Later she says, "A prostitute's working situation could range from the level of the streetwalker to that of the courtesan, and determined her freedom of choice in entering and leaving the trade, her prosperity, and her relation to the community. Some prostitues operated out of their homes, others had their places of business separate from their residence. ... Certainly there was a distinction between the professional who worked in an established brothel and the barmaiid who occasionally engaged in sex for pay, but we should beware of casting it in strictly hierarchical terms: casual prostitues were not necessarily poorer than professionals, and they had a wider choice of customers and occasions. The situation seems to have been fairly fluid, as women moved from one form of the sex trade to another. Indeed, the overall picture of prostitution as it was practiced in medieval England is one of transience, variation, and adaptability. Women entered and left the trade as their economic situation dictated ..."

Interstingly, masturbation was seen to be a sin, as it was ejaculating without a chance of children. Having sex with prostitues was seen to be far better. Especially with the various calamities going on during this time period, it was thought that depriving the villages and towns of potential children was a selfish act.



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