Want to know more about the world of brothels, and the ‘brothelers‘ who frequent them?

Whorehouses have been a part of society since the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Greece and Egypt. Throughout history they have been revered and reviled, celebrated and criticized with many attempts by some authorities to eradicate them. Despite their mixed and colorful past, the brothel is here to stay.

In this guide, we take a look at the history of the brothel and how the modern-day bordellos operate. We also have a look at some of the laws in both the US and across other countries. Lastly, we give you some tips about what to expect in a brothel and how to behave when you visit one.

What is a brothel?

You’d think that defining a brothel would be simple but it really depends on whether you are looking for a legal definition or a cultural one. If you want the former then this varies by country and by era; a British definition of a brothel from Elizabethan times will differ from a modern Canadian one. Likewise, here in the US, each state also has its own definition of exactly what constitutes a brothel.

Culturally, the modern definition of a brothel refers to house of prostitution where multiple hookers sell their services under the management of a madam (or similar). Whorehouse, chicken ranch, bordello or hook shop a brothel is a knocking shop by any other name.

sheris ranch brothel nevada

Sheri’s Ranch Brothel, Nevada. Image via Flickr

Though the etiquette and rules may change depending on where you are in the world, the basics remain the same. A john arrives and is met by a member of the house staff (sometimes the owner) who judges whether they are fit (and able to pay) before introducing them to their stable. Often, a line up is arranged so that the customer can select their preference from the available whores or sometimes a ‘menu’ is provided. Once a decision has been made, services take place in one of several suitably appointed rooms. Payment is then split between the brothel owners (a house fee) and the prostitute (a service fee).

Most modern day brothels in the Western World are run using a system that means the whores themselves work as independent escorts with the brothel simply acting as a house of assignation. Set-ups vary around the world; sometimes to suit taxation laws or to create loopholes in a country’s legislation on prostitution. In China, for instance, brothels are illegal but prostitution is not.  As a result, single room brothels are common.

The history of brothels

Prostitution is commonly said to be the oldest profession in the world (though midwives most likely pre-date this claim to fame), brothels have been a part of human society and culture since as long ago as 2400 BC in Sumeria, Phoenicia and Babylonia (modern day Iraq). Though the transactions of that time were not monetary but rather a religious conferring of sexual ‘rites’ by priests on a harem of women. Termed ‘sacred prostitution’, versions of this practice have been found in Ancient Greece, Egypt, Rome and China.

The first brothels: The cornerstone of Ancient civilization

There is no evidence of prostitution in primitive societies and it is thought that you can pinpoint the point at which any race became ‘civilized’ by looking at when the brothel was introduced in their society.

The pre-cursor of modern-day brothels as we know them where men pay money for sexual services at an authorized venue can be found in Greek society. In the 5th century BC, the statesman Solon ( in a bid to prevent the moral decline of Athens)  introduced state run brothels and, by legitimizing prostitution, was able to tax their takings. Staffed by several classes of women to suit the demands of the visiting men, the hetaerae (or companion’s) charged the equivalent of approximately one day’s wages. The service was strictly for intercourse only as the women of the brothels often refused to perform oral. In direct contrast, some of the Roman prostitutes were particularly skilled with their tongues and were referred to as ‘lupae’ (she-wolves).

brothel history ancient greece

Erotic art in ancient brothels helped to set the mood. Image via Flickr.

Around the same time, across the Mediterranean Sea, Romans were also beginning to see a formalization of prostitution. Taverns had become houses of ill repute with waitresses performing services for the men of Rome. The profession spread to women who worked independently, often known for setting up their trade underneath the arches – or fornices, – this was the origin of the word, ‘fornication’.

Between these two influential civilizations, prostitution quickly became a legitimate and, at times, respectable trade with brothel owners being ranked highly in their respective societies.

It’s not what you do, it’s who you do: Defining classes with brothels

However, even in Ancient Rome and Greece, brothels (or ‘fleshpots’) had already become the tools of a class divide. Establishments servicing the poor districts being characterized by dirty chambers, low prices and unattractive women. On the richer sides of town, houses of assignation were dominated by attendants for the popular prostitutes; water boys, hairdressers and maids would wait on the women to ensure they were always ready for their next customers looking perfect. Some prostitutes rose to high standing and were even considered to be the pinnacle of fashion with their mode of dress, hair style and jewelry being emulated by wives and girlfriends.

Pompeii brothel history

The beds in brothels have thankfully got more comfortable since Pompeii. Image via Flickr.

As the introduction and attendant legitimization of brothels spread throughout Europe with the advance of the Roman Empire, many societies developed an ambivalent tolerance for these establishments. Though some cultures found them unsavory and were thought to be a kind of evil, they were also considered a necessary one. Most cultures believed that brothels (or bagnios) prevented greater incidences of sodomy and rape.

Tolerance to persecution

By the middle ages, tolerance had led to greater regulation and brothels were only allowed to set-up business in certain streets. Married men and men of the cloth were not allowed to visit and the need for greater discretion became the inciting factor for hookers to take to the streets. In the 13th century, this practice was also regulated and women had to wear a distinctive style of dress and only work beyond the walls of the city or town.

Though not every country took this approach and 12th century King of France, Louis XI, banned courtesans ordering them to be driven out of the country and stripped of their possessions.

Across Europe, public brothels were as much a part of the development of a civilized city as sewers, council chambers and market squares. However, a spread of syphilis in the 16th century lead to the wide spread closure of much of these houses of sin.

Every country across Europe had begun to develop their own red light districts and regulations varied by country as did the practices adopted by brothel owners and their clients. In 16th century London, prostitutes had become synonymous with the theatre whilst bawdy houses, known as ‘stews’ (because of their origins as steam bathhouses), were being squeezed by religious pressures for their closure.

By contrast, 17th century France were encouraging brothels as a way of controlling and regulating vice; the attitude being one of ‘better the devil you know.’ French prostitutes were licensed to live in brothels as long as they wore distinctive badges in public places and submitted to regular medical assessments

A century later and Austrian Empress, Maria Theresa banned brothels with severe punishments for anyone found to be in violation of her edict. In a similar fashion, Tsar Paul I exiled all prostitutes in Russia to the frosty Siberian wilderness.

In fact, throughout history there has been diametrically opposed views on prostitution with ‘dens of vice’ suffering both persecution and celebration; sometimes within just a single generation.

Brothels today

In the USA, brothels were originally legal in most states until the turn of the 20th century when the Women’s Christian Temperance Union began to exert its influences in great numbers. The organisation was successful in effecting bans on most vices enjoyed by the masses including prostitution, alcohol and drug use as well as gambling. The bans closing strumpet houses’ has remained in place across the USA, with the exception of Nevada, where knocking shops are still legal in some counties.

brothel history america

Old Town brothel in Death Valley. Closed for business… Image via Flickr.

In the modern world, laws and public opinion around call houses and prostitution continue to fluctuate with many countries legalizing the sex trade and once again celebrating the important role that legitimate brothels play in a civilized culture.

Modern Day Brothels in America

Cathouses, chicken ranches or good old fashioned houses of ill repute are no longer legal in the USA and you can only find fully licensed and regulated stables in the state of Nevada; though some counties (including Clark County in which Las Vegas is situated) maintain a federal ban on prostitution.

As a result, Nevada has become the official home of the American brothel and offers a range of red door houses from historic buildings that have become big tourist destinations to world famous stables such as those operated by Denis Hof. Owning seven of Nevada’s love ranches, Hof has brought the brothel to the public’s attention with the TV documentary show, ‘Cathouse’. An HBO series following the daily lives of hookers working out of the Moonlite Bunny Ranch, the program has been aired since 2005.

There are around twenty brothels in Nevada mostly situated along Route 80, Reno and as close to the border of Clark County as possible. Much of their business is from the multi-billion dollar tourist industry that emanates from Las Vegas but also from passing trade from neighboring California.

nevada brothels

One of Nevada’s brothels, the Mustang Ranch near Reno. Image via website.

As a result, illegal brothels are common around America and pop up in many states. They are generally closed down by the authorities but are cyclically replaced within a few years.

The call for wider legitimization of brothels across America continues to be debated and will likely rumble on for years to come. Certainly, there doesn’t look to be any changes in Federal law on the matter anytime soon.

Modern Day Brothels Around the World

Strippy’s, or strumpet houses exist all over the world and are often situated in the red light districts which help define the history of prostitution within any culture.

When thinking about parlor houses, Amsterdam is perhaps the first such city that springs to mind. With a long history of association with the sex trade, The Dam enjoyed a heyday during the 20th century as sex tourists visited the city to sample the many delights available from the houses of joy. The city still has a very active prostitution market but, due to changes in the law, has been declining in recent years. Over the last decade, the number of hook shops in the city has decreased.

Germany, and Berlin in particular, also enjoys an active and modern brothel scene with a huge European following. As with many nations, the German population is split between those that have a liberal approach to sex generally and those that find paying for sex distasteful. For the former, Berlin offers a riot of sex clubs, strip bars and brothels.

Sporting houses can also be found across Asia with Hong Kong infamously getting around the prostitution laws which ban brothels by operating one-woman, high rise ‘love hotels’.

world brothel history

Advertising at the Hengdian Brothel. Image via Flickr.

Australians and New Zealanders also enjoy a very liberal approach to the modern day brothel and the former offers sex tourists a huge range of bordellos across the country offering a taste of Aussie and Asian women as well as visiting international hookers.

Tips for Visiting a Brothel

So, what can you expect when you visit a brothel for the first time?

What’s the process?

Brothels, whether licensed or not, follow a similar process for a client though at upmarket and elite venues you can expect higher standards of service in more luxurious settings.

In most brothels, you will be met either at the door or in the main reception lounge by a member of the front of house team. Some brothels have a laid-back bar area (particularly at the Nevada ranches) where available girls may well be lounging in between customers. Other establishments may have private waiting rooms where you may be shown to wait. You are likely to be offered a drink at this point and asked if you have any special requests. Standard services will be dealt with in the same way but services such as dom and fetish may determine in advance the choice of hostess that suits your needs. At this stage, it may well be that your budget restricts what services you receive and from whom. The house staff will (hopefully) be welcoming but they will also be using this opportunity to size you up. They will want to make sure that you pose no threat to their girls (intoxicated, irate or high etc.) and that you have the means to pay for your service.

In general, the arrival of potential business usually starts the age-old custom of a line-up. This is a process whereby you are shown the currently available women as they parade in front of you. As many of these women work independently, they will be trying to impress you so that they are selected. Some brothels operate a menu system from which you can select a service or girl without the need of a line-up.

Once you have made a decision you will be shown to a room and you can enjoy the pleasure of the service of your choice. It is usual for the hostess to insist on a shower beforehand which she will usually join you for (unless you have paid for a quick 15-minute session).

Once you have finished, most brothels will allow you to remain in the room for the time you have paid for and some women will allow a second session within that period. However, a lot of customers prefer to use this time to shower again and maybe talk. Those that are after a GFE, for instance, enjoy the intimacy of the post-coital pillow talk.

When you leave the room, it is customary for most brothel owners to provide you with as much discretion as they can by ensuring the corridors are free of other customers. There is usually very little chance of meeting any other punters except in the car park.

The importance of safe sex

Licensed brothels are usually under strict regulations that insist on the use of condoms for safe sex. Offering natural services, or barebacking, is an offense in these establishments and they often don’t take too kindly to those customers who ask for this kind of service. There are women who do offer bareback services but you usually have to arrange this with them directly instead of with the house and you will certainly have to pay extra.

The dangers of unprotected sex with a prostitute are obvious and even though most will undergo regular health screening and use prophylactics with other clients, there is always a danger of catching a sexually transmitted infection so condoms are a good idea.

safe sex brothel

Barebacking may be the natural choice but carries a higher risk of infection. Image via Flickr.

Knowing the risks: Legal brothels vs Illegal brothels

Licensed brothels are 100% legal venues where paying for sex with a professional sex worker can be done in a safe and hygienic environment. Using a facility like this carries no risk of any ‘raids’ or scams and any problems can be reported to the relevant licensing authorities. Complaints about unsatisfactory service in general are usually not upheld and overcharging is a grey area.

Unlicensed brothels operating illegally carry a lot of dangers. From being raided and the potential threat of a criminal conviction to scams, unsafe sex and potential threats to personal safety, choosing to use an illegal brothel may seem like your only option but consider it carefully before making your decision. If in doubt, look at the options of escort services.

The etiquette of the brothel: Those all-important rules

Firstly, be polite. Prostitutes and brothel owners may well work in what some people deem to be a ‘seedy’ environment but they are doing a job and have the right to do so without abuse or rude behavior. Behaving like a complete tool will likely result in your being asked to leave.

Be clean. The showers are there for a reason and you should ensure that you use them and do so thoroughly. It’s not pleasant to expect a woman to have to deal with body odour or crusty privates.

Have an idea in advance of what you want but be realistic. Most brothels do not mind you taking your time in a lineup but they do not like it when men are indecisive and waste time. Be realistic with your expectations and your budget but, likewise, if you do not see anything that you fancy then you should always feel free to walk away.

Get a price up front and make sure you are fully aware of what this covers. Asking for extras in the heat of the moment may seem like just a spontaneous request but your hostess will have added that blowjob to the bill.

On that note, communication is key. The number of experiences that men have had with a prostitute that were unsatisfactory is generally a result of miscommunication more than anything else. Be specific and don’t be afraid to let a girl know what you like (and what you don’t like) when things start heating up.


Brothels are known (and have been known) by a number of different names and slang terms throughout the ages and across the world; from ‘pleasure house’ to ‘rookery, we’ve used at least 25 in this guide. How many did you spot?