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20x History Of Prostitution Books

Posted on: Januar 15, 2024

Books on the history of prostitution

Top 20 Books On The History Of Prostitution

Prostitution is known as one of the oldest professions in the world. There’s much to learn about this fasinating occupation which has always been around and which will never disappear. This article contains 20 books on the history of prostitution. This selection is wide ranging and should have something of interest to anyone who’s interested in prostitution and sexuality throughout the ages.


20 Best Prostitution Books You Should Read

Get educated about prostitution by reading these books below.

Books on the history of prostitution
Amsterdam, Rotlichtviertel, Alter Kirchenplatz

History of Prostitution In the World

1 | A Curious History of Sex

The best book on the history of prostitution is written by a well-known person within the sex work industry. Dr. Kate Lister – university lecturer, researcher on history of sex work and owner of the well known Whores Or Yore Twitter account – provides the reader with a thoroughly entertaining and well-referenced historical tour of 2500 years of sexual practices, body parts and sex in general. A witty and well written book! Recommended for anyone interested in the subject of sex.

Amsterdam tour app dr Kate Lister
Dr. Kate Lister in Amsterdam’s Red Light District.

Kate Lister also shares her knowledge on sex work during our Amsterdam Audio Tours. This app contains interesting stories from 22 experts, photos, GPS and a virtual guide. This audio tour can also be listened from home as an audiobook.

Subjects: Prostitution, history, drugs, Dutch culture, Amsterdam, De Wallen, sexuality, etc. It offers almost 2 hours of audio and cost just a few euros.



Buy Dr. Lister’s book – A Curious History of Sex – here below:

2 | Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work

The title has it: Playing the whore is an expression used to indicate that Sexarbeiterinnen play a certain role. They need to be some kind of actors/ actresses. This used to be a frequently said Dutch saying: ‘de hoer spelen’. Translated: Playing the whore.

This is a book on how policies that are being advocated by police and many anti-prostitution feminists have the opposite of their intended effects. For those who are well read on this subject the book doesn’t offer much new information. It does however function as a great concise summary. It has a lot of good references for further reading.

3 | Thriving in Sex Work: Heartfelt Advice for Staying Sane in the Sex Industry

A book for those who think prostitution is easy money, and those who actually do the work and are looking for advice. This self-help book for sex workers and erotic entertainers was written by Lola Davina, a former stripper, escort and porn actress. She provides the reader with solid advice on how to deal with the unique emotional toll that comes with sex work. One of those books on the history of prostitution that is timeless.

4 | Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships

Number four in this list of books on the history of prostitution is this entertaining and provocative read. It offers a very concise and interesting perspective on gender roles and sexuality from the distant past right up until the modern age. Conventional wisdoms are challenged and the standard theories adhered to by most experts are shown to have serious flaws.

5 | The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels and the Business of AIDS

Writer Elizabeth Pisani, an epidemiologist, has been investigating and involved in the fight against AIDS for 14 years. This is one of those books on the history of prostitution where the writer lays out how rotten the state of the current research field is and how reluctant the government is to grant funds for vital HIV prevention to those who are in need of it most: prostitutes, junkies and gay men. The is a no holds barred read and will make you rethink all that you know on the subject of the AIDS-virus.

6 | Erotic Exchanges: The World of Elite Prostitution in Eighteenth-Century Paris

In this book Nina Kushner presents a perplexing look into elite prostitution in Paris in the 18th century. The book is based on a wealth of documentation as the Parisian police in those days surveilled many of the prostitutes and their clientele. This is beautifully written and highly readable scholarly work. One of the better books on the history of prostitution.

History of Prostitution in the Netherlands

And now some great books on the history of prostitution in the Netherlands and Amsterdam which got city rights in the year 1275. In this harbour-city, prostitution has always been around. Illegal & hidden. And, legal & out in the open.

7 | When Sex Becomes Work: Everything that everyone should know about sex work

Written by Mariska Majoor, ex-prostitute, founder of the Prostitution Information Center and Amsterdam’s most famous sex worker activist. This woman was even knighted by the royal Dutch family. Mariska is without a doubt one of the most knowledgeable prostitution experts in the country. She has been active in this industry for more than 30 years.

sex worker in another world
Mariska Majoor in front of the Prostitution Information Center that she founded.

This book is not just a handbook for sex workers. It also provides great insights for those who want to educate themselves on one of the oldest professions in the world and it explains more about Amsterdamer Rotlichtviertel.

Mariska Majoor is one of the 22 experts in the Amsterdam Audio Tour app. In it, she explains more about sex work in Amsterdam.

Quote Mariska Majoor

After I stopped working as a sex worker myself I experienced how hard it is to answer the question ‘what did you do before’. It is not easy being open about your life as a sex worker when you now people have a negative view on that subject. I wanted to try and change that view to make it easier for sex workers to be accepted by society. That’s why I started the Prostitution Information Center in 1994.



8 | The Amsterdam Diaries: Kiss and tell tales from the Red Light District

This unique book by Marcus Segretto originally started off as a blog detailing his adventures on Amsterdam’s Red Light District, from a customer perspective. He wanted to provide an alternative view to the prevailing attitudes against prostitution. His blog about his visits to the sex workers in Amsterdam was a big hit with more than a million unique visitors. Fans of the blog encouraged him to publish his blog in book form, which he did. Many books have been written about prostitution, but very few that describe the experiences and thoughts of the clients. Therefor this one is one of the must have books on the history of prostitution.

9 | Legalizing Prostitution: From Illicit Vice to Lawful Business

Prostitution has never been a socially accepted profession but the past decade world’s oldest profession has been under renewed attacks from both Christian and Feminist interest groups. Legalising Prostitution offers a great overview of the current field.

The author, Weitzer, writes from an American perspective and uses findings from European countries like the Netherlands and Germany to provide the reader with alternatives to current American practises when it comes to prostitution. What results in the in end is a handy overview of “best practices”.

History of Prostitution in America

The United States has a long history with (illegal) sex work, which is why this list also contains five top books on the history of prostitution in America.

10 | Upstairs Girls: Prostitution in the American West

Prostitution is probably the most interesting aspect of the American west story. This book will give you a perspective on those women for hire during the American west days. Besides learning about why these woman turned to prostitution you’ll also learn about the business side of their work including competition, location and marketing.

11 | Love for Sale: Courting, Treating, and Prostitution in New York City, 1900-1945

Writer Elizabeth Alice Clement presents a detailed and fascinating examination on both sexual and moral shifts that happened in New York in the first 50 years of the 20th century. An entertaining and enlightening read despite it being an academic book.

12 | Brothel: Mustang Ranch and Its Women

This book by Alexa Albert provides a great independent study of the sex work industry in Nevada, United States. Based on a lengthy six year study this books on the history of prostitution gives an honest look beyond the fantasy that the sex industry project outwardly. It presents the human reality behind that veil.

13 | Madam: Inside a Nevada Brothel

Lora Shaner takes you on a deep dive into to life inside a Nevada brothel. It’s a great study on all the characters of those working in, and visiting the brothel. Recommended for anybody who want to get an impression of daily life inside a legal Nevada brothel. For less than 5 dollars this is one of the cheapest books on the history of prostitution.

14 | The Murder of Helen Jewett

The murder of a youthful prostitute in New York, 1836 set off a shockwave throughout the nation. The story would be recorded in history as the first case of journalistic death and sex sensationalism. A practice that we’re all too familiar with today. Besides being an investigative piece this books on the history of prostitution also delves into that specific era and the rapidly changing culture of the period. For a super exciting, non-fiction book this is a real page-turner.

History of Prostitution in Ancient Greece

Long before America was discovered, prostitution took place in Ancient Greece. That is why there is 1 book that should not be missing in this list.

15 | Prostitutes and Courtesans in the Ancient World

This is one of those books on the history of prostitution that offers a look at sex work from ancient Mesopotamia to the period of early Christianity. In those days, like to today, prostiutes were socially marginal. But they connected with a lot of aspect of daily life.

Some led a life of luxury with famous poets and politicians. Others did not. A must read books on the history of prostitution, specifically for those interested in the history of women and classical antiquity.

History of Prostitution in England

16 | The London Underworld in the Victorian Period: Authentic First-Person Accounts by Beggars, Thieves and Prostitutes

This work by Henry Mayhew was the first 19th-century London sociological study and the first piece of oral history. For this work Mayhew traversed 100’s of miles of 1840-1850 London streets collecting statements from the city’s poor and forgotten. The stories that they told showed a part of London that was almost unheard to the higher classes. This book is an extract of the original work and is centred around crime; vagrants, prostitutes, pickpockets and rag pickers.

History of Sex

In addition, three fantastic books that explain the history of sex. They are not necessarily books on the history of prostitution, but since prostitution is inextricably linked to sex, these three top items contribute to get a better understanding of sex work.

17 | Sex and Punishment: Four Thousand Years of Judging Desire

Writer Eric Berkowitz presents a 4000 year historical look at how principally western society has been attempting to curb sexuality by law.
This is one of those books on the history of prostitution that perfectly illustrates that every age has well-intentioned policy makers who have warped ideas about what types of sexual behaviours should be punished. With more than 94 ratings it gets 4 out of 5 stars and is therefor recommended to read.

18 | The Story of Sex: A Graphic History Through the Ages

The only graphic book (comic book) in this top 20 books on the history of prostitution. The comics are really amusing, making this book a great option for those who are a little more visually oriented. In this book sexologist Phillip Brenot gives an exhoustive commentary on sex using history, sociology, anthropology and psychology.

19 | The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction Reissue Edition

In this work world renowned intellectual Michel Foucault (1926 – 1984) explores why we constantly talk about and analyse sex. Furthermore it presents the history of sexuality and lays down arguments against the theories of sexual repression.

20 | The History of Sexuality: Vol. 2: The Use of Pleasure

In this 304 follow up work to The History of Sexuality, Volume I: An Introduction, Foucault analyses the ancient Greeks and how they perceived sexuality. A quote from this book: ‘In Athens, certain laws protected free children from adults who at least for a time did not have the right to go into schools; from slaves, who incurred the death penalty if they tried corrupting them; and from their father or tutors who were punished if they prostituted them

Bonus | The History of Sexuality: Vol. 3: The Care of the Self

Bonus material in this top 20 books on the history of prostitution is this one. In this third and final book on The History of Sexuality, Foucault looks into the period of the Golden Age in Rome.

In it he shows a subtle yet conclusive breach from the Classical Greek interpretation of sexual pleasure. He presents how distrust of pleasure and anxieties on sexuality appeared and the ramification of this cultural change. This in entire collection of books on the history of prostitution by Foucault should be owned by anyone interested in the subject of sexuality.


History Amsterdam Red Light District

The History Of Prostitution

Interview With Dr. Kate Lister From Whores Of Yore 

Amsterdam Prostitution Menü

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