The red light district De Wallen in Amsterdam

A brothel is a place where people may come to engage in sexual activity with a prostitute. Technically, any place where prostitution commonly takes place is a brothel, but in places where prostitution or the operation of brothels is illegal, establishments may attempt to disguise their involvement in prostitution by referring to their business as something else, such as a massage parlor, a bar, or a strip club.

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Brothel Types

Brothels are legal only in some parts of the world, though some illegal brothels may be tolerated. In many countries where brothels are officially illegal, the laws are ignored; brothels in such countries may be tolerated and regulated by authorities. Brothels can be called also as whorehouses, sex clubs, bordellos, casas, spas, ranches, cathouses etc. You can find the list of brothels in each location from WikiSexGuide.

There are many different types of brothels. Here are few examples of different parts of the world:

  • Laufhaus - The common term in Germany's, Austria's and Switzerland's sex business is a Laufhaus, it is used because the customers walk through the corridors of the house (hence the name: Laufhaus/Walk House), can negotiate directly with the prostitutes and, where appropriate, may enter into a contract.
  • Termas - The Portuguese word Termas literally means Spa, but it refers to a legal club or facility where prostitutes operate. A termas is a combination of spa/health, club/massage, facility/bar/brothel in Brazil.
  • Soapland - Soaplands (ソープランド, sōpurando) are Japanese brothels where the girls bath you then provide blow jobs, hand jobs, body slides, anal sex or sumata (simulated sex with the girl rubbing up against your penis to get you off). Vaginal intercourse is illegal for brothels to offer as a service though you will find that most places do offer it.
  • Blowjob bar - For example in Thailand you can find several BJ bars where you can drink beer while a sex worker is giving you a blow job.
  • Pink salon - Pink Salons are blow job bars in Japan, and no other sex is available.


From the French bordel, ca. 1200 "bordel" sing. "prostitution place". The French word "bordel" comes from the old German word "Bord", which means "board". This word was used to describe the shacks made of boards in which prostitution occurred. The word "bord" was firstly transformed by the French to "borde", then quickly became "bordel".

Brothels are known under a variety of names, including bordello, cathouse, knocking shop, whorehouse, strumpet house, disorderly house, bawdy house, red light house, sporting house, house of ill repute, house of ill fame, house of prostitution, and pleasure house. Under English criminal law, a brothel is commonly referred to as a disorderly house.

Brothel business models

Brothels are sex businesses and vary in style and size, as do the range of sex services each offers. They operate using a variety of business types:

  • The hookers can operate as contract workers who split their earnings with the brothel. They can at times be expected to "tip" working staff (housekeepers, security, cleaners, taxi drivers, etc.). They don't usually receive any benefits, such as health insurance, and no withholding for taxes.
  • the sex workers can be employees who receive a small fixed salary and a portion of the money paid by the client, the balance of which is retained by the whore house.
  • The whores pay a fee for use of the facilities, with the brothel owner not being involved in the financial transaction between a hooker and client.

In a whore house, sexual activity involves a sex worker which can be also called escort, whore or a hooker, providing sexual services to a client. In most cases the prostitute is at liberty to determine whether she or he will engage in a particular type of sexual activity, but forced sex work exists in some places around the world as does sexual slavery.

Prostitution and the operation of brothels is legal in various countries, but in other countries it is illegal. In countries where prostitution or the operation of brothels is illegal, establishments such as massage parlors, bars or strip clubs may offer sexual services to patrons. Even in places where sex business is legal, it is subject to many restrictions. For example, forced sex work is usually not permitted nor is prostitution by or with Minors. In some countries, whore houses are subject to strict planning restrictions and in some cases are confined to designated red-light districts.

Current legal status

Many nations forbid prostitution and the operating of brothels, however some may tolerate well-known illegal brothels. The rules are frequently disregarded in nations where brothels are prohibited but may nonetheless be permitted and regulated by the government. These circumstances can occur elsewhere in the globe, but Asia is where these laws are most frequently implemented. These brothels frequently operate under the pretense of lawful establishments like massage parlors, saunas, or spas.

While soliciting in public areas, operating brothels, and other related activities are typically illegal in other countries, making it very challenging for people to engage in prostitution without breaching the law. For instance, the situation is the same in the United Kingdom, Italy, and France.

Only a few nations permit and control prostitution and brothel operations. The level of regulation varies greatly between nations. The majority of these nations support brothels because they are thought to be less troublesome than street prostitution, at least in theory. For instance, brothels are permitted and governed in some areas of Australia. In addition to licensing, registration, and planning constraints, there may be additional limitations. However, the existence of authorized brothels does not prevent the operation of unlicensed brothels. In Queensland, just 10% of prostitution takes place in licensed brothels; the remainder is either illegal or unregulated, according to a 2009 report; unlicensed brothels currently exceed licensed ones in Sydney by a ratio of four to one.

Due to its lax prostitution laws, which are among the best in the world, the Netherlands draws sex tourists from all over the world. Amsterdam is a popular destination for sex tourists and is famed for its red-light district. Additionally, Germany has fairly lenient prostitution regulations. The Pascha in Cologne is the biggest brothel in Europe.

Except for rural Nevada, where prostitution outside of these registered brothels is unlawful, brothels are currently illegal across the United States, despite the fact that the Dumas Hotel in Butte, Montana, operated legally from 1890 until 1982. The Las Vegas-Paradise metropolitan region is located in Clark County, where all kinds of prostitution are prohibited.

Debate on legal status

In many nations, there is debate about whether brothels should be permitted and, if so, what regulations they should be subject to.

State parties to the 1949 United Nations Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others are required to outlaw individual prostitute regulation as well as pimping and brothels.

The convention reads:

Article 1

The Parties to the present Convention agree to punish any person who, to gratify the passions of another:

(1) Procures, entices or leads away, for purposes of prostitution, another person, even with the consent of that person;

(2) Exploits the prostitution of another person, even with the consent of that person.

Article 2

The Parties to the present Convention further agree to punish any person who:

(1) Keeps or manages, or knowingly finances or takes part in the financing of a brothel;

(2) Knowingly lets or rents a building or other place or any part thereof for the purpose of the prostitution of others.

Various UN commissions however have differing views on the issue. For example, in 2012, a UNAIDS commission convened by Ban Ki-moon and backed by UNDP and UNAIDS, did endorse the decriminalization of brothels and procuring.

There isn't a single, agreed-upon position on the matter in the European Union, and national laws differ significantly from one another. The most liberal countries are the Netherlands and Germany, while selling sex is illegal in Sweden (as well as in Norway and Iceland outside the EU) and buying it is. Most former Communist nations have laws that specifically target prostitutes, while in the UK, Ireland, and France, soliciting, pimping, and running brothels are illegal, making it difficult to engage in prostitution without breaking the law. The European Women's Lobby supports the "Swedish model" and denounces prostitution as "an abhorrent form of male aggression."


Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Salon at the Rue des Moulins, 1894

The earliest recorded mention of prostitution as an occupation, appears in Sumerian records from before 4,000 BCE, and describes a temple-bordello operated by Sumerian priests in the city of Uruk. The 'kakum' or temple, was dedicated to the goddess Ishtar and housed three grades of women. The first group performed only in the temple sex-rites, the second group had the run of the grounds and catered to its visitors as well, the third and lowest class lived on the temple grounds but were free to seek out customers in the streets. In later years, similar "temple" or "sacred" bordellos and similar classifications of females were known to have existed in Greece, Rome, India, China and Japan.


State whore houses with regulated prices existed in ancient Athens, created by the legendary lawmaker Solon. These brothels catered for a predominantly male clientele, with ladies of all ages and young guys providing sexual services. In ancient Rome, girl slaves provided sexual services for soldiers, with whorehouses being located close to barracks and city walls. Brothels existed in every corner. The common way was to display candles to signal that they were open.

Before the appearance of effective contraception, infanticide was common in whore houses. Unlike usual infanticide—where historically girls were more likely to be killed at birth—sex workers in ancient times were more likely to kill male offspring.

Brothel scene; Brunswick Monogrammist, 1537; Gemäldegalerie, Berlin

Between 1350 and 1450, cities made their first municipal brothels. Municipalities frequently ran, controlled, and owned the legal brothels. Governments would designate specific streets as places where a keeper might start a brothel. The so-called "red light districts" sprang from these distinct areas of the city. The towns placed limitations on the location of a keeper's brothel as well as the hours that it may be open. For instance, it was generally against the law for brothels to operate on Sundays and religious holidays. Uncertainty surrounds the cause of this. Some academics contend that these limitations were put in place to prevent parishioners from frequenting brothels, while others contend that they were intended to force prostitutes to attend church. In either case, the keeper didn't make any money that day.

Not all males were permitted to enter brothels, despite the fact that they were designed as a sexual outlet for men. No Jews, married males, or priests were allowed. The primary source of income was frequently foreigners, such sailors and traders. Most of the local guys who frequented the brothels were single males; the regulations limiting the clients weren't usually upheld. To reduce the number of unlicensed patrons, police or government agents would occasionally search the brothels. However, because of the government and church's tight ties, ordinary penalties were light. The church considered prostitutes to be a need for those without a wife of their own, therefore these limitations were put in place to safeguard the wives of married men from contamination.

The Brothel Scene from A Rake's Progress by William Hogarth, 1735

Multiple restrictions were placed on the residents of brothels. One limitation prohibited prostitutes from borrowing money from her brothel keeper. Prostitutes paid high prices for the basic necessities of life: room and board, food, clothes, and toiletries to the brothel keepers. Room and board was often a price set by the local government but the price for everything else could add up to a common woman’s entire earnings. Prostitutes were sometimes prohibited from having a special lover. Some regulations put on prostitutes were made to protect their clients. A woman was kicked out if she was found to have a sexually transmitted disease. Also the prostitutes were not allowed to pull men into the brothel by their clothing, harass them in the street, or detain them over unpaid debts. Clothing worn by prostitutes was regulated as well and had to be distinguishable from that of respectable women. In some places a prostitute had to have a yellow stripe on her clothing while in others red was the differentiating color. Other towns required harlots to don special headdresses or restricted the wardrobe of proper women. All restrictions placed on prostitutes were put in place to not only protect them but nearby citizens as well.

Even with all the regulations placed on legalized brothels and those people associated with the establishments, they were fated to be done away with. Because of a syphilis epidemic throughout Europe many brothels were shut down during the end of the Middle Ages. This epidemic had been brought on by Spanish and French military pillages after the return of Christopher Columbus from the newly discovered Americas. The church and citizens alike feared that men who frequented brothels would bring the disease home and infect morally upright people.

From the 12th century, brothels in London were located in a district known as the Liberty of the Clink. This area was traditionally under the authority of the Bishop of Winchester, not the civil authorities. From 1161, the bishop was granted the power to license prostitutes and brothels in the district. This gave rise to the slang term Winchester Goose for a prostitute. Women who worked in these brothels were denied Christian burial and buried in the unconsecrated graveyard known as Cross Bones.

By the 16th century, the area was also home to many theaters, (including the Globe Theatre, associated with William Shakespeare), but brothels continued to thrive. A famous London brothel of the time was Holland's Leaguer. Patrons supposedly included James I of England and his favorite, George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham. It was located in a street that still bears its name and also inspired the 1631 play, Holland's Leaguer.

The authorities of Medieval Paris followed the same path as those in London and attempted to confine prostitution to a particular district. Louis IX (1226–1270) designated nine streets in the Beaubourg quartier where it would be permitted. In the early part of the 19th century, state-controlled legal brothels (then known as "maisons de tolérance" or "maisons closes") started to appear in several French cities. By law, they had to be run by a woman (typically a former prostitute) and their external appearance had to be discreet. The maisons were required to light a red lantern when they were open (from which is derived the term red-light district) and the prostitutes were only permitted to leave the maisons on certain days and only if accompanied by its head. By 1810, Paris alone had 180 officially approved brothels.

German soldiers entering a Soldatenbordell in Brest, France (1940); the building is a former Synagogue

During the first half of the 20th century, some Paris brothels, such as le Chabanais and le Sphinx, were internationally known for the luxury they provided. The French government sometimes included a visit to the Chabanais as part of the program for foreign guests of state, disguising it as a visit with the President of the Senate in the official program. The Hotel Marigny, established in 1917 in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris, was one of several that were well known for catering to gay male clients. Premises suspected of being gay brothels, including the Hotel Marigny, were however subject to frequent police raids, perhaps indicating less tolerance for them from the authorities.

In most European countries, brothels were made illegal after World War II. France outlawed brothels in 1946, after a campaign by Marthe Richard. The backlash against them was, in part, due to their wartime collaboration with the Germans during the occupation of France. Twenty-two Paris brothels had been commandeered by the Germans for their exclusive use; some had made a great deal of money by catering for German officers and soldiers. One brothel in the Montmartre district of the French capital was part of an escape network for POWs and shot down airmen.

Italy made brothels illegal in 1959.

United States

Once common, houses of prostitution are less common than in the past. New Orleans Storyville and San Francisco's Barbary Coast typify the romanticized heyday of luxurious brothels, with women working and living in the same establishment for many years.

Military brothels

A young Chinese woman who was in one of the Imperial Japanese
Army's "comfort battalions" is interviewed by a British Royal
Air Force officer in Rangoon after being liberated in August 1945

A mobile brothel service was until recently an auxiliary force connected to the army in numerous armies across the world, particularly attached to combat units on protracted overseas deployments.

During World War II, women were forced into prostitution by the Japanese occupation army as a kind of sexual slavery. The prostitutes, who came from all throughout East Asia, were collectively and individually referred to as "comfort battalions" or "military comfort ladies."

34,140 women from occupied countries, mostly from Poland, are believed to have been compelled to work as forced prostitutes for the Nazis during World War II.

Japan's Special Comfort Facility Association employed Japanese women as prostitutes for G.I. 55,000 patriotic ladies were enlisted by the Japanese government to make the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of Japanese women's chastity. Princesses from other countries served as U.N. forces' prostitutes in Korea. 60 percent of Korean prostitutes in South Korea between the 1950s and 1960s worked close to American military installations. Then, in order to make money, Park Chung-hee promoted the sex trade, particularly with the American troops. Women from Russia and the Philippines have provided prostitution services to American service members in South Korea since the mid-1990s. The Philippine government ceased allowing the contracts used by promoters to send Filipinas to South Korea to labor close to American military facilities in 2010. United States Forces Korea has admitted that US troops patronize bars which force their hostesses into sex work, thereby supporting modern-day slavery.

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