Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

These perverted desires explain the extreme youth of many street prostitutes and the inmates of seraglios, as the regular brothels were called. Satan’s Harvest Home (1749), a satirical tract and certainly over coloured, speaks of the pitiful sight of a crowd of little creatures lying in heaps . . . and how some of them, hardly high enough to reach a man’s waistband, are already pregnant, but a study based on police records shows that this, if true, was exceptional, the largest age-group being twenty five to thirty. Archenholtz speaks of the immense number of prostitutes in England: 50,000 in London, Marylebone alone having 13,000. Such figures are certainly wildly exaggerated. Retif, in his “Pornographe“, estimated the number of prostitutes in Paris at 18,000, but a careful study of police records made later showed the actual number to have been only 2,900 at a date only a few years later than that at which he wrote. (204). We need scarcely doubt that Archenholtz’s figure is equally exaggerated. Nevertheless, procuring became a highly organized trade, under the guidance of Mrs. Needham, and, if Tarnowsky is to be trusted, the price of a virgin was brought down from £50 to £5. (13) Certainly a considerable technique in the restoration of lost virginities developed — “rearranging the crumpled blossoms of the rose” was the sanctimonious simile — and there is at least one heart-rending account of a girl who had been stitched up four times pleading (in vain) to be excused further operations of the sort. (91).

Before the end of the century, condoms, which had formerly been a prerogative of the rich, were being sold widely: every brothel stocked them and they were advertised in the press, but still primarily as a measure against infection, as Daniel Turner, writing in 1717, makes clear in his book on syphilis.

“. . . the Condum being the best, if not the only Preservative our Libertines have found out at present, and yet by reason of its blunting the Sensation, I have heard some of them acknowledge that they often chose to risk a Clap, rather than engage “cum Hastis sic clypeatis.” (128).

Its possibilities as a contraceptive were not at first appreciated, for the rake cared little whether he left his victim with child or not. Women, however, were beginning to equip themselves with effective contraceptive devices, and Casanova relates how he once stole from a nun her supply of the devices which are so necessary (as he puts it) to those who wish to make sacrifices to love, leaving a poem in their place. But he was ultimately prevailed upon to return them.