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A brief history of escorting

Though society doesn’t always want to talk about it, escorting is a profession that’s been around for a while. We all know records of sex work date back to the BC era, but how much do we really know about the history of escorting?

Today, we’re diving into a brief history of escorting and how the job has evolved over the years. From early mentions to well-recorded brothels, we’re looking at some critical eras for escorting and their effect on the profession today.

Put your history hat on, and let’s look back in time. Keep reading for more about the history of escorting.

What is escorting?

Escorting is essentially the act of providing companionship to clients for a specific period of time or event. This could involve sexual services (in areas where legal), but it can include non-physical companionship or non-sexual embraces.

Is escorting sex work?

The term “escorting” is heavily associated with sex work, and for many clients, escort services do include sexual acts. But it’s important to remember that not all escorts offer sexual sessions. It depends on the individual provider and their boundaries.

Understanding adult work can be confusing, as there are a lot of “grey areas”. Skip to our guide to adult work now for a better understanding.

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Early examples of escorting

When it comes to the history of sex work, you’ll always see a quote that says it dates back to 2400 BC. However, do you know what the first instance of recorded sex work actually is?

The first records of escorting come from the Sumerian Records, where the Sumerian word for prostitute, “Kar-Kid”, occurs in a list of professions. The term “Kur-Garru” also appears, meaning male prostitute or transvestite. So, even back in 2400 BC, both genders worked in the industry.

We can also see evidence of early brothels in China in the 600s BC. Some research shows that commercial brothers were started by Kuang Chung, a statesman-philosopher. This was to increase the state’s income, but there’s some doubt among academics whether escorting within the brothels was legal at the time.

Escorting in the Early Modern period

Let’s jump to the Early Modern period – aka the time after the Late Middle Ages until the Age of Revolutions.

In Italy, the 1500s were the time of the Renaissance, and escorting was part of this society. Escorts were known as “courtesans”, and they were the equivalent of today’s high-end escorts. Alongside being beautiful and young, courtesans were known for charm, wit, and grace. They were entertainers and associated with the aristocratic upper class.

Japan also embraced escorting in the 1600s, when a “red-light district” was created in Yoshiwara Here legal brothels popped up in a legal yet “out of the way spot”.

Prostitution and escorting became regulated in 1699 in Colonial America. Though it wasn’t a common law offence until post-WW1, early American society did start to regulate the behaviour. This involved minor punishments for adultery or fornication, but rules differed from state to state.

19th and 20th century escorts

At the beginning of the 19th century, many European nations started taking steps to regulate escorting. For example, in 1810, the Netherlands (under Napoleon’s rule) started to regulate the system to prevent the spread of diseases.

A similar ruling was seen in Britain in 1864, where the “Contagious Diseases Act” was implemented. However, this act was initially only confined to towns with heavy navy and military presences. It allowed police to arrest escorts in these towns, and they could also carry out compulsory venereal disease checks. If positive, women were hospitalised against their will.

Across the pond, states in the United States also implemented more regulations. In 1870, St. Louis added more limitations, including brothel licences and medical exams for escorts. While this sounds progressive, it was removed in 1874 by Missouri state. In 1875, US Congress outlawed prostitution immigration.

Throughout the 20th century, a similar pattern followed around the world. Governments continued to legalise and regulate escorting and brothels, and often many locations would go back and forth as new governments came into control.

Notably, in 1959 Britain legalised escorting as part of the Wolfenden Report. This decriminalised prostitution but banned solicitation and related acts (within the Street Offences Act 1959).

woman in lingerie looking seductively into the camera

Escorting today

Today, the escorting landscape is very different from its ancient beginnings. But the bare bones of the job and the common tools and techniques are still the same.

Internet and technological advancements are the biggest factors that changed the industry since the 20th century. Instead of finding in-person clients, escorts can now join online agencies or create their own businesses and take control of their careers.

Escorting is only one branch of the adult industry now, too. Alongside escorting, adult workers can also explore webcamming, glamour modelling, phone sex operating, and adult filmmaking, and you can even sell your underwear.

UK laws

In the UK, escorting and the exchange of sexual services is legal everywhere (apart from Northern Island), thanks to the 2003 Sexual Offences Act.

But it’s not all golden. Soliciting and advertising yourself to clients is still illegal. This makes life much more difficult for escorts who need to market their services to make a living. Police also carry out immigration raids, hand out “prostitution cautions”, and give escorts a generally hard time.

Luckily, many UK-based collectives and charities are on-hand to help sex workers know their rights and protect themselves.

The takeaway

Like all industries, escorting will continue to change and evolve as time goes on. Who knows where we’ll be in another 10 years? Or 20? Hopefully, the stigma and misconceptions surrounding escorts will be gone, and working environments will be safer.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this whirlwind trip through the history of escorting. Did we miss any big events? Let us know!

Want to help escorts reach these goals? Find out how to get involved in sex work advocacy here or help to reduce the stigma through educating yourself here.

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