The Business of Pleasure

A History of Paid Sex in the Heart of Europe

Edited by Elwin Hofman, Magaly Rodríguez García, and Pieter Vanhees

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First English-language book on the history of commercial sex in Belgium

In 2022, the Belgian parliament made a landmark decision by approving the decriminalisation of sex work. This move positioned the small nation as the first country in Europe – and the second globally – to abandon the hypocrisy of tolerance. Yet this was not the first time paid sex in Belgium gained international notoriety. The bathhouses of the fifteenth-century ‘frows of Flanders’ were well-known throughout Europe. In the nineteenth century, Belgium faced international outrage as the alleged epicentre of white slavery. Although Belgians were then accused of forcing white women into prostitution, they were also free to include any suspect women in the prostitution registers of colonial Congo. Throughout the First and Second World Wars, both allied and German soldiers sought relief in Belgian brothels. The Business of Pleasure presents the compelling life stories of sex workers and their interactions with authorities, clients and pimps. Pushing beyond stereotypes, this history of commercial sex offers a nuanced understanding of the difficulties and opportunities associated with paid sex for women, men and trans persons past and present.

Contributors: Elwin Hofman (Utrecht University), Magaly Rodríguez García (KU Leuven), Pieter Vanhees (former researcher KU Leuven), Jelle Haemers (KU Leuven), Amandine Lauro (Université libre de Bruxelles), Maarten Loopmans (KU Leuven), Ilias Loopmans (MA history student at University of Antwerp), Sonia Verstappen (former sex worker).

Format: Edited volume - ebook - ePUB

240 pages

16 illustrations, black & white

ISBN: 9789461665577

Publication: September 16, 2024

Languages: English

Elwin Hofman is a cultural historian and writer. He teaches at Utrecht University and has (co)authored several books on cultural history, including a history of homosexuality in Belgium.
Magaly Rodríguez García is an authority on the history of international labour organisations and subaltern history. She is a professor at KU Leuven and collaborates with Belgian and foreign colleagues on projects regarding, inter alia, sex work and prostitution policy at the local, national and supranational levels. In the context of oral history projects, she became closely involved with advocacy groups for vulnerable persons such as sex workers and homeless people.
Pieter Vanhees is a social historian and has researched the history of prostitution in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries at KU Leuven.