An Evening with Venus: Prostitution During the American Civil War
by John Jackson Gaines, PhD
During the Civil War era, American society faced a number of challenges. Issues of morality and gender roles emerged as areas of contention concerning prostitution. Because of the social constraints on women during the period, females found themselves with limited skills and economic opportunities to provide for themselves.
Many sold sex as a means of survival. Soldiers left home for a cause, but many also sought adventure that led to prostitutes. Peer pressure and a sense of new found freedom brought many soldiers to seek out sex workers. Without an official policy regulating prostitution for either the Union army or the Confederate army, officers relied on their own beliefs or priorities in crafting orders relating to prostitution. The sex trade also came under the scrutiny of moral reformers and military doctors.
While prostitution and the spread of venereal diseases likely did not affect the duration of the war, the sex trade made a significant impact on the short term social status and long term health of thousands of people.