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The Victorian era is notoriously known as an era of female repression: However, in truth, the Victorian era was the age of sexual ingenuity and an increased level of sexual freedom. In reality, sexual license grew between the s and s as a way for women to become socially and economically independent. Pleasure gardens and brothels were relatively common as prostitution was a very strong way to make money when a woman was husbandless or even widowed. More interestingly, some husbands allowed their wives to take a "side job" as a prostitute to supplement the family income.
Until the s, it was "normal" for Victorian families to be very large—children were a sign of a strong marriage and served as an increased work force for the families. But many children also meant there were many mouths to feed. If the woman of the family worked as a prostitute, there likely would have been a very substantial increase in the family's income.
A Companion to Victorian Literature and Culture. Now one might wonder why women would choose—or be allowed—to become prostitutes for work, rather than serving in the numerous industrial jobs that opened up to women following the Industrial Revolution. Women in these industry roles worked 14 hour days, and were given a steady income. However, not only did serving as a prostitute make these women more money, but it was also in many ways safer, as factories were often mangling grounds due to insufficient safety guidelines in these early days.
Furthermore, the Contagious Diseases Act further attempted to protect both men and women by examining women every year to ensure they were "clean" and free from STDS. It was discovered during these tests that the female prostitutes were more often cleaner than the women who worked for 14 hours a day.
Josephine Butler introduced the anti-contagious movement in the 19th century, but it was to ensure men were also tested for STDS. Butler's intention was to remind society that men could be carriers just as women could, and it was not only women who could pass these diseases to others.