Weird History

6 Historical Figures Who Were Really, Truly Obsessed with Sex Workers 

Kellen Perry
Updated March 4, 2019 262.8k views 6 items

There are plenty of famous historical philanderers who liked to visit "particular establishments" or seek the services of harlots or streetwalkers, but the men on this list are historical figures obsessed with these workers.

Some of the people listed here were powerful men consumed by lust, some simply included frequenting working girls in a long list of obsessions. A couple even had an obsession that led to depravity and, in extreme cases, loss of life.

Marquis de Sade
Marquis de Sade is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 6 Historical Figures Who Were Really, Truly Obsessed with Sex Workers
Photo: H. Biberstein/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Author and philosopher Marquis de Sade (1740-1814) had a cruel and sadistic obsession with working girls throughout his 20s and 30s, which — along with his dark, suggestive novels and openness about atheism — eventually landed him in jail for most of the rest of his life. Here are just a few of his encounters:

  • At 23, he hired a girl named Jeanne Testard just to see how she would react when he climaxed on an ivory statue of Jesus Christ.
  • At 28, he faced criminal charges for tying down a girl named Rose Keller and whipping and stabbing her buttocks.
  • At 32, he made several workers sick by feeding them Spanish Fly-laced bonbons. He also allegedly sodomized them and whipped them.
  • At 37, he spent six weeks engaged in “excess” with workers including six 15-year-old girls and one 15-year-old boy. 

These encounters seem relatively straight forward, but reveal themselves to be horrid when examined in detail. When he was 28 years old, the woman he was accused of whipping and stabbing was forcibly stripped in his home, tied down, and whipped and stabbed repeatedly. Marquis allegedly poured poison into her wounds (he claimed the substance was a healing salve) then repeated the process.

Further examination reveals the woman, Rose Keller, may not even have been a working girl, but a beggar Marquis lured back to his house under false pretense of needing a domestic worker. Marquis in part loved working girls because they were easy to procure, vulnerable, and at the mercy of paying customers. Keller escaped through a second story window. 

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Henri de Toulouse-Lautre... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 6 Historical Figures Who Were Really, Truly Obsessed with Sex Workers
Photo: Paul Sescau40002/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) wasn’t just obsessed with the services working girls offered, he also painted them in a modern, documentary style, “played games with them, brought them presents, and accompanied them to his studio, restaurants, circuses, or theaters during their time off.” Toulouse-Lautrec even lived in a few parlors in his life, considering himself “an aristocrat cut off from his kind” due to a genetic condition which left him with child-sized legs.

Fellow painter Édouard Vuillard said Toulouse-Lautrec ultimately “found an affinity between his own condition and the moral penury of the [working girl]." In way, ostracized from his class and seen as freakish by mainstream society, Toulouse-Lautrec found a new family with service girls, and spent most of his time around them, either as a friend or love.

The lifestyle ending up being his undoing: he died at age 36 from complications due to overdrinking and syphilis he allegedly contracted from a working girl named Rosa La Rouge.

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Grigori Rasputin
Grigori Rasputin is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 6 Historical Figures Who Were Really, Truly Obsessed with Sex Workers
Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Grigori Rasputin (1869-1916) was an alleged faith healer and trusted adviser to Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia. He also was known to “hire [working girls] several times in the course of a single day.” This so-called “indefatigability” and “unending pursuit of the female body” was legendary, but sometimes Rasputin didn’t engage with the women at all, according to agents tracking his movements a few years before his demise.

Take, for instance, the following scene as observed by said agents: “Rasputin bought [a working girl] two bottles of beer, but did not drink himself. [Rasputin] asked her to undress, looked at her body, and left.”

Multiple accounts attest to Rasputin being with a girl for about 20 minutes in a hotel, bathhouse, or some other place, during which time it's unclear whether they were engaging in her profession or if she was enjoying beer while he leered. According to eyewitnesses, Raputin also allegedly said perverse things to random women: "Rasputin, walking down various streets, would accost women with vile suggestions, which the women would respond to with threats and sometimes would even spit on him." 

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James Boswell is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 6 Historical Figures Who Were Really, Truly Obsessed with Sex Workers
Photo:  Joshua Reynolds/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Famous diarist and Samuel Johnson biographer James Boswell (1740-1795) was so obsessed with working girls he had “connections with at least 60 streetwalkers" between the ages of 20 and 29, according to Kiran Rana in the Guardian. So addicted was Boswell, he continued these liaisons despite contracting gonorrhea at least 19 times in his life, including once after his very first time.

In his diary, Boswell made promises to himself to stop, but they were short-lived. He carried a primitive condom made of sheep's intestines he called his “machine” or “armor,” so he’d always be ready to go. 

"I went to the park, picked up a low Brimstone [older working girl], called myself a Barber, and agreed with her for Sixpence, went to the bottom of the park, arm in arm, an dipped my machine in the Canal, and performed most manfully."

Boswell's diary is filled with similar such stories. He was a bawdy fiend for the ages and, as Kiran Rana writes, "His sexual appetite was uncommonly large and his friends tended to regard his frequent infections as something of a joke." He had so many dalliances with women of the night, they become asides in his diary: "I should have mentioned last night that I met with a monstrous big [working girl] in the Strand..."

In some cases, women even propositioned Boswell randomly in the street: "I was tapp’d on the shoulder by a fine fresh lass. I went home with her."

Another choice tidbit: 

"At the bottom of the Hay-market I picked up a strong jolly young damsel, and taking her under the Arm I conducted her to Westminster-Bridge, and then in armour compleat did I engage her upon this noble Edifice. The whim of doing it there with the Thames rolling below us amused me much."