What To Know About Legal American Brothels

American brothels have been around even before the United States was really a country. Designated districts for sexual services and "cathouses" are a part of US history that some think are no longer applicable in the 21st century. However, while "the oldest profession" is prohibited almost everywhere in the country, there are still legal establishments in operation. Yet you may be wondering how such work is legal in the US.

Similar to other countries where prostitution is legal, the laws surrounding "houses of assignation" are a little complicated. Each establishment is slightly different and operates in various ways, ranging from set menus to line-ups of girls. One thing that is almost certain is that most assumptions people make about women (or men) in these legal establishments are wrong. There are strict laws governing the houses, they are not a breeding ground for STDs, and none of the women are forced to be there.

Whether you support such businesses (in theory or monetarily) or oppose them, it's hard to deny that they're a fascinating phenomenon. Read on below to learn more about establishments that house American's oldest profession - but you may find yourself caught off guard by what really goes on behind their closed doors. 


  • American Bawdy Houses Have Existed At Least As Far Back As The 1600s

    Legal call houses are hardly something new in the United States. In fact, they go all the way back to colonial times. In the 1600s, men were still traveling to the New World, oftentimes without their wives or families. While in North America, they still felt a need for carnal desires and turned to "the ladies of the night."

    Brothels began popping up, particularly around port towns. In the 1700s, tavern owners were occasionally apprehended for having "disorderly houses," and a few "red light districts" were established. Before long, establishments catering to both the wealthy and the poor would appear, with "bawdy houses" offering inexpensive services, and more refined ones drawing in the upper class. Although these houses were frowned upon, they were not explicitly prohibited in most cases. Any punishments handed out tended to be light or ignored.

  • Sexual Services Work Was Deemed Unlawful In The United States In The 1900s

    By the end of the 17th century, anti-prostitution sentiment started rising. It led to a series of "Whorehouse Riots," where call houses were burned and torn down. People didn't want such an industry to be present in their neighborhoods and took action themselves because the laws were slow to change. Finally, in 1790, Massachusetts made doing business in a "bawdy house" against the law.  

    Prior to the 19th century, "hustling" was viewed more as "a moral infraction rather than a crime." However, that began to change throughout the next century. As public outrage over call houses grew, so did actions to legally curb the sexual services industry. At first, lawmakers created a federal law to regulate the industry. However, reinforcement proved futile. So, in 1913, the Supreme Court of the United States decided to give states the power to regulate the sexual services industry within their territories themselves in Hoke v. United States. With that decision, most states slowly eradicated the oldest profession, save one - Nevada. 

  • Nevada Is The Only State Where Cathouses Are Legal

    Nevada Is The Only State Where Cathouses Are Legal
    Photo: Joe Tordiff / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

    1971 marked the beginning of a prostitution-free America, except for 13 counties in Nevada (currently, only seven counties have active brothels). There was a time when Rhode Island lawmakers accidentally made "the trade" legal in 1980. The loophole wasn't found until 2003 and was finally remedied in 2009. 

    Currently, Nevada is the only state in America that allows the exchange of sexual services for money. It might come as a surprise that Las Vegas is not one of the counties that permits such work. 

  • Currently, There Are At Least 20 Legal Establishments For Sexual Services

    If you happen to be in Nevada and are looking for a legal cathouse, you actually have quite a few options to choose from. While in previous decades, there were more than 30 of these establishments dotting the plains, there remains just around 20 in the 21st century, in both Northern and Southern Nevada.

    These call houses range greatly in style, size, and price. Places like Sheri's Ranch markets itself more as a resort, with rooms, bars, a swimming pool, a tennis court, and more. Smaller, more themed call houses also exist, such as The Alien Cathouse, which has a bit of an Area 51 theme due to its proximity to that legendary site. Depending on where you go, you may find the cost of a "party" ranges from a couple hundred to well over a thousand dollars. 

  • In Other Parts Of The Country, Cathouses Masquerade As Massage Parlors

    Of course, there are unlawful establishments in other parts of the country. They tend to pop up in just about every major city in some of the least conspicuous ways. One such front that unauthorized businesses like to use is that of a massage parlor, where women offer sexual services after a massage. From 2013 to 2016, police shut down over 20 unauthorized cathouses pretending to be massage parlors in San Jose. 

    While prohibited "rings" posing as massage businesses have been discovered in various states, actual and legitimate massage parlors are taking a hit. Authorities struggle with how to differentiate between honest parlors and unlawful practices. 

  • Industry Workers Are Regularly Tested For STDs

    A few common myths about pros is that they all have mental illnesses, daddy issues, or that they are addicts. Yet legal establishments are very careful about who they hire and what is allowed on the premises. The biggest myth is that such places are breeding grounds for diseases. All authorized businesses require that their clients (who must be over 21 years of age) wear condoms for all intimacy acts. This means that even oral requires barrier protection, minimizing the risk of sexually transmitted diseases.

    On top of that, Nevada laws dictate that all workers in the sexual services industry must get monthly, sometimes weekly, tests for sexually transmitted diseases. You must also show a clean bill of health in order to work. This testing policy has been seen as invasive and controversial as far as legal standing, but it does go to show that legal establishments are held to a strict standard of being STD-free.