Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts Honours


School of Communications and Arts


Faculty of Education and Arts

First Supervisor

David Robinson


This thesis examines how the sexual double standard in mid-nineteenth century England disempowered women and female prostitutes through the Contagious Diseases Acts of the 1860s. The Acts were created in an attempt to lower venereal disease among the soldiers in the British army. The method for this was to target prostituted women suspected of being infected and have them examined after which they could be interned in a lock hospital for three to nine months. Radical feminism has done much to highlight the harm experienced by women in prostitution. Thus using radical feminism, in particular the theoretical perspective of Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, I will explore how the patriarchal society of Victorian England maintained a sexual double standard that allowed sexual promiscuity for men and enforced chastity on women. The women who transgressed these moral ideals were demonised and punished. Although prostitution in Victorian England has been the focus of significant scholarship, there is a weakness in the examination around the sexual double standard’s facilitation of the a cts. It is the aim of this thesis to use historiography, textual analysis, and a case study of the Contagious Diseases Acts to investigate how the law was influenced by the sexual double standard. This project will build on and contribute to the growing knowledge on prostitution in history.


Thesis Location