Harlots, Whores & Hackabouts A History of Sex for Sale

Kate Lister

Authored by one of the most original contemporary thinkers on the subject, this book is an enlightening illustrated cultural history of the sex trade that puts sex workers center stage, revealing how they have lived and worked all around the globe.

The history of selling sex is a hidden one—and too often its practitioners are pushed to the margins of history. This book redresses the balance, revealing the history of the sex trade through the eyes of sex workers, from medieval streets to Wild West saloons, and from brothels to state bedrooms. These enthralling tales are brought to life by Whores of Yore creator Kate Lister’s witty and authoritative text, and illuminated by a rich archive of photographs, artworks, and objects offering insight into sex workers’ lives, challenging assumptions about this age-old trade.

Harlots, Whores & Hackabouts’ chapters are structured thematically in a broadly chronological order, each one introducing a lively cast of complex and entertaining characters operating in an array of different periods, locations, and settings. In ancient Mesopotamia, the harlot Shamhat was powerful and respected, able to civilize the wild man Enkidu through her charms. In medieval London, Elizabeth Moryng serviced religious clergy under the guise of an embroidery business, though she was eventually jailed for being a prolific panderer and bawd. In the hedonistic floating world of Edo, Japan, Kabuki actresses and geishas entertained and pleasured their patrons. Lister’s engaging and illuminating tales invite readers to look, listen, and reconsider everything they thought they knew about the world’s oldest profession. Together, these captivating tales of sex workers from around the world and throughout history provide a powerful context to contemporary debates about sexuality and the empowerment of women.


Lister's scholarship is impressive… She uses her knowledge to expose an ancient injustice, namely the persecution of workers in an industry that society deems both reprehensible and essential… A fascinating book about a subject too often swept under the rug. It's also very beautiful, magnificently designed and packed with hundreds of superb photos… This is a coffee-table book that packs a powerful bite.

— Air Mail


Kate Lister


Kate Lister is the creator of the award-winning online research project Whores of Yore, which seeks to build public engagement and disseminate research on the history of sex and sexuality through social media. She also lectures at Leeds Trinity University, and is widely published on the sex trade.