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  • Published: 3 Aug 2016
  • DOI: 10.4324/9781138641839-HOF6-1


Prostitution and the Contagious Diseases Acts


The Contagious Diseases Acts (1864, 1866, 1869) were introduced in order to combat the high incidence of sexually transmitted disease in the British Army and Navy by forcibly registering and examining all prostitutes working within specified garrison towns and cities and naval ports. A repeal campaign was launched in 1869, led by the Ladies’ National Association, who argued that state regulation was morally unjust in targeting prostitutes whilst ensuring the anonymity and health of their male clients. The 16-year repeal campaign (the CD Acts were finally abolished in 1886) was remarkable for the prominence of women within the movement who not only contested cultural assumptions about prostitution and working-class female sexuality but challenged the mid-Victorian feminine ideal of sexual purity.