Public City/Public Sex

Homosexuality, Prostitution, and Urban Culture in Nineteenth-Century Paris

Andrew Israel Ross
Book Cover

PB: $34.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-1489-2
Publication: Aug 19

HC: $110.50
EAN: 978-1-4399-1488-5
Publication: Aug 19

Ebook: $34.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-1490-8
Publication: Aug 19

264 pages
6 x 9
1 figs., 7 halftones, 2 maps

How female prostitutes and men who sought sex with other men shaped the history and emergence of modern Paris in the nineteenth century

Read a blog entry by the author

Read an excerpt from the Introduction( pdf).


In the 1800s, urban development efforts modernized Paris and encouraged the creation of brothels, boulevards, cafés, dancehalls, and even public urinals. However, complaints also arose regarding an apparent increase in public sexual activity, and the appearance of “individuals of both sexes with depraved morals” in these spaces. Andrew Israel Ross’s illuminating study, Public City/Public Sex, chronicles the tension between the embourgeoisement and democratization of urban culture in nineteenth-century Paris and the commercialization and commodification of a public sexual culture, the emergence of new sex districts, as well as the development of gay and lesbian subcultures.

Public City/Public Sex examines how the notion that male sexual desire required suitable outlets shaped urban policing and development. Ross traces the struggle to control sex in public and argues that it was the very effort to police the city that created new opportunities for women who sold sex and men who sought sex with other men. Placing public sex at the center of urban history, Ross shows how those who used public spaces played a central role in defining the way the city was understood.


"(T)he study offers some interesting clues to help explain the evolving nature of Parisian sexuality and sexual evolution in our own cities today.... Ross’s ability to decipher the past (is) insightful.... a sophisticated study."
—Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Books

"The book impresses with the boldness of its analytical and interpretative moves.... Ross’s brilliant analysis…persuasively situates prostitution, as a fact and as a metaphor, at the heart of a modern Parisian urban culture and its mode of self-representation."
— Journal of the History of Sexuality

“Andrew Ross’s first monograph succeeds at shedding new light on the atmosphere of cruising and sexual activities which characterized the public spaces of the French capital over the whole (nineteenth) century. Having had access to previously unseen archives from the Paris police and combining the study of female prostitution and male homosexuality, Ross reveals to the reader the extent of a culture of sexual promiscuity which was paradoxically consolidated during and after the works of renovation and gentrification of Paris which had the goal of cleaning the city and facilitating the police’s effort to control.”
Contemporary French Civilization

"The central thesis of Public City/Public Sex is an interesting and original one.... Ross’ approach here is important, because it places a particular part of gay history into a larger, and interesting, context."
— The Gay and Lesbian Review/Worldwide

(S)ome of the patterns and issues that Andrew Ross addresses in his insightful and instructive book are rooted in the preceding century: appropriation of the urban landscape by women and men in search of profit or pleasure, cultivation of less visible and troublesome types of sexual commerce and networks throughout the city, tensions and changes in administrative operations intended to limit illicit sexuality without extinguishing or publicizing it…. The productive juxtaposition of prostitution and urination sets the stage for the stimulating analysis…. This book…illuminates (these) two subjects through comparative exploration, without imposing contemporary categories on archival evidence."
- -Journal of Social History

"Public City/Public Sex is a thought-provoking work that opens up new ways of thinking about the relationship between urban spaces, urban identities and sexual practices and imaginaries. It is deeply researched and interpretively ambitious. It is enlightening and frustrating at the same time: a book with which you might argue, but which ultimately leaves you thinking differently about the city."
- H-France Forum

Public City/Public Sex treads familiar ground—the streets of nineteenth-century Paris—but offers important new insight into the sexual geographies of the City of Light. Making compelling connections between the policing of (female) prostitutes and (male) pederasts, the book persuasively argues that the sexual diversity characteristic of the public spaces of the modernizing city was slowly eviscerated by modes of spatial regulation that enclosed and domesticated sexual desire. An important and eminently readable account, this is essential reading for all those interested in the relationship between sex and the city.”
Phil Hubbard, Professor of Urban Studies in the Department of Geography at King’s College London and author of Cities and Sexualities

Public City/Public Sex is a provocative, compelling, and innovative investigation into an understudied area of nineteenth-century French history. By centering sexuality conceptually and geographically, Ross advances the evocative, even pathbreaking argument that public sex constituted public culture. Drawing on a rich array of primary source materials, he illuminates urban encounters and casts the sexual management of the city in new light.”
Holly Grout, Associate Professor of History at the University of Alabama and author of The Force of Beauty: Transforming French Ideas of Femininity in the Third Republic

"Ross’s overarching argument that public sexual behaviors permeated all public urban experience in Belle Epoque Paris is not only intriguing, but persuasive, making an important contribution to the history of this time period. Public City/Public Sex is a must-read for anyone interested in French Queer History, and will undoubtedly be of value more broadly to students and researchers of both nineteenth-century Europe and Urban Studies."
—Journal of Modern History

Table of Contents


1. Regulation, the Maison de Tolérance, and the Signs of Sex
2. Public Hygiene, Public Sex, and Public Urinals

3. On Prostitutes and Pederasts
4. Constructing a Public Sexual Culture

5. Public Sphere/Public Sex
6. Selling the Pleasures of Paris


About the Author(s)

Andrew Israel Ross is an Assistant Professor of History at Loyola University Maryland.


In the Series

  • Sexuality Studies edited by Janice M. Irvine and Regina G. Kunzel

    Sexuality Studies, edited by Janice Irvine and Regina Kunzel, features work in sexuality studies broadly construed, in its social, cultural, and political dimensions, and in both historical and contemporary formations. The series includes titles located within disciplinary and interdisciplinary frames that combine theoretical methodologies with empirical research.