In 2003 it was estimated that in Amsterdam, one woman in 35 was working as a prostitute, compared to one in 55 in Zurich, and one in 300 in London. In 1839, in London, a city of two million inhabitants at the time, there were around 80,000 prostitutes, according to The Independent.
How can we explain this huge difference between London and other European cities?
Figures from the World Health Organisation show that 39 per cent of girls in Britain have underage sex, and 34 per cent of boys, the highest rates in Europe. And these figures don’t mention all the people who have sex legally. It looks like the sexual revolution in the U.K. has proceeded faster than in any other European country.
When I was a young sailor, in the 1960s, sixteen years of age, I travelled the world. Well, we went to Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Greece, Germany, Scandinavia, and the U.K. My mates and I were always interested in short lasting sexual affairs, but in most of the countries mentioned above it was difficult to find girls who were willing to have a one night stand with us, unless they were prostitutes.
However, we were always delighted to go to the U.K., because this meant that the probability of getting laid without paying for it was higher than 90%. Not only in London, where Barking was one of our favourite places to go out, but also in Grimsby, King’s Lynn, Middlesbrough, Great Yarmouth, Hull, Scunthorpe, Montrose, and Newport Haven, to name a few.
The British sexual revolution started in the 1960s, only a few years before the Sun newspaper started to publish pictures of nude girls on their famous Page 3. And it was a long time before we heard of HIV and AIDS.
Whenever I had a venereal disease, usually the clap, I went to a British clinic to get rid of it. Treatment was free and anonymous.
“What’s your name, lad?”
“And your first name?”
“Okay Mr Bull, just take a seat in the waiting room and Dr Kishunsheng will call you when he’s ready.”
It was a great time to be sixteen, and why would you pay for something you could get for free?
Later I realised that we, the sailors, were second choice, maybe even third or fourth. The girls we met in the pubs around the docks were usually single mums, working in factories, looking for a better life. We chatted them up, bought them a couple of pints, took them to our cabins on the ship, had sex with them, and that was it. Sometimes I received a letter, or several letters, in which the girl I shagged once wrote me that she was in love with me, and that she was pregnant.
But they to us, like we to them, were second choice. We weren’t however that desperate that we were willing to spend the rest of our lives with a woman that we picked up at the docks, a loose woman with a child, father unknown. For the time being it was good to be young, single, and sexually active. We enjoyed the British sexual revolution, and we enjoyed the fact that Britain’s got more Vicky Pollards than any other European country.
Needless to say that our perspective was rather coloured, and that we were in the right place (the docks) at the right time (the sexual revolution). In the following years I visited the U.K. many times, not as a sailor but as an ordinary tourist, and instead of the docks I visited more cultural places of interest, and never I ran into British girls who were eager to spend the night with me. Such a pity…