During the gold rush in California,
There was an extreme shortage of marriageable women and there were also widespread formal prohibitions against adultery. Prostitutes were the only available sexual partners for many men whose desire was fueled by a widespread popular “volcano theory” of sexuality which held that unless men had regular sexual contact, they would explode in orgies of adultery, rape, physical violence and even homosexual embraces.” [Gold Diggers and Silver Miners, Marion S. Goldman]
I can’t speak to the validity of the volcano theory, or using it as an excuse to visit prostitutes, but I do know there were few women in this area in the early gold rush, and that native women and their families suffered horribly as a consequence [see previous post].
I’ve looked through the local 1860 censuses and can’t really find indications that there were prostitutes in early Humboldt county. There weren’t many women here, period. Many of the young miners that came out west were lonely, and in many mining towns, prostitutes provided emotional as well as physical comforts. Without this outlet, shall we say, men looked elsewhere. I can’t help but wonder if everything would have been different for native women (and likely men) if prostitution had been able to flourish here.
This is in no way intended to dismiss the hard choices and hard lives experienced by women forced to sell their bodies to survive. I just think many native women were forced to make the same choice, but the only thing they received in exchange was their lives.