AskDefine | Define cathouse

Dictionary Definition

cathouse n : a building where prostitutes are available [syn: whorehouse, brothel, bordello, bagnio, house of prostitution, house of ill repute, bawdyhouse, sporting house]

User Contributed Dictionary


Alternative spellings


From cat + house.




  1. In the context of "US|slang": A brothel.
    • 1946, Mezz Mezzrow & Bernard Wolfe, Really the Blues, Payback Press 1999, p. 5:
      Do you know how he spent years watching the droopy chicks in cathouses, listening to his cellmates moaning low behind the bars [...]?

Extensive Definition

"Cathouse" redirects here. For the television series of this name, see Cathouse: The Series.
A brothel, also known as a bordello or whorehouse, is an establishment specifically dedicated to prostitution, providing the prostitutes a place to meet and to have sex with the clients. In some places, brothels are legal, and in many countries, places such as massage parlor are allowed to function as brothels, with varying degrees of regulation and repression. Depending on zoning, brothels may be confined to special red-light districts or 'tolerance zones'.


Brothels have been known for most of recorded history. Early incidences include temple prostitution in many Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries.
By the time of the ancient Grecian and Roman civilizations, brothels were established and sometimes licensed institutions, with the latter first being recorded in Athens in 594 BC. Public sources of the time applauded the installation of said brothel by Solon, as this was deemed to reduce the disruptions caused by sexually unfulfilled transients (sailors, workers), as well as bringing money into the public purse. This first official brothel was soon followed by many others, and also influenced the creation of special schools in which various classes of prostitutes (from slavegirls to future courtesans) were trained for their profession.

Business models

Brothels use a variety of business models:
  • In some, prostitutes are held in involuntary servitude without the option to leave, receiving only a small portion (or none) of the money paid by the patron. This is typical where human trafficking procures a large percentage of prostitutes, and is common in (though not limited to) countries where prostitution is forbidden or repressed. In some cases, prostitutes are bought and sold by their keepers, reducing them to a state of chattel slavery. All of these are illegal in most jurisdictions.
  • In others the prostitutes are employees, receiving a small fixed salary and a portion of the money spent by the customer. (Maison close French for "closed house")
  • In still others, the prostitutes pay a fee for use of the facilities, with the brothel owner not being involved in the financial transaction between prostitute and client. (Maison de passe, French for "trick house")
  • In the regulated brothels in Nevada the prostitutes are contract workers who split their earnings with the house, and are often expected to "tip" support staff (cleaners, limo drivers, etc.); they receive no benefits, such as health insurance, and no withholding for Social Security taxes.
In those countries which restrict or forbid prostitution, the latter provides some level of plausible denial to the facility owner, who often (thinly) disguises the brothel as a massage parlor, bar or similar facility. Allowing such brothels may also be a form of face-saving by politicians who are unwilling or unable to fully enforce laws against prostitution.

Military brothels

Until recently, in several armies around the world, a mobile brothel service was attached to the army as an auxiliary unit, especially attached to combat units on long-term deployments abroad. For example, during French and Japanese colonial campaigns of the 20th century, such employees were mainly recruited among the local populace of Southeast Asia and Africa; often, some of the women were underage. Because it is a touchy subject, military brothels were often designated with creative euphemisms. Notable examples of such jargon are la boîte à bonbons (French for "the candy box"), replacing the term "BMC". Women forced into prostitution by the Japanese occupation armies throughout East Asia were known as "Comfort battalions". The prostitutes were individually referred to as "Military comfort women" or jūgun-ianfu.

Nevada brothels

In the United States, the only state where brothels are legal is Nevada (see List of brothels in Nevada and Prostitution in Nevada). Brothels are allowed in counties with populations of less than 400,000 inhabitants, and not all qualifying counties have allowed them. County governments license and regulate brothels within their boundaries. The brothels and their employees have to register with the county sheriff and receive regular medical checkups. Brothels have existed in Nevada since the old mining days of the 1800s and were first licensed in 1971. As of 2007, thirty brothels existed in Nevada. The legendary Mustang Ranch operated from 1971 through 1999, when it was forfeited to the federal government following a series of convictions for tax fraud, racketeering, and other crimes.
Due to the county population rule, all forms of prostitution are illegal in Reno and Las Vegas, and prostitution not occurring in a licensed brothel is illegal anywhere in Nevada.


Various countries have fully legalized prostitution (as opposed to only tolerating it) in the last decades, including countries such as the Netherlands, Germany and New Zealand. Most of these countries seem to favor brothels, at least in theory, as they are considered to be less problematic than street prostitution. Laws regarding prostitution often include strict regulations for brothels, for example specifying that they may not be situated in certain zones (such as in residential areas or near schools) and usually prescribing various forms of health inspections. Actual regulations vary widely.

In popular culture

See also


  • The House of Dolls, Karol Cetinsky
  • 101 Brothels i Have Loved, DJ Tramp Steamer
  • The Bishops Brothels, E.J. Burford

External links


cathouse in Bavarian: Puff
cathouse in Czech: Nevěstinec
cathouse in Danish: Bordel
cathouse in German: Bordell
cathouse in Estonian: Lõbumaja
cathouse in Modern Greek (1453-): Οίκος ανοχής
cathouse in Spanish: Burdel
cathouse in French: Lupanar
cathouse in Indonesian: Bordil
cathouse in Italian: Casa di tolleranza
cathouse in Hebrew: בית בושת
cathouse in Javanese: Bordhil
cathouse in Lithuanian: Viešnamis
cathouse in Dutch: Bordeel
cathouse in Japanese: 売春宿
cathouse in Polish: Dom publiczny
cathouse in Portuguese: Prostíbulo
cathouse in Russian: Публичный дом
cathouse in Simple English: Brothel
cathouse in Finnish: Bordelli
cathouse in Swedish: Bordell
cathouse in Turkish: Genelev
cathouse in Chinese: 妓院

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

bagnio, bawdy house, bawdyhouse, bordello, brothel, clip joint, crib, den, den of thieves, den of vice, disorderly house, dive, dump, fleshpots, gyp joint, hole, house of assignation, house of joy, house of prostitution, joint, lair, panel den, panel house, red-light district, sink of iniquity, sporting house, stew, stews, tenderloin, whorehouse
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