To discuss sex workers in Ancient Rome is to part with our ideas and ideals of the modern view of sex work and sex. For in Ancient Rome, sex work was a vital part of both the economy and the social structure. It was an accepted, and considered necessary, part of society, and every gender could be found in the profession. With that being said, many sources cite women (likely cis women as we have little evidence of sex workers outside the cis male/female binary) were in the majority. Regardless of gender, sex workers — especially with Rome being a patriarchal society with a strong emphasis on the masculine — it was the “receiver” that was considered the weaker, lesser, and/or more effeminate of the participants. Cis women, within the strict gender roles, were naturally assumed as thus.
Everyone has their own approach to developing a sex worker/courtesan persona. What ever your journey is, remember, you represent a strong confederation of people who have worked hard to gain ground and respectability in the SCA. What you do as a sex worker/courtesan persona, or wearing the symbols of the Knowne World Courtesan, reflects on everyone. No pressure. I just highly recommend taking awhile to study the history of sex work, courtly etiquette, misogyny, sexism, and whorephobia before taking that leap. And then make your entrance on your own time, when you’re ready. I spent a year before I donned the red veil and hart pin (psst… that’s not a requirement).
It’s probably not what you think… Well, if you think it’s about an independent group of living history re-enactors portraying, studying, and educating others about pre-17th century sex-workers, then you’d be right. The Knowne World Courtesans (KWC) is one of the many diverse groups in the Society of Creative Anachronisms. An inclusive group, consisting of all genders, who portray a sex-worker persona, and of course their supporters. The KWC also stands against whorephobia, slut-shamming, bigotry, racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, and all other forms of prejudice. Members of the KWC do not have sex for money or trade under any circumstances.
Here are some resources on the various areas and types of historical sex work. I suggest picking one area that interests you as it can be a bit overwhelming. These resources were collected by the Knowne World Courtesans.