The "foul disease" and privacy: the effects of venereal disease and patient demand on the medical marketplace in early modern London

Bull Hist Med. 2001 Summer;75(2):199-224. doi: 10.1353/bhm.2001.0097.


This article examines medical advertisements for venereal disease treatment from late Stuart London. It explores how privacy issues influenced the services provided by early modern venereologists. It shows that practitioners who sought to get ahead in the competitive field of venereology began to offer private treatment at a time when other physicians seem not to have provided that service. Therefore, market forces such as patient demand had an innovatory effect on early modern medical ethics. The same dynamic that caused venereal patients to seek privacy also led them to demand a practitioner of their own sex. Infected women clearly wished to be treated by a female practitioner. Many male practitioners forged partnerships with women in order to attract female clientele. These partnerships were frequently based on familial connections, most often between husband and wife. The presence of widespread VD in London helped sustain a sizable number of female practitioners who specialized in venereology.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Advertising / history
  • Confidentiality*
  • Female
  • History, 17th Century
  • History, 18th Century
  • Humans
  • London / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / epidemiology
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / history*