Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

Brothel: Mustang Ranch and Its Women

Brothel: Mustang Ranch and Its Women

4.7 35
by Alexa Albert

See All Formats & Editions

When Harvard medical student Alexa Albert conducted a public-health study as the Mustang Ranch brothel in Nevada, the only state in the union where prostitution is legal, neither she nor the brothel could have predicted the end result. Having worked with homeless prostitutes in Times Square, Albert was intimate with human devastation cause by the sex trade, and


When Harvard medical student Alexa Albert conducted a public-health study as the Mustang Ranch brothel in Nevada, the only state in the union where prostitution is legal, neither she nor the brothel could have predicted the end result. Having worked with homeless prostitutes in Times Square, Albert was intimate with human devastation cause by the sex trade, and curious to see if Nevada’s brothels offered a less harmful model for a business that will always be with us. The Mustang Ranch has never before given an outsider such access, but fear of AIDS was hurting the business, and the Ranch was eager to get publicity for its rigorous standards of sexual hygiene. Albert was drawn into the lives of the women of the Mustang Ranch, and what began as a public-health project evolved into something more intimate and ambitious, a six-year study of the brothel ecosystem, its lessons and significance.

The women of the Mustang Ranch poured their stories out to Albert: how they came to be there, their surprisingly deep sense of craft and vocation, how they reconciled their profession with life on the outside. Dr. Albert went as far into this world as it is possible to go — some will say too far — including sitting in on sessions with customers, and the result is a book that puts an unforgettable face on America’s maligned and caricatured subculture.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

bn.com editor
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
A tenacious doctor with a sharp eye for detail brings us a unique and completely absorbing look at the world's oldest profession in Brothel. As an aspiring medical student with a keen interest in public health, Alexa Albert was shocked to learn that prostitution was legal in the state of Nevada. But what she found equally surprising was that Nevada's licensed brothels are remarkably free from the violence and drugs commonly associated with prostitution, and that the incidence of "entertainers" transmitting HIV and other STDs is virtually nonexistent. So, is legalized prostitution better for the working girls -- and the public -- than illegal prostitution? She was determined to find out.

With astonishing determination, Dr. Albert traveled to Nevada to expose the day-to-day world of Nevada's houses of prostitution. As a guest at the legendary Mustang Ranch brothel, she met a colorful, often tragic set of characters. Readers are introduced to a number of women, many of whom are mothers and wives as well as prostitutes. We also meet a host of supporting players -- including George, a retired minister with the unlikely job of executive director of the Nevada Brothel Association (not to be confused with the NBA). Dr. Albert doesn't let the doors of the "bedrooms," where the women entertain their clients, keep her from her research, either. She goes behind them, playing "voyeur," as she wrestles with the question at the root of her exploration. Her account is both a bracing political discussion and a disarming view of a distinctive slice of life. (Summer 2001 Selection)

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Perhaps the most prominent legal brothel in Nevada, Mustang Ranch held mythical status in contemporary Western culture until it was shut down on racketeering charges in 1999. As a medical student, Albert was granted rare access to this intensely private world in order to conduct a study on condom use, and lived periodically at Mustang Ranch from 1993 to 1999. Her routine study soon deepened in tandem with her curiosity about the politics of prostitution and about the prostitutes themselves. In this straightforward account, she details the brothel regimen (from the women's relative captivity to what happens during various "parties") and explores the private lives of the women who work there, as well as those of the "johns" and the workers who service the Ranch. Yet the heart of the book lies in Albert's exploration of the sense of family that thrives in the brothel with all the fractious infighting, competition and camaraderie inherent in any community. Her short history of the legalization of prostitution in Nevada revolves around Joe and Sally Conforte who officially owned Mustang Ranch until charges of tax evasion forced Joe into hiding in South America in 1990 while illuminating the confluence of public opinion and economic forces that spurred legalization. Acknowledging her own feelings (which range from disgust to profound respect), Albert convincingly dispels myths about this mysterious world and provides a strong defense for the legalization of prostitution. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In Brothel, which reads, by turns, like a research study, a cultural history, and a biography, Albert (now in her medical residency) investigates the work and lives of the ladies of the (in)famous Mustang Ranch, which in its time (it was shut down in 1999) was one of Nevada's largest, best-known, and richest brothels. Her interest in the Mustang Ranch was prompted by a study she was conducting on how prostitutes protect themselves from the sexually transmitted diseases while on the job. But after her initial three-week study was completed, Albert continued to visit the working girls she befriended over the next four years, spending a total of seven months with them. Using personal stories and anecdotes from the women she meets at Mustang, Albert shows them to be more than merely ladies of the night; instead, they are women with real names, families, hopes, and fears, like the rest of us. Although Albert is clearly sympathetic to the plight of these women, she is careful to present a balanced account of what it means to be a prostitute in a legalized brothel. The tone is engaging, and some sections are a little raunchy. Written for a popular audience, this is highly recommended for sociology, women's studies, and cultural history collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/01.] Kim Clarke, Univ. of Minnesota Lib., Minneapolis Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An unrevealing glimpse of daily life in the sex trade. In the late 1980s, Albert, a medical doctor with expertise in public-health issues, approached a representative of Nevada's legal brothel industry to ask about interviewing prostitutes on various matters of sexual health. Then as now, the brothels were AIDS-free, a matter of much interest to epidemiologists and sociologists alike—and something of an advertisement for the business. The representative finally consented, assuming that Albert would at least report that the brothels were safe. He got something more with this book, which is an enthusiastic defense of the "working girls" of the famed Mustang Ranch near Reno, who mix feigned pleasure with grim resignation as they engage in assembly-line sex with a never-ending stream of customers. Albert repeatedly interviewed many such women about their work, who responded more or less willingly to her inquiries (though one of the madams had ordered them to talk, saying that "they needed to give something back . . . for the privilege of working in a legal house"). Psychologically scarred, exhausted, and sometimes stalked by obsessed customers, these prostitutes—whom the author, in unnecessary PC moments, refers to as "members of the brothel community"—provide Albert with plenty of titillating material, which she processes with a mix of clinical detachment and righteous indignation on their behalf, and all in prose that limps across the page. At heart, she concludes, "These women are just like the rest of us," a summary that will doubtless not go over well with moralists and activists of many stripes, but that may give a prostitute or two a warm feeling of self-validation.There's some news here, particularly on how sex workers can help prevent the spread of disease. But there's not much depth, and readers are likely to respond to Albert's report from the field with a shrug.
From the Publisher
"This well-written, non-judgmental, informative book helps to replace ignorance with understanding concerning the lives and attitudes of women involved in legal prostitution, as well as their customers. It could serve as a light at the end of a very long tunnel, and form the basis of both moral and legal discussions about prostitution in the future."
— M. Joycelyn Elders, M.D.

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sold by:
Random House
Sales rank:
File size:
2 MB

Read an Excerpt

Chapter I: The Opening

The postmark read “Reno Nevada, 24 Dec 1992.” I stared at the envelope for a long moment before opening it. Reno? My mind was blank. Then it came to me: the brothel. For three and a half years, off and on, I had tried to convince a man named George Flint, executive director of the Nevada Brothel Association, to grant me permission to conduct a research study inside Nevada’s legal brothels, the only licensed houses of prostitution in America. My letters and telephone calls had been for naught; Flint stood firm that the brothel industry wasn’t available for a researcher’s examination. “Brothel people are very private people,” he had told me. “They don’t like people nosing around.”

It had become a ritual to send him a card every year reminding him of my project. I had long ago stopped entertaining any serious hope that he would agree, so I was in a slight daze when I tore open the envelope and read: “Your holiday card arrived earlier today. There may come a time that we can do something substantive together. Call me sometime and we will talk. George Flint.”

I first began to think seriously about Nevada’s legal brothels in 1989. I was an undergraduate and fascinated by public health issues; the AIDS crisis had exploded into mainstream public consciousness; and prostitution was the focus of national attention as public health officials hotly contested the role of sex workers in the transmission of HIV. In the context of that debate, I had learned that certain areas of Nevada licensed brothel prostitution, with specific ordinances established to safeguard the health and safety of the public. These controls were said to greatly reduce the dangers typically associated with street prostitution–violent crime, drug use, and disease transmission. Latex condoms were required for all brothel sexual activity, and women were tested regularly for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. Since HIV testing began in 1986, no brothel worker had tested positive, I was told, and the incidence of other STDs was negligible.

Before I could reckon with the public health implications of this information, I had to get over my astonishment that one of our culture’s great taboos was legally sanctioned by one (and only one) American state. Why was this fact never made a national issue? What about the women? Prostitution carries with it a grave stigma; did being licensed and legal diminish that? Did legality assure these women legitimacy, even a sense of professionalism? The more I considered the human questions, the more they came to haunt me, and I found growing within me a desire to get inside this world and understand it. That the brothels were strictly off-limits to non- "working" women only goaded me further.

That summer, I took an internship in family planning and human sexuality at Emory University that required me to develop a public health study. After a lot of thought and much grief from my family and husband, I submitted a proposal to investigate brothel prostitutes’ condom-use practices. Hard data on the efficacy of condom use in preventing HIV infection was scarce, and the issue was complicated by the very real problem of condom slippage and breakage. That hundreds of women in Nevada should be having multiple sexual partners every day without any reported HIV transmission was almost too good to be true. If I could verify it, and learn exactly what the women were doing right, I had a chance, I felt, to accomplish something important. I thought the brothels would surely cooperate with the project: it offered society valuable public health information, and it gave them validation as safe and responsible businesses.

My naïveté was rubbed in my face when George Flint point-blank refused me entry. At least I wasn’t the only one; after doing a little more research, I realized how few outsiders had ever been permitted to investigate the brothel industry in any real depth. Prostitutes were kept on the premises behind locked electric gates, and visitors were surveilled before being buzzed in. Media coverage was very controlled; the brothels had been featured a few times on television programs like Donahue, Geraldo, and Jerry Springer, but the audience was shown only the most superficial aspects of the business.

Needless to say, my astonishment was total when Flint wrote me three and a half years later to invite me to Nevada to conduct my research project on condom-use practices. Certainly, the project was still valid, and at this point in my life I was in the process of applying to medical school. I was put on guard, though, by something he said when we spoke by phone: “Anything positive that comes from a prestigious place like Emory helps to support our cause.” Was that what my study was doing? Was he in dire straits suddenly and desperate for PR? If so, did I want to help? Did I want to support brothel owners and promote the expansion of legalized prostitution in America? While I was curious to see whether legalized brothels actually provided prostitutes with more protection than illegal prostitution, I fundamentally believed prostitution was a dehumanizing, objectifying business that did women real damage. Was I being roped into being its booster?

Flint went on to say, “It’s not going to be like breezing in and counting tomatoes or comparing prices in a grocery store. The working ladies are very private people. They don’t trust outsiders. You’re in for a real education, honey.” Suddenly, the study I’d written off was a reality, and my mind began to race. Absent any more information, nightmare scenarios multiplied. Who were these women who allowed themselves to be locked behind gates? Were they all drug addicts and survivors of heinous sexual abuse, like so many street prostitutes? Were they chained to beds, as prostitutes allegedly were in Thailand? Would they even agree to speak with me? Above all, did I have it in me to do this? Yes, I decided. I bought a plane ticket.

My family didn’t help. They were even more uncomfortable than I was. As long as I wasn’t allowed inside, my interest in the project had been entertaining. But now I was headed to Nevada, and suddenly my parents wondered why I was so interested in an underworld teeming with criminals and degenerates. My husband’s parents were even more confused. Let us get this straight: You’re choosing to leave our son for an entire month to conduct research in a brothel? Do you secretly desire to become a prostitute? What are we going to tell our friends? Andy, my husband, had his own worries, my physical safety not the least among them.

In the end, apprehension and all, I made that flight to Reno. Awaiting me at the Reno airport was a man named Marty who had been sent to pick me up and deliver me to Flint at a place called Chapel of the Bells. Flint was not only executive director of the Nevada Brothel Association, I learned, but a (retired) ordained minister as well. In fact, he owned one of Reno’s twelve wedding chapel businesses–and arguably the nicest, or at least the only freestanding one. (The others were storefronts.) With its whitewashed façade, faux stained-glass windows, and prominent cupola, Flint’s Chapel of the Bells looked more like Disney’s version of the gingerbread house in “Hansel and Gretel” than a wedding chapel.

In the lobby, white lace-print paper lined the walls and a pattern of miniature flowers decorated the ceiling moldings like frosting on a wedding cake. An assortment of bridal bouquets, boutonnières, garter belts, and champagne flutes was showcased for newlyweds who wanted such traditional wedding frills. On the walls hung sobering certificates and plaques that authenticated George Flint’s maternal ancestors, the Treats, as descendants of the founders of New Jersey and Connecticut. Flint would later tell me that he could trace his family’s lineage all the way back to Charlemagne.

While I waited for my audience with Flint, I watched a live feed on a closed-circuit television of a wedding in progress. A female minister was presiding over the marriage of a middle-aged Frenchman to a diminutive and considerably younger-looking Vietnamese bride who clearly spoke much less English than he did, which is to say, almost none.

Finally Flint appeared. For nearly four years, I’d wondered what the brothel industry’s gatekeeper looked like. A flashy, gum-smacking, middle-aged street hustler with a cockeyed hairpiece and several heavy gold necklaces buried in dark chest hair is what I had expected. Instead, I saw a man in his early sixties, of ample proportions and intense civility. He wore tinted eyeglasses, and several expensive–but not gaudy–rings flashed from thick fingers. He wobbled a little as he walked, because of a serious leg injury. He looked safer, friendlier, and more polished than I’d imagined. I couldn’t help but see in my mind’s eye a smiling Midwestern televangelist wooing an admiring and loving audience.

As he led me down to his basement office, he peppered me with unexpected questions about my family. Did I know my ancestry, he asked? Did I have any interest in genealogy? I admitted I hadn’t given it much thought–certainly not as much as he had. He told me about each of the family portraits hanging on the basement walls. His father had been a professional photographer and Flint confessed that he had inherited his passion for photography from his dad. In fact, George–he insisted I call him George rather than Mr. Flint or Reverend Flint–admitted to many passions, from travel and antiques to Napoleon and the embalming practices of morticians. I found myself nodding pleasantly and in half-disbelief as his stories rolled over me, delivered in the soothing cadences of a professional preacher.

Suddenly, George changed the subject. “Why is it that women who were sexually aggressive before marriage, never want to give a guy oral sex after they’re married?” Did he expect me to answer that? George didn’t need an answer. The problem, he explained, lay in our society’s inability to communicate about sex. Men fundamentally wanted to be monogamous, he contended, but resorted to having affairs or going to brothels when they felt uncomfortable discussing their sexual fantasies with their wives. Then, warming to his other job as brothel lobbyist, he began to tick off a litany of reasons for legalizing prostitution.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Alexa Albert, M.D., is a graduate of Brown University and Harvard Medical School. She has written and lectured widely on issue of public health and prostitution and was named on of Mirabella’s 1,000 Women for the Nineties for her work with Nevada’s legal prostitutes. She currently lives in Seattle, where she is completing her residency.

From the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

Brothel: Mustang Ranch and Its Women 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 35 reviews.
Anonymous 3 months ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book made me look at legalized prostitution in a whole new light. The author makes you see the prostitutes as humans, not as objects. These women have some of the same everyday problems we have. I never realized the amount of revenue the brothels bring to Nevada either. Quite an eye opener there. I bought this book because it was a different type of book than I normally read. I found myself wishing there was more when I finished. Start it with an open mind...you will highly enjoy it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've just finished reading 'Brothel: Mustang Ranch and its Women' and I must admit that I was skeptical at the begining as to what these brothels were like. I assumed that they would be dirty places houseing dirty women. It was important for me to read this book so that I could realize just how wrong I was. The women of the brothel were discussed in such a human and compassionate way that made the reader see them and not their work. Reading this book has opened my eyes and caused me to become an advocate for the legalization of protitution and the women who choose to do it, but most importantly this book will make you feel. When a friend of mine noticed the title to this book she asked me 'why are you reading a book about whores?' we ended up in an argument where I found myself defending the prostitutes, the women, and the business. This book was so personal that it grabs you and takes you through the things you didn't think were real.Not only is this book a personal adventure but it is also a witty and informative read that provides the reader with a chance to see Mustang's prostitutes as women, and nothing less than that.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It's a book that will amaze-sorry for this old cliché but-I didn't want to put it down. The author gingerly slides open the veils of secrecy that surround this community in an effort to find out what is it that makes legalized prostitution very nearly devoid of the problems that plague the otherwise sensationalized illegal sex trade such as sexually transmitted diseases, exploitation of women, violence and suffering the abuses of the street. There are some breath taking moments for sure, however that is not the focus of the story. I think the most significant feeling I came away with was that almost all those involved are human beings, with needs, hopes and desire for happiness just like everyone else. I am certain you will agree this is an informative, excellent book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Have you ever wondered how legalized prostitution works in Nevada or why some women get involved in prostitution or what effect it has on their lives? Would you like to know more about legalized prostitution before passing judgment? Alexa Albert offers a well-balanced look at these and related issues, written from her experiences as a researcher inside the most well known of Nevada's brothels. This interesting and informative book is a very enjoyable read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Amazingly open and truthfull. The author takes you to a place most of us only scrutinize or wonder about. It makes you see the human side of these women and what they endure. Truly great writing here.
Guest More than 1 year ago
There is not one of us that could say that they didn't have an opinion on prostitution. The subject matter goes right to the heart of our ethics on love, work, and sex. What is appropriate for a society that boasts freedom on enterprise, love, and religion. And I would wonder how many us know that there are legal Brothels in the ol' US of A. Dr. Albert has written an informative and engrossing body of work that offers a side of a forbidden world that the we all wonder about. Like many others have stated, it is a read that I couldn't put down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Understanding the concerns and attitudes of women in this business and the men involved. From the inside out, at all levels. Details from the cooks to cleaners to the women and men involved. A very caring look into how this business is approached and handled.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If someone claims to having no curiosity about what goes on inside a brothel, they will lie about other things too. I found the book extremely hard to put down. It was very well-written and provided me insight that challenged my previous held beliefs / prejudices. Very informative, and entertaining.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I picked up this book because of the intriguing title, not knowing what to expect. It turns out to be a fascinating and personal exploration of professional whores, told without pretense by a skilled author. She starts out by coming to the Mustang ranch with a condom research project, but becomes interested in the women's stories and returns to investigate further. The book is rich with detail and allows the reader to enter a forbidden world with impunity.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Dr. Alexa Arnold has written an excellent and informative book about a subject few of us know anything about. I am always curious as to why people do as they do and Dr. Arnold through her extensive research has given us some proven answers. It's a good read with an intelligent writing style and I highly recommend her book for all.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I simply could not put this book down. It addresses a taboo topic in a professional and informative way without getting too dull and academic. It explores a world most people only wonder about. The author approaches the topic from a standpoint of an observer and not as a critic which makes it a very unbiased report of the industry. It is definitely worth reading not only for the curious but also for the medical and non-medical crowd.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book offers a window into the private and unknown world of prostitution. It's not the kind of thing that I usually read, but I just couldn't put it down. It's fascinating to look into the lives of these women and wonder how they ended up at Mustang Ranch. An essential read if you're interested in women's issues ...
Guest More than 1 year ago
A fascinating and open-minded view of Nevada's Mustang brothel. The author begins visiting this ranch for condom samples, trying to discover why the women at the ranch have not been touched by the AIDS virus. She becomes intrigued by the lifestyle at the ranch and turns out to be a regular face studying daily habits of the brothel from quarels among the workers to s&m parties, forming good acquaintance with the workers there. The writer is engaging and engaged, not in the least pretentious or judgmental and takes an all-rounded view enquiring after local perspectives as well as carefully probing the opinions of the prositutes who work there. Alexa Albert gives an incredibly convincing argument for the legalization of prostitution. This book intelligent, insightful, engrossing and well-written. I can't recommend the book highly enough and would say it's easily one of the best non-fiction books I've read all year.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Just finished this book. It was selected by someone in my book club It was probably something I might not have picked up myself. I thought it was a wonderful read. It covered a subject I knew nothing about. I can hardly wait to hear everyone else's reaction. My daughter-in-law wants to read it next. I really thought it was fascinating.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A very accurate and insightful book about another part of our culture that is often reported wrongly! Out of person experience, I will recommend this to all....'the real deal'!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a fascinating look inside an industry that many will never see and many others don't even realize is a legal Nevada institution. Hopefully, this work will open the eyes of people all around the country to the fact that prostitution has been and always will be with us. Perhaps there is a better approach to dealing with it than making illegal and pretending that it will go away as result.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a must read.Anyone involved emotionally with a prostitute like some of us, found this book to be overpowering. Well written, easy to read, seamless. Need I go on?
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an email I sent to the author. I feel it shares with her my feelings about this outstanding and daring venture into a world, mainly veiwed from the outside by not only the general populous but until recently her. A world, that has lived in the shadows of rumors, half truths and assumpitions. A world, that like the rest of us laughs, cries, needs love and care about others. A world, that is not perfect but trys! 'Now, don't be afraid! Step up and ring the bell and see what awaits you on the otherside of the gate!' (My Email) I just finished your book 'Brothel, Mustang Ranch and It's Women' and I wanted to share with you some of my feelings about your work. I think, I should start by how I was captured by your first impressions of stepping beyond the gate and traveling inside a world that men have dared for years. Your expressed emotions from not knowing where to look, to the age old question 'why', were refreshing and bridged the gender gap, when comes to your 'first time' in a brothel! I knew, you where going places, when you played your 'humanistic side' face up! Alexa, don't misunderstand, the complexity of brothel players (John's and the Ladies) goes beyond thousand years of understanding, until now! Your book is truly a 'merlot' of diversified paths that travel the depths of the brothel operations, to the touching 'real life' events that makeup people's lives. How easy it could have been for you to park your car outside the brothel and look through the gate, speculating or embellishing a preconceived notion on life inside. Not your style, 'Bravo'! I found your chutzpah to be freshing, daring, and self rewarding! Not unlike, the first steps on the moon, you took giant steps for all humankind! You pulled back the 'brothel facade' of partial told half-truths, unwarranted rumors and 'leper like attitudes' played out against the women that work there. As I read, I could hear you finding yourself challenged by each event. And as you seemed to allow yourself to be exposed to the ways of brothel life, you seemed to expose yourself. How real! How brave! How honest! Alexa, does your book make a difference? In my mind and heart, you have captured the hearts of those you became close to, you have given faces and souls to those who were only judged for their bodies alone and for rest of us that made our minds up from outside the gate, you have allowed us in to learn, that real folks live everywhere!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Brothel is a fabulous, surprising look into the world of legalized prostitution. But it is so much more than that, so much more than I expected. It surpised me that I was able to related to, and began to care for, many of the women that allowed us, the curious, to peek into their lives. Everyone, even the no-so-curious, should read this book. Brothel captures more than the day to day operations of the Mustang Ranch, but provides honest lessons in humanity, sexuality, friendship, humility, empathy and kindness.