The Victorian Citizen’s Advice To Having A Great Sex Life

viernes, 19 de mayo de 2017 9:08

|Maria Suarez


While we continue to believe that we’re currently living in one of the most sexually liberated moments in history, we couldn’t be farther from the truth. We’re full of pressure and expectations regarding what we should be doing, how much, as well as who we need to recruit in our experimentation. Our generation likes to boast about having a lot of sex they’re not actually having or enjoying for that matter. We’re tired, disconnected, worried about economic and social problems, as well as constantly waiting for the Doomsday clock to strike midnight.

Meanwhile, back in the nineteenth century, people were enjoying life as much as they could. You’d think they’d be more worried about the state of their world back then. They had serial killers like Jack “The Ripper,” widespread diseases such as cholera, and pollution. Okay, I take that back. The scenario in the Victorian era was not that different from our current one. And yet, it’s possible that not having as many distractions as we do now –Netflix, Facebook, Instagram, etc. meant that they could spend more of their free time thinking about getting frisky and who to do it with.

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Historian Fern Ridell has searched through endless libraries, museums, and archives to try and understand the sensibilities of the Victorian population. Her book Victorian Guide to Sex is an invaluable piece of research that sheds light and debunks myths about the period. While doing the massive treasure hunt to find diaries, medical journals, and opinion pieces on bedroom advice, she created a blog entry titled 9 Books That Will Change Your #19thC Sex Life. Many of these books are not available digitally or can only be perused by scholars. However, I was able to acquire some snippets from the ones that are open for the public to download, read, and learn from.

One text I am very sad to be unable to fetch for my own entertainment and historical knowledge is the “The Art of Begetting Handsome Children.” According to Riddell it’s not much a book as it’s more of a postcard or pamphlet. “(It) dates itself to 1860, the same period as the word ‘pornography’ makes its first appearance in the English language and around the time that legislation on sexuality and sexual congress was pushing ‘forbidden knowledge’ underground and into the back alleys and side streets of the metropolis.”

Yet, despite the disappointment of not finding out more of this nineteenth century triptych, I have looked into the available reading material and found the most astounding quotes. Some I chose to leave aside, especially the constant referral of women as the weaker, feebler sex in R. von Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis.

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In 1877’s Fruits of Philosophy, Charles Knowlton attempted to educated the population on ways to prevent pregnancy. Of course, he implied that this was for married couples who cannot afford having a child every year. There is plenty of extensive Sex-Ed regarding the gestation process, as well as the physical changes in a woman’s body. It even spoke about how a woman getting her period right after having sex did not imply she was not pregnant. This came from an example of a lady in distress whose husband visited her one night before leaving again and left her with the consequences.

But perhaps the most obvious quote from this book comes from its first page: “If population be not restrained by some great physical calamity, such as we have reason to hope will not hereafter be visited upon the children of men, or by some moral restraint, the time will come when the earth cannot support its inhabitants.”

You’ll think that’s very progressive until you read the following talk about how not having enough sex results in men getting some sort of Sleeping Gonorrhea: “In many instances, the genital organs are rendered so irritable by the repletion to which unnatural continency gives rise, and by the much thinking caused by such repletion, as to induce a disease known to medical men by the name of Gonorrhoea Dormientium. It consists in an emission or discharge of the semen during sleep. This discharge is immediately excited in most instances by a lascivious dream, but such dream is caused by the repletion and irritability of the genital organs (…) Nothing is so effectual in curing this diseased state of a body and mind in young men as marriage.”

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According to Holly Furneaux, from University of Leicester, the Victorian period was a turning point in sexuality. Not because it didn’t exist before, but because it was finally studied and talked about: “From the 1880s sexologists such as Richard von Kraft-Ebing and Havelock Ellis pioneered a science in which sexual preferences were analyzed and categorized; they created terms including homosexuality, heterosexuality and nymphomaniac.”

We might not be entirely in agreement with their ideas on women or the LGBT community. However, we can’t deny that without this breakthrough, we might have not eventually had other experts such as Freud and Kinsey. Regardless of how sexist Krafft-Ebing sounds like, he does point out some important notions that perhaps had not been delved in by then: “The central point of the sexual mechanism is the cerebral cortex. It is justifiable to presume that there is a definite region of the cortex (cerebral centre), which gives rise to sexual feelings, ideas and impulses.”

And yet, for all his scientific terminology and research, he still had gems like the following quote plaguing his entire text: “He also points out that masturbators very frequently suffer from nasal disease, are troubled with abnormal sensations of olfaction, and are subject to epistaxis.”

Well, nobody’s perfect.

What matters about these ideas and studies is that they led to what we would eventually call the Sexual Revolution. Despite some of texts being written about a hundred years prior to the ideas of the sixties, they were the first true incursion in the understanding of sexuality on a psychological and human level, rather than seeing it as another biological process. They brought the conversation into academia, making it possible for research to continue to flourish, eventually leading to better theories and ideas.

We can say a lot about the Victorians, but one thing’s for sure: they didn't blush when talking about what they did when nobody was watching.


R. von Krafft-Ebing, Psychopathia Sexualis, with especial reference to the antipathic sexual instinct, a medico-forensic study, 1886.

Charles Knowlton, Fruits of Philosophy: A Treatise on the Population Question, 1877.

The British Library

The Guardian

Vice and Virtue

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Maria Suarez

Maria Suarez

Coordinadora Editorial CC+