Thursday, April 01, 2010

Victorian Sex

We have an image of Victorians as prudish about sex. And the continuous decrying of our sex gone wild culture. But the truth may be different. For those into sex control the past was always more moral and today's youth are going to hell one night at a time. But maybe human nature is not so different today. Maybe the Victorianism of the Age of Victoria was just a myth.

The Mosher Survey recorded not only women's sexual habits and appetites, but also their thinking about spousal relationships, children and contraception. Perhaps, it hinted, Victorian women weren't so Victorian after all.

Indeed, many of the surveyed women were decidedly unshrinking. One, born in 1844, called sex "a normal desire" and observed that "a rational use of it tends to keep people healthier." Offered another, born in 1862, "The highest devotion is based upon it, a very beautiful thing, and I am glad nature gave it to us."
Well I'm glad too.

The sex survey of Victorian women was done in the name of a so called modern cultural drive. Which turns out to be not quite as modern as is currently thought.
Thanks to a steady supply of young female research subjects, Mosher's scholarly aim soon became clear: to prove that women were not inferior to men, and that frailties chalked up to sex were really the effects of binding garments, insufficient exercise and mental conditioning. Her master's thesis, for example, showed that women breathe from the diaphragm, as men do, rather than from the chest, as was believed at the time. She concluded that this so-called biological difference was really due to tight corsetry.
Women in tight corsets was never one of my great favorites, although I did buy a rather expensive one for my mate once to give it a try. It was amusing but never became a staple.
So how did women of the Victorian Era get educated about sex?
Slightly more than half of these educated women claimed to have known nothing of sex prior to marriage; the better informed said they'd gotten their information from books, talks with older women and natural observations like "watching farm animals." Yet no matter how sheltered they'd initially been, these women had—and enjoyed—sex. Of the 45 women, 35 said they desired sex; 34 said they had experienced orgasms; 24 felt that pleasure for both sexes was a reason for intercourse; and about three-quarters of them engaged in it at least once a week.
I wonder if their preferred positions were influenced by the way they got their education?

And the complaints of the women seem age old. Uneducated men.
Some enjoyed sex but worried that they shouldn't. One slept apart from her husband "to avoid temptation of too frequent intercourse." Some didn't enjoy sex but faulted their partner. Mosher writes: [She] "Thinks men have not been properly trained."
You still hear echos of those complaints today. "He only wants one thing and when he gets it he rolls over and falls asleep." Sometimes without even so much as a "Was it good for you too?"
One woman, born in 1867, wrote that before marriage she believed sex to be only for reproduction, but later changed her mind: "In my experience the habitual bodily expression of love has a deep psychological effect in making possible complete mental sympathy & perfecting the spiritual union that must be the lasting 'marriage' after the passion of love has passed away with the years." Wrote another, born in 1863, "It seems to me to be a natural and physical sign of a spiritual union, a renewal of the marriage vows.
That view has turned from an observation into advice. And we are the better for it. But much better? I don't think so or else the advice wouldn't need to be repeated so often.

And now we get to the heart of why we have a view of Victorian attitudes towards sex as prudish. It was a class thing.
...if not all Victorian women scorned sex, why do we think of them as prudish? First, says Freedman, the notion of passionlessness wasn't universal, it was a class privilege, a way for wealthier women to claim respectability that more sexually vulnerable slave, immigrant and working-class women couldn't. "To some extent it's a protection of women from the sense of availability, and in other ways it's a limitation on them and denying their sexuality," Freedman says. Virtue was also a way for women to demonstrate good citizenship—men expressed this in the public sphere, and women in the home.
We see the same sort of thing with respect to tans. In that age outdoor work was common and the upper classes differentiated themselves by staying indoors and untanned. Since work has moved indoors the leisure class has moved outdoors and now a tan is a sign of the upper classes. Mostly.

I wonder if the proposed tax on tanning beds isn't just another way of maintaining class distinctions. The ins always love kicking the outs. Another innate characteristic of humans. But how is the tax sold? As a way to save lives. Well how about raising taxes on vacations in the Caribbean? Wouldn't that save lives too? Ah. But regular vacations on tropical islands separates people with real money from poseurs. Can't have that.

To further your research:

A Page Full Of Corsets

A history of Victorian Erotica:

Unauthorized Pleasures: Accounts of Victorian Erotic Experience

An Ordered Love: Sex Roles and Sexuality in Victorian Utopias--The Shakers, the Mormons, and the Oneida Community

That should be a good start on the subject. And some advice for you men out there. There is no such thing as "what women want". What is real is "what this woman wants". The best way to find out? Ask.

And for you women. Men are some easier but individual too. They want the usual plus a threesome with your best looking girlfriend. As always though before you go plunging into some untoward direction. Ask. It enhances the pleasure and helps to avoid complications.

And let us not forget the perennially popular male enhancement. Better Than Viagra

Found at Good**** , now the place is definitely Not Safe For Work but I will tell you how to find it. Search for - Fred Lapides Good. You are on your own.

Cross Posted at Classical Values

1 comment:

Susan's Husband said...

It's hard to make sense of the Victorian Era if you don't look at the Regency Period that preceded it, a time of excess (at least among the upper classes), similar in many ways to the Roaring '20s here. Much of the Victorian "repression" was a response to that.

I think we're going to see the same, an era of restraint to contrast with the preceding decades of excess. Everyone thinks their time is unique, but it's mostly SSDD.