A Romp through 10 Weird Things Victorians Believed about Sex

by | Apr 14, 2021 | Uncategorized | 55 comments

10 Things to Know about Sex in Victorian Times
Merchandise is Here!

We are continuing our romp through the ages with sex in Victorian times!

Throughout the month of April I’ve wanted to look at how sex was seen at different periods in history, so that we could figure out how we got where we are now–and so that we could see that our views of sex can be heavily influenced by our culture. 

We started with Roman times last week, and then yesterday we looked at the medieval period and sex. Today we’ve moving on to the famous Victorians!

I do want to say that “Victorian” is perhaps an unfair word. From what I know about Queen Victoria, she certainly really loved her Albert, and they had a ton of kids. So I don’t think she was nearly as uptight as she seems to be, given that we named an uptight era after her. I think she just simply happened to live an awfully long time, so she was in the unfortunate position that all cultural change, good or bad, was named after her. 

I asked Connor to take a look at the history books and come up with ten interesting tidbits about the Victorians, and here you go!

(Again, this is totally not exhaustive, and there’s so much more we could say about different church movements and how that affected their own subculture’s view of sex. But we’ll keep that as general as possible!)

1. There were some funny and strange superstitions about sex and pregnancy

For example, if you had sex on stairs, you baby would be born with a crooked back. Or if you were not really present or invested in the sexual encounter that led to conception, your child would be ugly and spiritless. Oh, and not to mention, the child’s gender would match whoever had the better orgasm during sex.

2. Legitimate rape couldn’t get you pregnant

This outlandish belief was more toxic. The medical theory was that the cervix was way to tight for anything to get through, unless it was actually desiring and thus used uterine suction to gather up the semen. This led to many a female victim of sexual assault being accused of impropriety or adultery, or just being ignored. Because if they got pregnant, they must have been a willing participant.

“The mouth of the uterus, be it known, is very narrow, so narrow in fact, that the fecundating principle would not enter it, but that it craves it, and inhales it by real suction — a proof, by the way, that a rape can never be productive of real offspring” (Eugene Becklard. Becklard’s Physiology. 1845).

3. Feeling horny? Try being corny

It was believed that another effective way to combat sexual desire was to stick to bland foods, avoiding anything that excited the senses or that might warm one’s nethers with tantalizing spices. John Harvey Kellogg, was partially inspired by this theory to advocate for a blander American diet, including his famous breakfast cereal, Cornflakes.

4. Masturbation was mostly just a concern for the guys.

In this era, many teachers, scholars, and writers seriously downplayed the role of female sexuality, creating a culture in which women were not assumed to really have a sex drive. One of the most prominent authors of the time on the topic of sexual education claimed that females had a “low, almost nonexistent sex drive, so only truly deranged females would succumb to the temptations of masturbation” (Henry Hanchett. Sexual Health: A Plain and Practical Guide for the People on All Matters Concerning the Organs of Reproduction in Both Sexes and All Ages. 1889).

5. Women became the gatekeepers of sex

We can really see in the Victorian era, this idea that men were going to want sex all the time. But lest society and marriage fall to sexual depravity, women needed to be the gatekeepers, since they themselves were practically asexual (It was commonly believed that a woman’s only desire from sex came from the desire to be a mother). If women were flirtatious, they might send men into the arms of prostitutes for relief, contributing to the spread of disease.

Even within marriage, women were often given advice such as Ruth Smythers’: “GIVE LITTLE, GIVE SELDOM, AND ABOVE ALL, GIVE GRUDGINGLY. Otherwise what could have been a proper marriage could become an orgy of sexual lust.”

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6. Women trained in avoiding sex with their husbands, or to at the very least make it as sad and unfulfilling as possible

Women were advised to escape sexual advances from their husbands by faking illness and headaches, and to always do it in the dark, so the sight of the wife’s body did nothing for him, and he may injure himself in his blind fumbling, thereby removing sex from the table.

My favorite, though, was the advice to verbally cut a husband down with nagging and criticism about an hour before the time in the evening when he would typically make his advances so he is too broken in spirit to pursue sex. Or the advice to begin nagging him with a list of his failures from that day and a long list of trivial tasks for the next day so that the husband never gets to enjoy that moment of post-sex bliss.

 

7. Women needed to know their place

At the same time as receiving the advice from the previous point, wives were also taught they shouldn’t nag too much, or criticize their husbands even when there was cause, because their husband’s authority over them “is the consequence of the sin of your own [female] sex” (William Jay).

A woman was expected to downplay any competencies she had outside of the home, because to work would shame the husband, implying he could not care for his family. A woman was to be clean and tidy, but not so much as to make others comfortable. A woman was to be fashionable, but not so much as to strain her husbands finances, and she was to be pretty, but not to use makeup or to be too pretty, lest she shame her husband by looking easy. If your husband cheated, it was improper to let anyone know. A wife was expected not to address it because “that’s just how men are.”

“It’s in a man’s nature to go searching for a new version of the girl you used to be before you bore him seven children and made the comforts of his home the envy of the neighborhood” (Therese Oneill. Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners. 2016)

8. Women’s sex education was intentionally sparse

People believed that women should at least have a rudimentary understanding of the basic mechanics of sex, and the general names of their own reproductive organs. But their education should not be specific enough that women would develop curiosity and investigate themselves, resulting in “irritation.”

“She should know the scientific names of her organs, not because there are many vulgar names as in the case of boys, but because dignified names help attitude. Ovaries, uterus (womb), vagina, Fallopian tubes, and vulva will be sufficient. Detailed description of the external organs (vulva) might arouse curiosity that leads to exploration and irritation.” (Maurice Bigelow. Sex-education: A Series of Lectures Concerning Knowledge of Sex in Its Relation to Human Life. 1916).

 

9. A proper woman was supposed to be ashamed of her body

Ignorance and shame were desirable traits in unmarried women. They weren’t supposed to understand what they were getting into, and were supposed to be reluctant and uncomfortable with the whole affair when the knowledge was sprung on them on or slightly before the wedding night. If they didn’t exhibit this shame, it was an indictment of their character.

“There is, indeed, another kind of shame. It is that delicate shyness which the virgin feels when she is to step beyond the boundary of virginity, as well as that feminine reserve which strives to hide or to guard her charms. This “shame” is…a natural consequence of an emotional affection upon entering a new life…it has nothing to do with the consciousness or the fear of seeing something improper disclosed, is an ornament to every woman, and its absence is a proof of dullness and coarseness” (Karl Heinzen. The Rights of Women and Their Sexual Relations. 1981).

Some even taught that this ignorance and modesty was a more important test of a woman’s virginity than the presence of a hymen.

10. If a woman expected to have autonomy over her body after marriage, she needed to speak up beforehand

As the idea of women’s bodily autonomy began to gain traction, men were quick to point out that women who took this controversial stance should be upfront with prospective husbands. Women being in charge of their own bodies was not how things were normally done, so if you wanted bodily autonomy in your marriage, you needed to disclose that before getting engaged. Otherwise that would basically be considered false advertising and your husband would still be reasonably entitled to what he believed he was signing up for.

“With the development of the idea of personal freedom has come the feeling, on the part of many women, that they should have the right of ownership of their own bodies — in other words, that they should have the privilege of choosing whether or not they will acquiesce in their husband’s desire for entering into the physical relationship of marriage.

Since, however, it has been for so long a time an accepted idea that the husband’s right over the wife’s body was inherent, it is advisable for any young woman who takes the other point of view to make her attitude thoroughly understood by her future husband before she definitely takes upon herself the obligations of the marriage state” (Bernarr Macfadden. Womanhood and Marriage. 1918).

See what’s missing again?

Any reference to sex being beautiful and intimate between two people. This intimate aspect of sex is such a fundamental thing in the way that God made it, and yet it is constantly downplayed in the way our culture talks about sex.

I suppose, in the Victorian era, that’s because control and shame became so central. How can something which has to be controlled and which brings shame also bring closeness?

But with so much sex advice focused on how women could make men not want sex (since too much sex was considered bad for everyone, and dampening people’s libidos was considered good), then how could sex be seen as intimate?

I think it was in the Victorian era that prostitution began to be seen as something really bad. 

Marriage between one woman and one man was seriously supposed to be just between two people, so using prostitutes was frowned upon (even though it had been quite widespread in other eras). The emphasis instead became upon cooling everyone’s sex drive, which was seen as something dangerous and could cause people to abandon their families. 

Connor had a good time reading some old Victorian and Edwardian marriage manuals for this! Anything else you’ve heard or want to comment on?

10 Things to Know about Sex in Victorian Times

What stands out to you? See any holdovers to what we believe today? Let’s talk in the comments!

Sex Throughout the Ages Series

  • 8 Weird Facts about Sex in Roman Times (April 6)
  • The Significance of 1 Corinthians 6-7 in light of Roman culture (April 7)
  • A Romp Through Medieval Times and Sex (April 13)
  • 10 Weird Pieces of Victorian Sex Advice (April 14)
  • 10 Weird Things to Know about the Kinsey Report (April 19)
  • 10 Pieces of Advice from a 1970s Sex Manual (April 20)
  • 10 Ways the Christian 1970s Culture Tried to Be Sex Positive–While Also Fighting Back against the Sexual Revolution (April 21)
  • 5 Ways Millennials Grew up More Conservative than Generation X in the Church (aka Purity Culture!) (April 26)
  • The Contagion Theory of Sexuality–and How to Change It (April 27)
  • A Liturgy of Lament for What We Taught our Kids (April 28)
  • A Liturgy of Lament for the Teaching We Received about Sex and a Prayer for Healing (April 30)
Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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55 Comments

  1. Phil

    Sheila/Connor – I thought #3 was a bit funny as Sheila did a series on low libido for women..what a couple years ago or so…I picked up on something I thought was funny….even though Sheila was serious. My wife has a bowl of cereal everyday for breakfast…and sometimes lunch too. In the series Sheila mentioned that cold cereal could contribute to low libido. KEY WORD – COULD – in my jest with my wife- who does not have a low libido issue I told her she was having a cold bowl of low libido…it has stuck…and we joke about it and have been ever since…even yesterday she said I am going to have my cold bowl…. we don’t let things go very easily in our house…just thought it was funny to add here…have a great day all.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      There is actually some science to that! 🙂 Eating a breakfast that’s mostly carbs, rather than mostly protein, does change the energy levels in the body at key times and can contribute to lower libido! That’s really what Kellogg was trying to do, and I do think he was on to something! 🙂
      We’d likely do better if we all had yogurt and fruit and an egg for breakfast than big bowls of cereal and bagels and muffins. 😉 Although I do love muffins…

      Reply
    • Maureen

      Conner have you come across the belief that conception is not possible without female orgasm. I expected to find it in the medieval blog. It sounds positive but it had nasty implications for rape victims.

      Reply
    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      Ah, yes, Crazy Doc Kellogg.
      At least his other sure-cure – gallon-sized yogurt enemas – didn’t catch on.
      (I am NOT making that one up. The guy’s Sanitarium was famous for that sort of “colon cleanse”.)

      Reply
  2. Katydid

    Sometimes I have the feeling the context of the married sex life in history is just as overshadowed by fads and weirdos back then as they are today. It would be akin to histories 200 years in the future using Cosmo, Playboy, and Love & Respect to assume the way sex was for all of Western culture, and we know that isn’t so (by we also know it isn’t entirely not so, either).
    What do all of these have in common though? An agenda to control.

    Reply
    • Phil

      I think it is funny that you used Playboy and Love and Respect in the same sentence lol. Sorry folks just a little giddy today..

      Reply
      • Jane Eyre

        I think she’s on to something……

        Reply
    • Chris

      Truth. Katydid. Truth.

      Reply
    • clb

      I agree. It seems to me that much of what is being presented here is of the “fads and weirdos” variety. There’s no way to know what the average married person thought of these things. Not that these aren’t interesting points – I just think it’s a little dangerous to draw general conclusions about how people saw sex in these time periods from the sources that are available to us now.

      Reply
      • Katydid

        To be perfectly fair, Connor and Sheila are presenting this as interesting discussion in the ongoing dissection of cultural and subcultures misconceptions of sexuality, particularly in marriage. They aren’t in any way saying this is how it totally was. But, like with Cosmo, Playboy, and toxic teachings within the Church or within secular culture, it does infect and influence and it is important to discuss it as such.

        Reply
      • Phil

        They were recorded facts from that time. Thats what I saw with all of Connors references..

        Reply
      • Connor Lindenbach

        In general, it seems sex wasn’t really something that was much talked about. But when the occasional person did tackle the subject and put it into formalized writing, these were some of the forms it often took. So I can’t say what the average person thought, but if someone back then were looking for information, these are the things they would find in the biggest sources of the time.

        Reply
    • Phil

      And I guess furthermore – the point of all this history lesson is not only for a little fun during a tough time but to show that “facts and science” do change over time. When a new fact is presented old facts are thrown out. I recall learning the 9 planet fact in our solar system. I also recall helping my friends daughter with her home work and reading at that time there we 10 planets. I told her it was a misprint lol. Seems they are all wrong? So we go back and refine our knowledge and find truth through new methods and new technology. They will stay truth until the next person comes along and debates and proves it. That is what we call science.

      Reply
    • Ruru

      I think the point is that these resources and advice were widely available. Like resources you mentioned, they were both instructive to and reflective of the cultural practice of sex and marriage. The victorians had an equally messed view surrounding food. On YouTube there is a BBC show called “supersizers go…” civering a variety of historical periods which shares not only how people ate but the social structures/beliefs people lived by.

      Reply
  3. Anon

    This was very interesting. Today I was working on a presentation for my students about women rights through history. I am reading right now about the victorian era(but more focused on my country).
    One thing that I am bringing up with my students are the double standards that were prevalant. From what I am reading up there was this double standard where women had to be pure and innocent when it came to sex. Then we had the men that expected the women to be pure but many of them went to brothels to sleep with prostitutes. In the country I live in Europe it was during this time that it became even more common to meet with prostitutes. The police made sure that the prostitues were clean and didnt spread diseases. The idea that the man would carry a diseas wasnt even thought of. I am using a picture from this time that shows women who were prostitutes standing in the police station waiting to get checked on to make sure they were clean.
    In the history book I am reading it says that because of this double standard excuses were cretaed. One is even very prevalent today: the idea that men have a higher sex drive than women and that women barely have a sex drive. So men needed prostitutes because of this. Men needed pure and innocent women who took care of the home and they needed women who were prostitutes they could use for their own lusts Sounds kind of like the excuses we hear when men watch porn, that its because of their high sex drive and that they “need to do it”.
    And creates the same situation with a wife that takes care of the home and prostitutes to fulfill all his “carnal lusts” as the book states.

    Reply
    • Andrea

      Do you mind naming this country in Europe (or at least the general region, e.g. West/East, Nordic, Mediterranean…)? I’m asking because I recently commented on the blog that the situation was just like that in Russia and that Tolstoy wrote about it in The Kreutzer Sonata. I even wrote that I wondered if it was similar in other European countries. I know, for example, that the English had more equitable marriages, at least in terms of the age gap, but I’m not sure about prostitution (I mean, I know it existed, and I read that William Gladstone wanted to abolish the demand, but I don’t know if it was legal and controlled).

      Reply
  4. Kya

    I am thoroughly enjoying this series! It never ceases to amaze me how we create our own reality with our beliefs and cultural conventions and then assume that that is just “the way things are/have always been.” Humans are so fascinating.
    And I’ve heard similar things about Queen Victoria. Apparently at one point her physician suggested that she stop having so many children, and her response was something like, “Am I to have no more fun in bed?” Sex was only for reproduction, indeed!
    And I think graham crackers came out of the same bland food movement. I’ve never been able to stand them (unless it’s the cinnamon sugar kind).

    Reply
    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      And I think graham crackers came out of the same bland food movement.

      They did.
      Like cornflakes, they were to kill Lust(TM).
      Plus fitting in with Health Food Fads of the time.

      Reply
  5. Ember

    Curious about the quoted texts as they are taken from books published after the Victorian period ended in 1901.

    Reply
    • Connor Lindenbach

      There are differing definitions of the Victorian era, but generally it only roughly approximates Queen Victoria’s reign. I didn’t, therefore, stick strictly to the 1837-1901 time frame. I do also know that one of the cited sources was very much written in the modern day about Victorian era marriage and sex. That’s one of the reasons I decided to include the dates on the quotes, so if people wanted, they could see that and go “hmm, maybe I’ll do some of my own research and fact check.”
      I do not have a degree in history, so I welcome comments/corrections from anyone with more knowledge than me. Though I did endeavour to weed out common misconceptions and attributions as best I could.
      For example, many sources claim Kellogg’s sole motivator for Cornflakes was the anti-masturbatory agenda, and that he marketed them as an anti-masturbatory aid. I dug deeper, and it seems this isn’t true. Instead he was an advocate for the theory that a diet of bland foods was one way to combat masturbation, and he accounted for that in his product creation.
      I hope that clears things up a bit?

      Reply
      • Phil

        Call me completely immature but I think I am going to hand out corn flakes at my next 12 step sex recovery meeting LOL. If only that were the solution I would own stock! Totally clears things up. LOL.

        Reply
  6. Bethany#2

    I believe victoria was the one who has that famous quote attributed to her. “Just lay yourself down and think of england.” (Or any other version of this overused quote!) And since it doesn’t seem to mesh with what we knew about her marriage, I’m guessing that somebody else made it up. Perhaps to help push the idea that she had 9(or 13?) Kids, but didn’t like sex.

    Reply
  7. Hannah

    A big reason that Victorians were so big on cooling sex drives is because of the wild excesses of the Regency Era, which directly preceded the Victorian. Hedonistic would be a good way to describe the Regency Era and so many men caught STI’s that then passed to their wives and children, that the Victorians were pretty crazy on cutting down on people having sex. This was further exacerbated by Darwinism and people wanting to make it clear that we are not descended from monkeys and to prove that, we must completely avoid behaving in animalistic ways. Because passion is uncontrolled, it was seen as too animalistic to be trusted.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Such an important observation, Hannah. Thank you. Definitely has some parallels to today as well.

      Reply
    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      This was further exacerbated by Darwinism and people wanting to make it clear that we are not descended from monkeys and to prove that, we must completely avoid behaving in animalistic ways.

      So Victorian Sex was the Ken Ham/Creation Museum/Ark Experience of its time?
      (And here I thought fanfics got weird…)

      Reply
  8. Sam

    “the child’s gender would match whoever had the better orgasm during sex.”
    Considering that sons were seen as more valuable than daughters, this explains a lot!

    Reply
  9. Shelli

    The Victorian era is one of my favorites in history. So many of the issues around today stem from that long era.
    Victoria evidently loved having sex with Albert; she just wasn’t as enthused about the children who resulted. She was mad that she became pregnant a couple of weeks after her wedding day because it curtailed her dancing. Albert was very much straight laced. The “Victorian” emphasis on morals stemmed a lot from Albert, who was disgusted by his father and brother’s many affairs (I think his mother had one too). Victoria’s predecessors on the throne, her uncles, along with some of their brothers, had lots of mistresses. Some of them married morganatically instead of dynastically, and these “unequal” marriages infuriated George III (Victoria’s grandfather) so much that he created a law that certain members of the royal family had to ask the monarch’s permission to marry; if you were over 25 and waited a year, you could go ahead and marry, though.
    The treatment of prostitutes in Victorian England was quite horrific and hypocritical. All the blame was on them, not on the men who sought them out and/or left them so destitute that they had to turn to that trade to survive.
    It seems like the biggest theme of this walk through sexual history is the lack of mutuality. Plus there seem to have been a lot of myths surrounding this subject, including some that survive today! This is another reason why your work is so important—you are challenging centuries of myths and cultural expectations that have no place in a marriage, especially when the man and woman involved are trying to be like Jesus. Thanks for all you do!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Re: the issues of the treatment of prostitutues. One of the most meaningful biographies I’ve ever read was that of Josephine Butler, who dedicated her life to fighting for the rights of prostitutes (many of whom were just sex trafficked women. It wasn’t a life they chose). And she was fighting against the double standard. An amazing Christian woman, she was as well known in her day as Florence Nightingale, though history has chosen to forget her. I think she’s worth remembering. Just an amazing story.

      Reply
      • Estelle

        Katherine Bushnell also. She saw how the British army officers, selfproclaimed “christians,” abused women of India during the years of the Raj with most unChristian treatment. This prompted her to study the Bible in depth as to its teachings on the relations between men and women and led to her book ‘God’s Word to Women.’

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Yes! I read a wonderful biography of her recently, too. I think she and Josephine Butler corresponded quite a bit “across the pond”.

          Reply
      • Shelli

        I’ve heard of her! I have so many books on my reading list but a biography of her sounds interesting! From what I remember reading about her, she was pretty much a one-woman crusade. It’s sad that she’s not talked about more.

        Reply
  10. Amy

    John Harvey Kellogg advocated for things like veganism, celibacy, and abstaining from alcohol as a means of living a healthy and holy life. However, since sex is the means used to create future generations, not sure how celibacy can be linked to either health or holiness.

    Reply
    • Cynthia

      Years ago, when I was first trying out a vegetarian lifestyle, I found a cookbook put out Seventh Day Adventists. I didn’t end up using many of the recipes, though, because they were pretty bland. My husband later introduced me to Indian food, which was a game-changer. I discovered afterward that the founder of the Seventh Day Adventists Warner against use of spices, and somehow associated spice with sexuality. https://atoday.org/15915/
      Just checked and Kellogg’s sanitarium was affiliated with the Seventh Day Adventists.

      Reply
      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        Vegetarianism was a Litmus Test of your Holiness in a LOT of “alternative religious movements” of the time (including Spiritualism). A fashionable Food Taboo to mark the One True Way To this day, SDA doctrine has a thing against “Flesh Foods”.
        P.S. When searching YouTube for “kellogg”, one of the videos that came up was “The Visions of Ellen G White” (founder of the Seventh Day Adventists, who reorganized the surviving Millerites after their Big Rapture Scare fizzled not just once but twice).

        Reply
  11. Dorthea

    As I read through the list I’m reminded of the purity culture. Many of those beliefs are shameful and controlling, the woman is to be the gatekeeper, and “good girls” are not to be sexual or flirtatious and certainly not to take pleasure in sex at all.
    It is interesting that it was during this time period there seemed to be a shift for men as well when it comes to purity, that abstaining from sex was encouraged.
    Both seem to emphasize purity and innocence albeit in shaming, controlling ways.
    History is very interesting. I’m looking forward to the next post.

    Reply
  12. Jenn

    Hmmm…1 seems to conflict with 5&6. Poor folks couldn’t win!
    Kellogg’s nutrition advice followed along the path set by Sylvester Graham, who developed Graham crackers and recommended a bland vegetarian diet to reduce sexuality.
    https://nowiknow.com/the-curious-history-of-graham-crackers-and-corn-flakes/
    But Kellog did not stop with diet. He recommended circumcision of BOTH genders to curb masturbation.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Harvey_Kellogg

    Reply
      • Wynd

        Worse than you think. From “Plain Facts for Old and Young:
        Embracing the Natural History and Hygiene of Organic Life” by J. H. Kellogg:
        ( http://www.gutenberg.org/files/19924/19924-h/19924-h.htm )
        “A remedy which is almost always successful in small boys is circumcision, especially when there is any degree of phimosis. The operation should be performed by a surgeon without administering an anaesthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it is connected with the idea of punishment, as it may well be in some cases.”
        “In females, the author has found the application of pure carbolic acid to the clitoris an excellent means of allaying the abnormal excitement, and preventing the recurrence of the practice in those whose will-power has become so weakened that the patient is unable to exercise self-control.”
        There is also talk about suturing the foreskin closed with metal to prevent erections.
        Basically the man traced every social ill, every disease, every medical condition to masturbation (even once). You have cancer at 30? It is because you abused your self as a teenager. Want to achieve a perfect world? Ending masturbation is key – and everything that happens as a result of pursuing this goal is thus justified. For a book of quackery, this book has dramatically impacted American attitudes for well over a hundred years after it was published. For example, the entire reason so many males are circumcised as infants can be traced specifically to this book.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Oh, my goodness. That’s NUTS! How did people take that seriously? Wow.

          Reply
      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        “Plain Facts for Old and Young:
        Embracing the Natural History and Hygiene of Organic Life” by J. H. Kellogg:

        CRAZY DOC KELLOGG OF BATTLE CREEK, MICHIGAN?
        He who invented cornflakes to kill the sex drive?
        He of the gallon yogurt enemas?
        Just..
        Go to YouTube and search on “kellogg”…
        And don’t be shocked by anything that comes up…

        Reply
  13. Taryn

    It’s interesting that some advice seems to be exactly the same as now in a crazy-making way. “Be pretty and wear makeup, but don’t be too pretty or people will think you’re ‘easy’.” Sounds just like that ridiculous Scorecard for Wives saying: “Be attractive, but not offensively so.”
    But then, some advice is opposite, like, back then you shouldn’t have sex to stop your husband from lusting. Now, it’s that you should have all the sex to stop your husband from lusting.
    The biggest error in all of this seems to be focusing too much on men’s “animal drive” and how women can help/manipulate that drive and focusing too little on Christ and sanctification through the Spirit.

    Reply
    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      SO TRUE, Taryn! Whenever the focus is on controlling the other instead of on transformation to be more like Christ we miss the mark.

      Reply
  14. Lynnica

    >> “It’s in a man’s nature to go searching for a new version of the girl you used to be before you bore him seven children and made the comforts of his home the envy of the neighborhood”
    Wow 😯😯😯
    So you’ve given him all these kids, and everybody all up and down the street is green with jealousy about how fantastic his home is… and all he can think about is that you don’t look 21 anymore.
    Nice. Thank you for the encouragement. Really, that would SO make me want to get married. (That’s sacarsm, btw.)
    That last point does make some sense. I mean, if you hold a view that you know is countercultural, or even highly debated, it’s not unreasonable for a potential spouse to expect you to let them know from the onset. Not that if you DON’T tell them they now have leave to disregard or ignore your point of view/feelings/beliefs. But being upfront about things would still be best for everyone, seems like.

    Reply
  15. Natalie

    And looks like many of the attitudes hung around from the Victorian Period to the Edwardian Period and on. I think attitudes started changing probably due to the world wars and the roles women had to take on and then especially during the Sexual Revolution. But when it comes to the church and church culture, I think many of the Victorian attitudes have been preserved over the centuries. I mean, according to this, I was basically a Victorian woman with Victorian sexual ethics and practices till I was in my late 20s, married with 2 children already. 😆🤦🏻‍♀️ What you’re taught in childhood lingers with you. Also, what you have modelled for you effects your own sexuality and what you pass on to your children. We know a lot about my maternal heritage line going back to about the late-1800s (so end of the Victorian), and if this is really al stuff that was taught during that era, it makes perfect sense to me why I was brought up with the sexual ideas that I was. And growing up in the church certainly helped solidify those values too. Thankfully, I’m seeing a big difference in how the church is addressing issues on sex and sexuality these days. I’ve noticed a change that I think started probably 5 or maybe up to 10 years ago. A lot is changing. I think your internet influence is greatly helping that along too.

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  16. Rogue

    Okay… I honestly think this explains a lot about todays we are trying to fix… I see we still have a Looot of work to undo…..

    Reply
  17. Headless Unicorn Guy

    NOTE HOW MUCH OF THESE ATTITUDES CROSS OVER DIRECTLY INTO BIBLICAL MANHOOD(TM) AND BIBLICAL WOMANHOOD(TM).
    And if the “Wife, Nag your Husband before and after sex” is accurate, no wonder prostitution was a booming business. Who would want to do a wife who’s like that? Even for the men it would be “Lie Back and Think of England”!

    Reply
  18. Headless Unicorn Guy

    Nothing about the widespread kink of Victorian upper-class men, “Erotic Flagellation”?
    Better known as being whipped.
    Literally.
    So widespread among upper-class Victorian men I call it “Kink of England”.
    And a lot of Christian child-rearing manuals (“SPANK! SPANK! SPANK!”) were unwittingly influenced by Victorian Flagellation Porn. You see, Victorians were often very indirect in their pornography (like they were about a lot of “pelvic issues”), to the point that those of our time and culture (as direct about sex and Victorians were about death) may not realize it was porn.

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  19. Rebekah

    I think this calls for an honest “Oh Lord!”
    I NYT article titled “What Will Happen When Americans Start Having Sex Again?” It’s speaking to how many health clinic workers were reassigned to Covid work so there were fewer to help check up on STI’s, and how the USA is competing for country #1 in having the most bc of poor condom use and poor sex ed, all because of….? Jerry Fricking Falwell. I went to a woman’s college in Lynchburg where Liberty U is and I knew of the rumor that he called our students “whores on the hill.” He started the Moral Majority right before I was born, no wonder 80’s/90’s babes are trying to figure it out! My mother was totally open to talking if we asked, and I don’t remember my UMC really teaching anything. But I was definitely influenced by Joshua Harris and promise rings. I was/am pretty quiet/shy, but I was clear on “waiting” but had trouble making boundaries about romance and time together with my Dearly Beloved who i started right before I went off to college. He was/is kind and gentle and wants us both to experience pleasure but at the time I did feel the need to put on those brakes and gate keep, so naturally it was hard to relax and get into it a year plus after college grad. It wasn’t bad, sometimes it was pretty good, but it wasn’t great for a while. So these days I want my kids (both daughters, though the teen is identifying as trans*) to know how they work, how relationships should be, and how unrealistic the pant/Kiss/bed implication scenes are.
    One of my favorite authors writes Victorian Steampunk Fantasy (as in vampires and werewolves) and the lady protagonists are quite proper but discover their drives and find marital relations enjoyable and not just drudgery, although the married protagonist does at least once say “I’ll never be able to perform my wifely duty with that man again” [after seeing his werewolf self gnawing at a werewolf-to-be]. One problem I do have is at the end of the first book, they’ve gotten married and their first time is in a moving carriage. There isn’t a doubt that she’s aroused, and she does complain that it hurts, and he shows concern, and then she’s good. There wasn’t foreplay then, but it’s implied other times. FYI, the descriptions are pretty mild, as she character is scientific but also proper. But with all those rules I guess we know now why “sex positive” is a term.

    Reply
  20. El Fury

    I love these history posts! We always think that we, in the present, are somehow unique. But hey, what do you know… our ancestors had sex too.
    We linked to you on our blog.

    Reply
  21. Amber

    Well it sounds like Victorian women got more sex ed than I did growing up in the late 90s in an evangelical church and homeschooled. 🤯 Plus no access to internet. I was beyond clueless when I married.

    Reply

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