Weird History What Sex Was Like in the Victorian Era  

Aaron Edwards
699.1k views 16 items

It's hard not to see the past as a prudish place full of sex-hating religious zealots, even though we know this wasn't always true. Look at ancient Greece and Rome, where citizens openly enjoyed all kinds of crazy sex. But when it comes to Victorian England, the reputation for prudishness was never more correct. Sex in the Victorian era was something to be avoided at all costs, and people found bizarre and creative ways to get out it. 

So everyone's on the same page, the Victoria era is so called for Queen Victoria, whose reign lasted from 1832 until 1901. So then, what kind of crazy preventative measures did people take during this time? 

Nasty chastity contraptions, underground pornography, and the patriarchy strangling women with obscene psychological views were just some of the ways people cut sex out of their lives in Victorian times. Make no mistake, this was a time of repression, and they did anything to keep sex out of society. Don't believe it? Check out the list for the facts.

There Was a Mascot for Sexual Repression

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Photo: Thomas Nast/Public Domain
Since pretty much everyone in Victorian England was repressed, it makes sense repression was personified. Enter Mrs. Grundy, originally an off-stage character in Thomas Morton's 1798 play Speed the Plough. In that play, characters fret about what the very traditional and conservative Mrs. Grundy will think of their actions. Over time, the character's name became shorthand for respectable repression and extreme purity. During the Victorian era, Mrs. Grundy was invoked as a means of controlling sexuality

There Were Male Anti-Masturbation Devices

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Photo: // andreea ///flickr/CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0
The people of the Victorian era were all about self control. While women got the brunt of that mentality, men weren't exempt from it. It was thought that if men weren't consumed by sexual desires, they'd have more time to focus on being productive members of society. So, anti-masturbation devices were born. One was essentially a tiny bear trap for your peen: once aroused, the device clamped shut, killing a boner with sharpened metal teeth.

If a Man Gets Frisky, a Woman Is Encouraged to Announce She Has to Excuse Herself

If a Man Gets Frisky, a Woman ... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list What Sex Was Like in the Victorian Era
Photo: Charles Dana Gibson/Public Domain

Women were encouraged to discourage sex with their husbands whenever possible. Sometimes, that meant taking drastic actions. In the book Sex Tips For Husbands and Wives, Ruth Smythers gives a vital piece of advice on the matter:

"If he attempts to kiss her on the lips she should turn her head slightly so that the kiss falls harmlessly on her cheek instead. If he lifts her gown and attempts to kiss her any place else she should quickly pull the gown back in place, spring from the bed, and announce that nature calls her to the toilet."

The 1890s Were Known as the "Naughty Nineties"

The 1890s Were Known as the &#... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list What Sex Was Like in the Victorian Era
Photo: The Library of Congress/flickr/No known copyright restrictions
There's only so long staunchly "proper" society can be imposed before rigid mores become a problem. By the end of the 19th century, a secret world of underground sexuality flourished in Victorian society. Prostitution and pornography lay just beneath the shiny surface of Victorian culture, though were never openly discussed. See Penny Dreadful for some prime examples.