The Comical Victorian Myths on Sexuality
Victorian advice and beliefs surrounding sex, pregnancy and masturbation.
In the Victorian epoch, sexuality was tremendously repressed. As a result, what was known about sex was little and imprecise, and at times even comical. Back then, there existed diverse manuals and advice books that, more than orienting the reader, led him to complete ignorance and a denial of human nature itself.
It was believed, for example, that intercourse should be carried out in absolute darkness and that, once finished, the woman had to avoid speaking, coughing or sneezing since this would impede conception. Additionally, according to some manuals, if someone had sex without being in love with his or her partner, the product would be an extremely ugly baby.
Masturbation, considered negative and accused of being a “solitary vice”, was considered an activity that, if done excessively, would make a person go insane or become impotent; it was also believed that someone that masturbated often during their development would decrease his or her height and affect the growth of his or her organs. For these reasons, Victorians attempted to avoid masturbation in different ways such as eating lightly seasoned foods and avoiding mustard, pepper, beer, wine and smoking tobacco. Another way of avoiding it was fostering physical exercise in boys and teenagers; this would tire them enough to have no spare energy for this activity.
In terms of conception, riding a horse over an irregular path the day after intercourse was believed to prevent pregnancy; dancing after sex would have the same effect. Thirst-provoking spirits were also a renowned remedy to avoid a pregnancy. Additionally, they believed that during conception, wind patterns —their direction or intensity—could affect the baby’s temperament.
The acclaimed French physiologist, Eugene Becklard, maintained that the cervix was too narrow and had to suck the semen so that the woman would get pregnant. Due to this, the physician claimed that a woman could not conceive as a result of rape. Additionally, Becklard asserted that the baby would be born with the characteristics of whoever had the strongest orgasm during conception. For other experts, it was very important not to conceive a baby on a staircase, since it would be born with a crooked back.
In some manuals of the time, we find that physiologists advised wives to refuse sex as much as possible; otherwise their marriage would become a state of lust and, therefore, immorality. Additionally, women should avoid being flirtatious, since this would only lead their husbands to visit brothels. They were allowed, however, to refuse having sex if their husbands didn’t climax at the same time as they did. To do this, they were recommended faking illnesses, headaches or being tired. Sounds familiar?
The gender roles of the time, and the misunderstandings that resulted from popular wisdom and the advice offered by “experts”, turned human sexuality into a profoundly limited and repressed activity. It is no coincidence that this was an age in which pornography, for instance, was extremely popular. Fortunately, the scientific knowledge we have today of sex has changed the way in which we see this part of human life. And, in any case, history seems to have already proven that taboo is perversion’s favorite food.
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