Victorian England Notes: * Many people born in the Victorian age were both factually uninformed and emotionally frigid about sexual matters. * French scholar Michel Foucault who argued that sex was not censored but subject to obsessive discussion as a central discourse of power, bent on regulation rather than suppression. This helps explain why sexuality looms so large in art and medicine, for example, as well as in studies of the Victorian age. * The public discussion of sexual matters was characterized by absence of plain speaking, with consequent ignorance, embarrassment and fear. By mid-century the Victorian conjunction of moralism and scientific investigation produced ideas of orthodox human sexuality based on a combination of social and biological ideas. The majority of women (happily for them) are not very much troubled by sexual feeling of any kind. What men are habitually, women are only exceptionally. * In line with the physiological idea of the body as a closed system of energy, male sexual ‘expenditure’ and especially ‘excess’ (spermatorrhea) were said to cause enfeeblement.
Thus it was seriously held, for example, that sexual appetite was incompatible with mental distinction and that procreation impaired artistic genius. Men were vigorously counseled to conserve vital health by avoiding fornication, masturbation and nocturnal emissions (for which a variety of devices were invented) and by rationing sex within marriage. * Some doctors erased sexual pleasure through barbaric practices such as penile cauterization and clitorodectomy. * * Male anti-masturbation device, 1880-1920 As daughters, employees or servants, young women were subject to male authority; as whores they enjoyed economic and personal independence. The response was a sustained cultural campaign, in sermons, newspapers, literary and visual art, to intimidate, shame and eventually drive ‘fallen women’ from the streets by representing them as a depraved and dangerous element in society, doomed to disease and death. * There are many hints that ‘considerate’ husbands, who did not insist on intercourse, were admired, not least because of the high maternal mortality rate.
But there is plain evidence that the early Victorian family of six to eight or more children was on its way out by 1901. * From the 1870s couples in all classes were choosing to limit and plan family size ‘by a variety of methods within a culture of abstinence’. This took place despite the fact that contraceptive knowledge and methods were not publicly available. * Private male homosexual acts were not explicitly and severely legislated against until 1885, when gay sex behind closed doors was made a criminal offence. * http://www. vam. ac. uk/collections/periods_styles/19thcentury/gender_health/sex_and_sexuality/index. html *