Class Reflection: Sex in the Victorian Era

by feyruhan
Cover of "Tipping the Velvet: A Novel"

Cover of Tipping the Velvet: A Novel

Psychological Aspects of Human Sexuality

Class reflection: Sex in the Victorian Era.

There was *sex* in the *Victorian Era*?  Gasp!

I had heard of John Ruskin before, in a literature class at my previous college.  We were assigned an essay of his, I believe it was Lilies and Sesame Seeds, and I had a hard time getting through it because I found Ruskin’s message so infuriating.  Later, when we discussed the essay (and the essayist) in class, the professor (or maybe it was one of the students? Hm…) shared with us that poor old John had run away from his wife on their wedding night when he found, to his horror, that she had pubic hair.  It was bad enough that his wife had pubic hair, but the concept it implied was even worse: women, in general, had pubic hair.  Pubic hair was notably absent from all images of women he had ever seen, and the absence of it somehow epitomized to Ruskin the un-sexed nature of the “fairer sex.”  What could possibly be more mortifying to a man who so deeply perceived women as nonsexual, child-like in their simplicity, purity, and power of reasoning, than to discover—on his wedding night—that women, his simple play-thing, are in fact whole and sexual beings?

There was a lot of noise made, in the Victorian Era, about homosexuality: its wrongness, its rightness, its illness and its naturalness.  That is, the wrongness or rightness of male homosexuality.  Has anyone read or heard of Tipping the Velvet?  It’s a novel, a historical romance novel of some four-hundred and eighty pages, written and published in the last ten years—which should mean it has no relevance to this discussion, since it’s a work of fiction, right?  Wrong-o!  The book takes its title (Tipping the Velvet) from a term of the era in which it is set, the 1880’s—late Victorian times—a term referring to cunnilingus (oral sex performed on a woman); the term itself, which deceptively sounds like a boring aspect of millinery, was used by women of a sapphist persuasion.  That is to say, lesbians.  Victorian Era lesbians.  Yes, the Victorian Era had its lesbians, and they had their own hidden, under-the-radar, legally reprehensible but not legally recognized (that is to say, there were sodomy laws for homosexual men but no laws set out for homosexual women; Queen Victoria is supposed to have dismissed the possibility of female homosexuality when it was brought to her in legal concerns; “female homo-what?” was more or less her attitude), sub-culture.

The Victorians, thanks to England’s Queen Victoria and others, were known for a reserved attitude towards sex, sexuality, and all things involving the (female) body.  It’s interesting to notice that a (modern/contemporary) leading lingerie company—the opposite to a reserved attitude on sex, sexuality, and all things involving the female body—is named Victoria’s Secret.

3 Comments to “Class Reflection: Sex in the Victorian Era”

  1. It never fails. Try to wipe something out and it just continues underground. I’ve always been both amused and annoyed by the Victorian attitude of, “Ignore it and it’ll go away.”

    This Ruskin sounds like a real loon, made worse by the era. He may have been inclined toward such attitudes, but the way sexuality was handled and the sheer lack of information made it all too possible for him to swing to such an extreme.

    If I were his wife, I would’ve considered myself lucky to be rid of him.

  2. I agree with D, she was well rid of a man who was that flaky and flighty. I hope that his fellow men laughed at his extreme reaction, seeing as obviously the majority of men of that day did not run screaming into the night, never to return to their wives, upon finding out on their wedding night that their wives had pubic hair. In fact, I find it a little strange that he had not known until then. Even in the Victorian era men were known to run around with loose women and whores. The only difference is that now it’s celebrated and back then it was kept hush-hush and only talked about amongst other men, not fit for mixed company.

    As for lesbians, even today it’s still more acceptable for women to be homosexual than for men. I find it interesting, however, that its something most people didn’t think possible in the Victorian era. I’m not surprised by Queen Victoria’s reaction, though. I’m sure she was thinking, “how could women be homosexual? What on earth could they DO with each other? Please, don’t bother me with this ridiculousness!” That’s what most people even today sometimes wonder. Why would women even want to be homosexual? What could they possibly DO to each other? They have the wrong equipment to satisfy each other! Although, you can always BUY the equipment. ^_^

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