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Sexual Repression in the Victorian Era

Was Sexual Repression common?

The Victorian Era was a time of harsh restraints on sexuality for all people, especially women. The “cult of true womanhood” dictated that submissiveness, purity and piety were the traits of a lady. The only women deemed worthy of marriage were those that abstained from sexual activity. Thus, Women were not allowed to talk about sex nor want to have sex. These were social taboos. Thus, Sexual Repression abounded.

Sexual Repression of women was common
Women were inferior in Victorian era sexuality

Women were treated as inferior

Young girls would be kept in their houses while being closely watched by their mothers so that they did not stray, for an unclean or impure woman would not be capable of finding a husband. In the Victorian era, the only duty of women – and the sole means of obtaining society’s respect – was to get married, keep a good home and have children. From a societal standpoint, the only reason a lady would have sex was to procreate. And enjoying sex was unthinkable!

Views on marital sex

Marital sex was seen as a shameful necessity to married life. Apart from conceiving husbands and their wives even slept in separate bedrooms, to prevent the temptation of getting physically intimate. Physical intimacy for the purpose of enjoyment was looked down upon and, mostly, considered a sin against God and Church. Contraception was another taboo subject, being regarded as anti-religious. So, abstinence was the only method to prevent and regulate child-births.

Sensational women posing for Victorian fiction: Sexual Repression
Sensational women posing for Victorian fiction

Though men, too, were pushed to control their natural instincts, they were considered too weak to control them, this led to a flourishing prostitution business. The Lancet medical journal in 1887 estimated that there were approx. 80,000 prostitutes in London, i.e. out of a total population of approx. 2,400,000, nearly 3% were prostitutes.

Prostitution or “whoring” had long been regarded as detrimental to the Empire, however, until the Victorian era, it had no special place alongside blasphemy, drunkenness or other public disturbances.

Victorian Britain sexuality
Victorian Britain sexuality

Masturbation or what was termed the “solitary vice” or “onanism” emerged as a veritable epidemic, especially amongst children. A medical and moral campaign was waged around the sexuality of children. Parents, educators, doctors were all alerted to hunt out any traces of child sexuality through a myriad of surveillance techniques and upon discovery subject to a seemingly inexhaustible array of corrective measures.

However, it should also be noted that unlike other periods preceding it which had forgone and ignored the sexual tensions and tendencies prevalent in the society, Victorian Era also brought to the public eye, a more deliberate form of sexualities in the empire. This would eventually lead to rising of feminism and sexual freedom, in the 20th century. Also, read about Female Hysteria during Victorian Era and Fainting Couch In Victorian Era