I’ve written this as a response to the @BuzzFeed article: 9 Books That Will Change Your Sex Life, because the Victorians were awesome and knew a hell of a lot more about sex than we give them the credit for.
1. Fruits of Philosophy: Published by Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh, 1877
WHY: Originally a book from the 1840s, ‘Fruits of Philosophy’ was a contraception handbook for the late victorian period. Covering everything from the withdrawl method, douching, early spermicides and condoms, this little known book exploded in popularity in 1877, when it’s new publishers were tried for obscenity and inciting public immorality. The readership rocketed from 700 a year to 125,000 within a couple of months, as crowds of hundreds gathered to get their hands on a copy.
2. The Kama Sutra, Sir Richard Francis Burton, 1883
WHY: You might be surprised to learn that we have the Victorians to thank for this making its way into our society, but we do. Originally translated in the 1880s, Burton’s copies of The Kama Sutra, and A Thousand and One Nights, holds it’s most shocking ideas in the footnotes, which argue that pederasty has a place in society, and that western men have no idea how to sexually please a woman.
3. “The Art of Begetting Handsome Children”, Author Unknown, 1860
WHY: This virtually unknown pamphlet argues for two things: Firstly, that if you want beautiful children then both people have to really, really enjoy the sex that they are having. Because that is the best expression of true love, and true love results in beautiful children. And secondly, that the only way a woman would become pregnant was if both people invovled climaxed at the same time. So there we go: the Victorians – sexual pleasure and the female orgasm.
4. A Guide to Marriage, published by Albert Sidebottom, 1865
WHY: Contains a lot of mentalness, but also a hell of a lot of common sense and advice for a young couple intent to marriage, including: ‘All love between the sexes is based upon sexual passion..the sex instinct is in itself neither coarse or degrading, unless it exists in a coarse or degraded individual’. It does also say not to marry anyone who is constitutionally diseased, or who sufferers from strongly criminal or drunken tendencies. So we’re all doomed.
5. My Secret Life, Henry Spencer Ashbee, 1888
WHY: If you want to know just what sexual positions, slang and dirty language was used in the 19thC, then Ashbee’s anonymously penned autobiography is the book for you. He collected and maintained one of the worlds largest collections of erotic objects and literature from across the ages till his own, leaving it to the British Museum on his death. Small word of caution: very, very, VERY #NSFW.
WHY: I have a lot of love for this tiny, and seriously odd little book, but mostly because it argues that celibacy was a really bad idea for men AND women, and would send you mad, or worse. ‘Every part of the human economy has its particular use. The productive organs have theirs, but it is not only for the propagation of the species: They assist in resolving animal passions,; they are the secret incentive to sexual love, and the bond of union between the sexes; they give appetite which, like hunger, must be appeased or nature revolts, and the harmony of society falls before the unrestrained fury of maniacal solitude’
*Basically what we’ve learned so far is that the Victorians thought we all needed to have sex well, and often, or the world would end.
7. Sexual Inversion, Havelock Ellis et al, 1897
WHY: The first medical textbook to explore, and attempt to *understand*, homosexuality, Ellis’s work is also a voice in favor of a more accepting attitude towards those whom most Victorian society are believed to have reviled. Seeing as Oscar Wilde’s trial for sodomy was only a few years early in 1895, this was no mean feat.
8. The Library Illustrative of Social Progress, John Camden Hotten, 1872
WHY: Probably one of the closest 19thC ideas to 50 Shades of Grey, this book was published falsely claiming to be from the 18thC. It had actually been taken from the collection of one of the Victorian’s greatest pornographers, Henry Spencer Ashbee, and covers the themes of Flagellation with the immortally titled ‘Lady BumTickler’s Revels’.
9. Psychopathia Sexualis, Richard Krafft-Ebing, 1886
WHY: Possibly not a the greatest book to have on the list, this was the first attempt to categorize all the different fetishes that the human sexual identity could dream up. From foot fetishists to early ideas of BDSM, this is the book that proclaimed to the world that women had little to no sexual urges, and that homosexuality was an act of sexual deviance.
So there we go, 9 books on sex and sexuality from the Victorians – and not a broken corset string in sight.
- Charles Bradlaugh nominated for a “People’s Plaque” in Tower Hamlets (secularnewsdaily.com)
- Annie Besant: #FreeThinking For BBC Radio 3 (viceandvirtueblog.wordpress.com)
- 9 Books That Will Change Your Sex Life (buzzfeed.com)