Victorian Women Liked Sex, Says Early Survey

Queen Victoria's advice to her generation of seemingly uptight and sexless women was to "close your eyes and think of England," or so the story goes.

Who knew that Victorian women, those born in the mid- to latter-half of the 19th century, actually enjoyed sex and experienced orgasm?

Before Kinsey, before Masters and Johnson, the nation's first "Dr. Ruth" surveyed women born just after the Civil War, painting an intimate portrait that is strikingly at odds with the perception that Victorians were prudes.

VIDEO: Think You Know How Sex Works?
null

Stanford University is celebrating Clelia Mosher, "The Sex Scholar," in the spring issue of its alumni magazine, revealing an early feminist who never reaped the rewards or recognition of her pioneering research.

"She was one of those people we sometimes encounter who seems to have been born at the wrong time," Stanford Magazine editor Kevin Cool said.

"And, of course, the research itself was truly groundbreaking and intrinsically interesting because of its subject matter. Victorian women liked sex."

Mosher conducted her surveys throughout the 1920s but died in 1940 at 77, never publishing her data. It was unearthed accidentally by Stanford historian Carl Degler in 1973, as the feminist movement was gaining ground.

Degler, 89, was in the college archives researching his book, "At Odds, a History of Women and the Family in America From the Revolution to the Present," when he discovered statistics on menstruation, letters and the daring surveys.

"This was one of the most exciting experiences I have ever had as a historian," said Degler, an early feminist. "No one had ever seen it before.

"I still remember one question: 'Do you have vaginal orgasms?" he said.

Mosher's work, about 45 profiles in all, has been a treasure trove for feminist scholars. They also reveal a brilliant and odd scientist who championed the cause of women, but led a lonely life.

"In many ways, she was a modern woman and was very unhappy because of it," Degler said. "She never married and she had no relations with men."

Degler made the surveys public in 1974, concluding in an article in the American Historical Review that even though there was "an effort to deny women's feelings" during the Victorian age, "ideology" was "never put into practice."

One woman, born in 1844, told Mosher that sex was "a normal desire" and "rational use of it tends to keep people healthier."

Another, younger by 20 years, said "the highest devotion is based upon it, a very beautiful thing, and I am glad nature gave it to us."

Some worried that they shouldn't enjoy sex so much. Another moved out of the bedroom "to avoid temptation of too frequent intercourse." Others faulted their husbands for not being "properly trained."

Clelia Mosher Researched Sex Before Kinsey

Mosher questioned dozens of women long before Albert Kinsey pioneered his own studies of willing friends in his Indiana attic and published his 1953 book, "Sexual Behavior in the Normal Female."

Her studies were less than scientific and her subjects were mostly well-educated faculty wives who may have been more enlightened. But they gave a voice to the women themselves.

Abortion and contraception were illegal then but many of the women admitted they had tried douching, withdrawal or rhythm to prevent pregnancy. Some had even tried the "womb veil" or male condoms.

Page
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
  • |
  • 4
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...