Victorian Women Liked Sex, Says Early Survey

"My husband and I . . . believe in intercourse for its own sake -- we wish it for ourselves and spiritually miss it, rather than physically, when it does not occur, because it is the highest, most sacred expression of our oneness," wrote one woman, born in 1860.

"On the other hand, there are sometimes long periods when we are not willing to incur even a slight risk of pregnancy, and then we deny ourselves the intercourse, feeling all the time that we are losing that which keeps us closest to each other," she said.

Another woman, who was born in 1862, told Mosher that she felt "a strong desire for children" but marriage was no more than "legalized prostitution.

"I most heartily wish there were no accidental conceptions," she wrote. "I believe the world would take a most gigantic stride toward high ethical conditions, if every child brought into the world were the product of pure love and conscious choice."

Elizabeth Griego, whose exhaustive research for a 1983 dissertation on "marginalized" professional women was the basis of Stanford's article, said, "They were very worried about the safety of childbirth and losing babies.

"They saw sex as a form of intimacy with their husbands, what we would say today," said Griego, now vice president for student life at University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif. "They saw it as natural and there was an absence of the kind of hysterical stereotypes we perceive in their thinking of sex."

Although many of the women were naive about sex, 35 of the 45 profiled women said they had desire, and 34 reported orgasm; 24 said pleasure was the main reason for intercourse and about three-quarters of the women engaged in sex at least once a week.

Mosher didn't.

Socially awkward and described as "mannish" in her dress, Mosher had no male suitors or even female friends, only imaginary ones to whom she wrote poignant letters, yearning for intimacy.

"She was a woman in a man's field who wished to be a researcher and a scientist and didn't know any other women," Griego said. "Her ground-breaking path was to be able to conduct research and hoped to be taken seriously."

Mosher was born in 1863, the "temperamental" daughter of an Albany, N.Y., doctor who instilled in her a love of physiology by taking her on his rounds. But he wouldn't let her go to college, instead setting her up in a florist shop.

"He drew on the prevalent Spencerian notion that the body was a closed energy system and if women were to engage in the mental strain of higher education, it would divert a crucial amount of limited energy from the uterus and impair their ability to reproduce," Griego said.

But, at 25, Mosher saved enough money to venture to Wellesley College in Massachusetts before heading to the University of Wisconsin, where she began surveys on "marital relations." She followed a mentor to Stanford in 1893.

Mosher Studied Women's Respiration, Menstruation

Mosher's first studies were in respiration. She railed against the hooped skirts and tight corsets of the time, believing they were responsible for shallow chest-breathing.

"The skirt, as modified by the vagaries of fashion, has a direct bearing on the health, development and efficiency of the woman," Mosher wrote in 1920. "I made a series of observations on the clothing of 98 young women. The average width of skirt was then 13.5 feet. The weight of the skirt alone was often as much as the entire weight of the clothing worn by the modern girl."

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