Long Ago Life Was Clean, Sex Was Bad and Obscene


Victoria loved them all.

Website of the day: Lesley Hall's compendium of myths about Victorian sex, which disputes some stories I've always doubted (e.g., the tale that England did not outlaw lesbian sex because the queen refused to believe the practice existed) and some I'd never heard before (e.g., "The assumption that John Ruskin had a phobia about female pubic hair and that this was the reason for the non-consummation of his marriage to Effie Gray, subsequently annulled"). Many of the myths are of recent vintage, suggesting that the use of the Victorian era as a projection screen is not abating—though just what we're projecting might be changing with time.

Bonus link: Sadly, Hall never weighs in on whether Holmes and Watson were lovers.

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  1. There’s a pretty straightforward way to address John Ruskin’s phobia, it seems to me.

    1. She probably refused to get lockjaw from a rusty razor.

        1. Sugar, water, and lemon juice.

          1. Au natural!

        2. Brazil hadn’t been invented yet.

    2. Let him marry another dude?

  2. whether Holmes and Watson were lovers.

    Please don’t give Vanneman any ideas.

    1. Actually, Dave Allen [Dave Allen at Large] did a pretty good take on that.

    2. What about House and Wilson?

      1. Thank you for asking the important question. The answer is clearly no; if they would only stop denying the obvious they would be far less fucked up human beings.

    3. Fundamentally Men form nonsexual bonds with each other in friendship and business with greater ease then women do. Some may call this a cultural phenomenon but i am more inclined to think it is a biological one. Men are the ones who traditionally Hunt and fight in war and protect the tribe from violance. and these activities are always easier to be successful at in pairs or groups then if they are done alone. This is a cross cultural phenomena…it happened in china it happened in pre-Columbus America, it happened in Europe in Africa and in Australia.

      Anyway the rise of women into education has left piles of work of the past written by men that describe this phenomena. Women who are left ignorant of this phenomena interpret it as homo erotic.

      The simple fact is that men bond. These bonds are intimate and strong and can be long lasting. There are good evolutionary reasons why this occurs. Calling them homosexual in nature is fundamentally a cop out and lazy.

      Homes and Watson did exactly the sort of activities a pair of hunters or warriors or tribal protectors would have done if they were living 10,000 years ago.

      And just in the same way a pair of stone age hunters would have benefited Homes and Watson hunted criminals, they fought side by side, and they protected the common good of London, they benefited as well.

      1. This phenomenon occurs (occurred if you’re talking past tense as with Holmes and Watson) with women–see the “Boston marriages” of the past. Evolutionary psychology would support this as well, but really between two married women. Though ev-bio would frown on the idea that men hunted in pairs as that doesn’t seem likely. More likely what causes these friendships to arise are the exact same mechanisms as today–you find someone you think you can be close to and it’s there.

        1. “Though ev-bio would frown on the idea that men hunted in pairs as that doesn’t seem likely.”

          huh? pack hunting by slow moving, but intelligent homo sapiens is… unlikely?

  3. We could learn a little from Victorians. They were pretty wild in their own way. They just didn’t talk about it in public.

    1. No, we could learn from the aristocrats of the Georgian period. Ever see Barry Lyndon? That’s the way to live a life.

      1. True. The Georgians had all of the secret Satanic clubs and such. The Georgians really knew how to party.

        1. I guess this is early Victorian, though.

          “The gas will be administered only to gentlemen of the first respectability. The object is to make the entertainent in every respect a genteel affair”

            1. The first club that Lord describes as a Hell-Fire Club was not actually a club (p. 44). It was an invention of the press in response to a royal proclamation on 28 April 1721

              I love how nothing ever really changes.

          1. Wow. I’ve had some experiences with nitrous, and genteel is absolutely NOT the word I would use to discribe them.

            1. ROGER THAT

        1. What about Mr. Crowley?

        2. Wow, some Victorians were really into kink! Not much changes.

    2. The BBC did a series What the Victorians Did For Us which debunked many of the myths and pointed out the tremendous accomplishments of the Victorian era.

      TBS, you could get away with a lot of stuff if you were one of the ‘right people’. If you were lower class (i.e. 80% of the population, doing the ‘wrong’ thing could get you really screwed.)

      1. The class structure was a real problem. That is true. And you could get away with about anything if you were upper class as long as you didn’t shove it in people’s faces. If you did, then you had problems, see Oscar Wilde.

        I would not want to go back to that age. But, at the same time, it would be nice if people were more circumspect and private about what they did. I really don’t like today’s look at me culture.

        1. Not being ashamed of one’s sexuality and actually being seen in public with another man isn’t throwing it in people’s faces.

          1. There’s a difference between shame and discretion.

            1. If discretion was the sole price to pay for extreme tolerance and liberty, I would sign.

      2. But of course we have a lot of that today. If you are wealthy and stay off of the police radar you can pretty much do drugs with impunity and if you are caught you will get probation. If you are poor, good luck with that.

        1. True, although the drug laws are a product of the ideas of Victorian “reformers” intent on “improving the lot of the poor.”

          (Which just adds yet another example to the Libertarian maxim: “Whatever the Government sets out to do for you, it winds up doing to you.”

          1. Werent the drug laws post-Victorian?

            1. The drug laws were passed much after the end of the Victorian era, but the reform movement that gave birth to them arose primarily in the Victorian era.

              1. Nannyism has a longer history than that. Read Craze (if you can find it) – it’s about the upper-class attempts to limit or outlaw gin amog the working class.

                1. If you want to, you can trace it back through the sumptuary laws of medieval and beyond, so you are correct.

                  But the major impetus to “uplift” the lower classes arose in the Victorian era.

            2. Depends what laws and what drugs. Opium started being regulated by the Victorians, though the racial issue (damn Chinks!) confounds it some. The Temperance movement only went from strength to strength subsequently.

          2. Actually our drug laws are a lot like the Victorian’s homosexuality laws. Think about it. In both cases, the act was considered totally socially verboten. I suspect that today in most upstanding households, rolling a joint up in the living room would buy you about the same amount of social reproach as being found in bed with your boyfriend would have in the 19th Century. Yet, at the same time the act is still practiced widely and is tacitly acknowledged. In the same way our President can today talk about “doing a little blow” back in the day and get away with it, the children of the upper classes used to fall in love with each other in boarding school and provided they went on to marry and live a respectable life never suffer any reproach for it. And like today, the homosexuality laws fell hardest on the poor and the unlucky. Just like they do drug raids today, they used to raid gay bars and round up gay prostitutes and their Johns. And just like today we have our rich people who are so public with their drug use the law cannot ignore them (Robert Downey Jr. David Crosby), they had their famous people like Oscar Wilde who were so public they ran afoul with the law.

            Maybe I am too optimistic, but I think our mania about drugs will go the same way the Victorians mania about homosexuality went. We have only been doing a real go to prison for decades prohibition for about 70 years or so. That is not very long in human terms. In another hundred years or so, people will be looking back on us wondering why we were so prudish and obsessive about drugs. And historians will be writing counter-factual articles explaining how widespread and accepted drug use was if you just kept it out of the public.

            1. That was pretty well said.

              1. YEP, That’s about how I see it.

            2. +10

            3. I would feel way more comfortable smoking a joint in front of my parents then being caught in bed mid-copulation with a women let alone a with a man by them.

              Plus way more people have smoked pot then have participated in homosexual sex.

              1. I didn’t say which would embarrass you more, I said which would cause you more social approbation. And maybe your parents think drugs are fine. Indeed some Victorians didn’t mind that their kids were gay. But most did. Take the getting caught in bed part out of it. Most parents today would be as shocked to find out that their kid is doing drugs as Victorians would have been to find out their kid was gay.


    1. From the West to the East
      From the rich to the poor
      Victoria loved them all

  5. Oh wow, man this really makes a lot of sense dude.


    1. Oh wow, sadly, all your comments can’t be winners dude.

  6. Holmes and Watson were lovers.

    I never thought so before, but the link convinces me. The writer’s not knowing the difference between “elude” and “allude”?or even what “continually” means?can only mean that his gaydar is so strong it’s driven out all his higher faculties.

  7. I wonder how many of those myths are enshrined as incontrovertible fact in women’s studies texts?

    1. In “Women’s Studies” texts, it all went wrong when the Matriarchy* was overthrown 5,500 years ago.

      *(Don’t ask “What Matriarchy?” The reason we don’t know about it is that the Patriarchy wiped out all record of it.)

      1. Don’t you mean the man-o-centric maleocracy?

        1. Apologies for using last week’s version of newspeak.

          1. Does not fem-pute.

      2. The proper term is “Phallocracy”.

      3. As a female I’d prefer hunting-gathering rather than shitty-ass agriculture but I didn’t take any women’s studies classes either.

      4. So, every people with a matriarchy historically got completely owned, probably by people with a patriarchy. Matriarchy sounds like a terrible idea; to be absolutely safe, let’s eliminate women’s suffrage.

  8. Nothing about the mosque near Ground Zero?

    1. I don’t think Moslems are allowed to have sex during Friday prayers.

      I could be wrong about this, however.

      1. Layman: Is it wrong to smoke while I pray?
        Cleric: Of course it is! When you pray, you must be fully focused on praying, with nothing whatsoever to distract you!

        Layman: Is it wrong to pray while I smoke?
        Cleric: Of course not! There is no time and no activity that praying does not enhance.

    2. Mooslems turned Holmes and Watson gay!

  9. Matthew Sweet’s “Inventing the Victorians: What We Think We Know About Them and Why We’re Wrong” is a good book on just this topic.

  10. The assumption that John Ruskin had a phobia about female pubic hair and that this was the reason for the non-consummation of his marriage to Effie Gray, subsequently annulled


    Whatever you bring to the party, baby, Brazilian, landing strip, hirsute surprise, ambiguous genitalia, it’s all good.

    1. But no tucks. I’m not falling for that again.

  11. National Organisation of Men Against Amazonian Masterhood

    Join now, before it’s too late!

  12. One often hears it asserted that the nineteenth century girl did not attain menarche until the age of around 17. Vern L Bullough pointed out that this was a misinterpretation of the often scattered evidence, in his article ‘Age at Menarche: A Misunderstanding’ published in Science, 213, 17 Jul 1981, pp. 365-366, and that the assumption that over the previous hundred years the age of menarche had dropped precipitously from 17 to 12.5 years was based upon misinformation, so that the change was very much less than supposed.

    are these averages?

    If so bleeding 7 years olds is not that big of deal and only an outlier.

  13. Without sounding like I am stating the obvious I assume that you are trying to teach us bloggers something with this post Liz. So I will say what I have learned and APPLIED from reading this site and this post.

  14. Without sounding like I am stating the obvious I assume that you are trying to teach us bloggers something with this post Liz. So I will say what I have learned and APPLIED from reading this site and this post.

  15. When an opportunity is neglected,it never comes back to you.

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