As with a restrictive corset worn for far too long, it's time to free yourself of the notion of Victorian women as the epitome of sexual prudishness. An article in Stanford Magazine (via Boing Boing) details the findings of a little known sex survey started in 1892 by Dr. Clelia Duel Mosher that is believed to be the oldest of its kind. Long before the famous Alfred Kinsey was even a glimmer in his parents' eyes, the Stanford professor daringly sat down to ask women about the most intimate aspects of their lives. The results, which were hidden away until 1973, are fascinating and, as the magazine puts it, reveal that "Victorian women weren't so Victorian after all."
The women were largely ignorant of sex until marriage, aside from what they had gleaned from "watching farm animals," but they learned quickly. Writer Kara Platoni explains that "these women had -- and enjoyed -- sex. Of the 45 women, 35 said they desired sex; 34 said they had experienced orgasms; 24 felt that pleasure for both sexes was a reason for intercourse; and about three-quarters of them engaged in it at least once a week." She continues: "Some enjoyed sex but worried that they shouldn't. One slept apart from her husband 'to avoid temptation of too frequent intercourse.'"
Her interview subjects' commentary on carnal delights border on the poetic. Take one woman who wrote:
In my experience the habitual bodily expression of love has a deep psychological effect in making possible complete mental sympathy & perfecting the spiritual union that must be the lasting 'marriage' after the passion of love has passed away with the years.
Another argued that it was "a natural and physical sign of a spiritual union, a renewal of the marriage vows." It may have been a somewhat limited view of sexuality, but it also seems rather sweet, healthy and ... just so basically human.