The 15 most bizarre sex tips from the Victorian era

Giving weird and terrible sex advice is one of our favorite pastimes, but these "conjugal passions" take the cake

Published September 15, 2014 12:00AM (EDT)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.


Dispensing inaccurate and terrible sex advice is a notion that’s as American as Kellogg’s cornflakes (which was invented to thwart masturbation, as we will soon discuss). From the idea that “trotting a horse” prevented pregnancy to the belief that wind patterns during conception affected your offspring’s temperament, the Victorian Era’s tracts, texts, and common wisdoms were rife with laughable gender roles and sexual expectations. Below are some of our favorite tidbits on “conjugal passions.”

1. Uterine suction prevents rape

In 2012, Missouri Senate candidate and Republican Todd Akin told a television station that women can’t get pregnant from “legitimate rape” because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” We wonder if Akin got this absurd notion from brushing up on medical tracts from the ‘50s -- the 1850s, that is. French physiologist Eugene Becklard, M.D., wrote a sex book for the masses, with a title as hard to swallow as the advice itself. “Becklard’s Physiology: Physiological mysteries and revelations in love, courtship and marriage: an infallible guide-book for married and single persons, in matters of the utmost importance to the human race.”

In the book, Becklard states: “The mouth of the uterus, be it known, is very narrow, so narrow in fact, that the fecundating principle would not enter it, but that it craves it, and inhales it by real suction — a proof, by the way, that a rape can never be productive of real offspring.”

The uterus: storing fetuses and sucking out rape since 1850!

2. Orgasm contests

Becklard also believed that, when trying to conceive, the child would turn out more like whoever had the best orgasm. “[T]he party whose temperament predominates in the child was in the highest state of orgasm at the period of intercourse.”

3. Dancing and horse trotting to thwart pregnancy

If one is trying not to beget a child, Becklard advised that, immediately after the conjugal act has occurred, “dancing about the room before repose, for a few minutes, might probably have that effect.” This is, of course, contrary to logic (and to the plot of Dirty Dancing, which is where we get all of our sex advice).

But if you really don’t want to get knocked up, “trotting a horse briskly over a rough road on the following day would ensure it.” He also noted that “strong victuals” and “spirits that promote thirst” are also “great enemies to reproduction.”

4. Masturbation will stunt your growth and make you crazy

“Solitary practices,” as masturbation was called (also the “solitary vice” and “onanism”) were discouraged because “they arrest the growth of stature” and “stop the growth of the organs, and the development of the various functions … and produce an artificial ripeness which must soon wither and dry up.”

But doctor, will I also become impotent? “Indeed, the confirmed onanist becomes incapable of consummating the rights of marriage.”

5. Prevent the “solitary vice” by eating bland foods

J.H. Kellogg, of Kellogg’s Cornflakes, created his famously bland food brand in order to help stave off masturbation in men. According to The Victorian Guide to Sex: Desire and Deviance in the 19th Century by Fern Riddell, Kellogg believed a tasteless diet quelled sexual appetites, and that the following should be avoided: mustard, pepper, rich gravy, beer, wine, cider and tobacco.

6. Need more tips on masturbation prevention?

Aside from eating cornflakes, another book titled Sexual Health: A Plain and Practical Guide for the People on All Matters Concerning the Organs of Reproduction in Both Sexes and All Ages by Henry Hanchett, encouraged parents “to run their children around throughout the day in wild play so the children would be too tired to masturbate before bed.” Female children weren’t much of a concern, as they were believed to have a “low, almost nonexistent sex drive, so only truly deranged females would succumb to the temptations of masturbation.”

7. Flirtation leads to disease

Hanchett, despite succumbing to the common beliefs over masturbation’s evils, was one of the more progressive advice givers of his day. For instance, he believed people should have access to sexual knowledge and that we shouldn’t have bodily shame. “[I]t is no shame to have organs which can house and nurture a budding human life,” he wrote. But he also advised women not to get carried away, as “flirtatious women cause men to visit brothels for ‘relief,’ which only adds to the spread of disease.”

8. If you can’t come at the same instant as your partner, you are a failure

One of the few “rights” granted to Victorian wives was the ability to refuse sex if their husband could not achieve “mutual adjustment,” that is “the orgasm of the woman and the ejaculation of semen of the man in the same instant.”

9. Have sex with your husband as little as possible

But really, you should seldom be boning your husband, at least according to Ruth Smythers, who authored “INSTRUCTION AND ADVICE FOR THE YOUNG BRIDE on the Conduct and Procedure of the Intimate and Personal Relationships of the Marriage State for the Greater Spiritual Sanctity of this Blessed Sacrament and the Glory of God” in 1894.

Smythers writes that brides should: “GIVE LITTLE, GIVE SELDOM, AND ABOVE ALL, GIVE GRUDGINGLY. Otherwise what could have been a proper marriage could become an orgy of sexual lust.”

To aid in this feat, Smythers recommends: “Feigned illness, sleepiness, and headaches [which] are among the wife's best friends in this matter.” If that doesn’t work, “Arguments, nagging, scolding, and bickering also prove very effective, if used in the late evening about an hour before the husband would normally commence his seduction.”

10. “Commence seduction” in complete darkness

“Sex, when it cannot be prevented, should be practiced only in total darkness,” added Smythers. Is this for modesty reasons?

“When he comes groping into the room she should make no sound to guide him in her direction, lest he take this as a sign of encouragement. She should let him grope in the dark. There is always the hope that he will stumble and incur some slight injury which she can use as an excuse to deny him sexual access.”

When he asks you about the random bear traps you’ve placed on the bed, feign surprise, then accuse him of masturbating in his youth as the reason he can’t consummate the marriage.

Men, too, were advised to have sex in the dark, but only so they wouldn’t have to look at their “ugly” wives, according to Aristotle’s Masterpiece, which was, as you can probably guess, neither a masterpiece nor written by Aristotle: “[I]f she is ugly, the advice is: do it in the dark.”

11. Does your husband want to kiss you? Plan your escape

Here’s good ol’ Ruth again: “If he attempts to kiss her hand, she should make a fist. If he lifts her gown and attempts to kiss her anyplace else she should quickly pull the gown back in place, spring from the bed, and announce that nature calls her to the toilet.”

That’s all well and good in the moment, Ruth, but how can I get my husband to stop wanting sex for the rest of our lives?

“As soon as the husband has completed the act, the wise wife will start nagging him about various minor tasks she wishes him to perform on the morrow. Many men obtain a major portion of their sexual satisfaction from the peaceful exhaustion immediately after the act is over. Thus the wife must insure that there is no peace in this period for him to enjoy.  Otherwise, he might be encouraged to soon try for more.”

12. Don’t sneeze

For those few regrettable times when husbands and wives MUST bone for procreative reasons, Riddell’s book noted that strict protocol should be observed: “At the conclusion of the sexual act, the wife must not talk, cough, or sneeze, lest this impede conception.”

13. Lazy sex will turn your children ugly

Other ways you can ruin your future children’s lives forever include not being in love: “Any union without true love, according to the manuals of the day, would bring forth ‘ill-looking, sour and spiritless offspring,’ while those hoping for good-looking children should remember that sex must not be ‘faintly or drowsily performed.’”

14. And whatever you do, don’t have sex on stairs

“A child that was begat upon a set of stair is most likely to be born with a crooked back and given in no small way to the fault of staring.”

Okay, got it. No sex while tired, only perform it begrudgingly, claim incontinence if your husband tries to get “freaky” by kissing you, don’t have sex on stairs, don’t sneeze, cough, flirt, or east mustard, and come at the precise moment that your husband does. Phew. If that seems like a lot to remember, especially for the poor Victorians who had basically zero sexual knowledge and experience, just wait -- there’s more.

15. Pay attention to wind

Here’s Riddell again, who wrote that if Victorians wanted strapping children, they had better be keeping tabs on wind patterns. Children “begat when the wind is blowing from the north” will turn out stronger than those begat during an easterly wind.

And what of south or westerly winds? VIctorian wisdom is conspicuously absent on the matter, but based on all the above anecdotes, we’d guess that it probably causes your kids to be born with flippers.

By Anna Pulley

@annapulley writes about sex and social media for SF Weekly, AlterNet, After Ellen and the Chicago Tribune. She's also attempting to lead a haiku revival on her blog, Let her send you overly personal emails:

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