Why were Victorians sexually repressed?

I know that sexual libertinism and repression tend to succeed one another in cycles. (Well, that model worked as far as the '60s & '70s succeeding the '50s – but I don’t know how to decribe the past ten years. Confusing).

Anyway, my question is why did the Victorians become such outstanding sexual repressors, more than any other era except for the Puritans?

Actually, the Victorians had a very strong sexual side – take a look into Whitechapel and things like “My Secret Life.” Interviews with women of the time showed quite a few who were not sexually repressed (they thought sex was a lot of run). Bordellos were a common sight.

However, this sort of thing was never talked about in polite society. The repression was that of words, not of action.

And after you got under the first couple layers of clothes, the started to smell like compost. Ewwwww.

Could the public display of repression amongst the middle and upper classes have been a reflection fo the prolonged mourning of Queen Victoria herself?

Jomo Mojo writes:

> I know that sexual libertinism and repression tend to
> succeed one another in cycles. (Well, that model worked
> as far as the '60s & '70s succeeding the '50s – but I
> don’t know how to decribe the past ten years. Confusing).

Most theories in which things run in cycles are really nothing but selective observation of the facts and attempts to find trends where there aren’t any. What you’re doing here is saying, “Let’s look at the past several decades and try to characterize them in regards to sexual freedom or repression. Let’s see - the '50’s. This is portrayed in movies and TV as being repressed. The '60’s - that’s portrayed as being a time of sexual freedom. The '70’s - that’s usually portrayed as being sort of free too, but the image is actually kind of confused. The '80’s - well, I remember that time from my childhood, and I’m not sure which it was. I know the '90’s even better, and I really can’t classify it as free or repressed.”

Even within the past few decades, it’s not really true that the decades can be easily characterized in this way. Sexual trends, like social trends in general, don’t neatly go up and down by the decades. Changes tend to be slower and not very complete in any case.

I think there’s two reasons why people like to neatly characterize decades in this way. One is the habit of the news media to turn every event into a trend. It’s no fun to see every crime, every social fad, every small change in statistics on marriage, divorce, drug use, sexual habits, etc. as just being a normal blip. It’s much more interesting to turn them into major trends. You sell more papers and get more viewers that way, and, besides, it’s more fun to write impassioned articles about why this small event presages some big change.

The other reason is that it’s easier to portray the past in a movie or TV show or a novel if people have a small set of images of each decade. It’s no fun writing a movie, TV show, or novel set in a decade if you don’t have an easy stereotype to play off of. Why bother to set a fictional piece in the past at all if you can’t play off the reader’s or viewer’s stereotypes? You wouldn’t want the audience to actually think, would you?

One answer I heard was:- “They could do anything they liked as long as it wasn’t in the open and frightened the horses”.In other words discretion

I don’t think that the Victorians were sexually repressed anymore than any other generation. On the contrary, I think they were pretty sexy. Where you getting your into Jomo?

Probably not, since it was in place by the time she reached the throne. Victoria herself seemed to have healthy sexual relationships (a lot of children by Albert, for instance), if perhaps a somewhat sheltered point of view (the story – possibly a legend, that she ordered removed any references to lesbianism in an antihomosexual law because women didn’t do that).

Two words: Marlborough Set.

If you think the Vitorian were repressed, look at the references on Sex in Richard Shenkman’s book “Legends, Lies, and Cherished yths of American Hstory”. I kno that some folks on this bard aren’t fond of Shenkman, but I look on his books as the history equivalent of Jearl D. Walker’s “Flying Circus of Physics” – good source for eferences.

Besides, it was during the height of the victorian era that Sir Richard Burton founded the Kama Shastra Society, devoted to publishing English translations of books like the Kama Sutra, The Perfumed Garden, and others of that sort. Burton also translated an entirely unexpurgated version of the Thousand and One Nights, which is a much racier book than you ever guessed from your nursery books. All of this was done very much out in the open.

My WAG is that the prudery we associate with Victorian times was actually a product of the late 19th/ early 20th century “reforms”, some moralistic, some psuedo-scientific that came into vouge around that time. This was when various crackpots like Drs. Kellog and Graham were linking masturbation and sex with a host of physical and mental ailments.

Is it true graham crackers were invented to cure the dread fever of lust?

Well, all I know is that, in the English language, “Victorian” has become a synonym for sexual repression. Whether that was justified or not may be debatable. Maybe the question I should have asked is: How did the Victorians get that reputation?

‘Victorian’ comes from Queen Victoria,
Alexandrina Victoria queen of Great Britain (1837*1901); recognized as symbolizing new conception of British monarchy and a unified empire including the art, letters, or tastes of her time which were typically of tight moral standards, attitudes, or conduct which was considered stuffy or hypocritical. Hey, I have a dictionary, its a handy thing.

I think they got the underserved reputation form stereotypes like You will abhor the sex act, but it is a duty you owe your husband, the best you can do is lie back and think of the empire. Yeah, sure mom. But at a time when of only semi-reliable birth control methods like abstinence were available, it is possible some women refused their husbands out of fear of childbirth.
Such a stereotype may have been expanded and polished by later generations trying to get their daughters to behave as morally as they thought grandma did. Certainly every generation seems to view their grandparents’ times as morally pure and nice.

Actually, I wouldn’t say that Victoria was the cause of the so-called repression. She was more shaped by the age than the age was shaped by her. It was more of a backlash against the previous era of the Regency, when the royal family was seen as a major disgrace-George III had 13 children and not ONE of them had produced a legitimate heir.
There were bastards all over the place, but not one child born fit to accede. The Prince Regent, later George IV, had one child with a wife he despised, but the child, Charlotte, Princess of Wales, died in childbirth along with a stillborn son. Queen Victoria and her husband were reacting against the horrible disgrace of the way her uncles behaved.

After all, the previous eras had been VERY scandalous. But I am soooo tired of people thinking that everyone was a prude. That was HARDLY the case. People were just a wee bit more, shall we say-discreet?

Guinastasia writes:

Not true. Victoria was George III’s granddaughter – by his fourth son, Edward Duke of Kent. For that matter, Ernest Augustus Duke of Cumberland, next son after Edward, who became King of Hanover (because Hanover had the Salic Law) fathered a legitimate line of descendants that survives to this day.

I haven’t none all of the research on George III’s other children, but I know that at least one of them had children that were born of a marriage that was perfect in form, but declared to be in contravention of the Royal Marriages Act.

Nor was Charlotte illegitimate – she merely didn’t survive her father.

I think Guisistasia is right. Victoria and Albert were reacting against the excesses of the 18th century. Also, I’ve read that Albert was the really uptight one who advocated all the discretion. Victoria loved sex–how else did she get about 9 children, when she hated having them? (source: Victoria: the young queen, Monica Charlot.)

But really, Victorians did whatever they wanted, just behind closed doors. Apparently, all the heavy clothes were considered very sexy–you could imagine a lot, and the titillation of watching someone undress layer by layer was great.

Then, the Romantics promoted the ideal of the innocent, pale, timid, consumptive young girl. I bet that helped a lot. Girls weren’t supposed to know anything.

In sexually free 1996, about 54 of 1000 women ages 15-19 gave birth to babies. In sexually repressed 1957, 96 of 1000 women ages 15-19 had babies. The all time high (since they’ve been keeping track) for teen mothers occured in the 50’s. Does that sound like a sexually repressed decade to you?

I know she was George’s granddaughter, and that her younger uncles had children later on. HOWEVER, right before she was born, there was what they called the Race for an Heir-all of the King’s sons were competing to produce a legit heir. Victoria’s uncles the Dukes of Cumberland and Cambridge did have sons-but they came behind Victoria in sucession, as her father was elder than Cumberland and Cambridge. I guess I shouldn’t have said there weren’t any legit heirs, but at the time of her conception, there wasn’t. Charlotte was pretty much the only one. It is complicated, I agree-I think I over simplified.

Funny, Charlotte’s husband was Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, whose sister, Princess Victoire would become the Duchess of Kent and Victoria’s mother.

Lance Turbo, I think the availability of birth control might be one of factors that would explain the difference in numbers of teenage mothers between 1957 and 1996. I would imagine that more teenagers were sexually active in 1996 than in 1957.