Sexiness in the Victorian Era

Here are two concepts you wouldn’t think belonged in the same sentence. Who could even fathom the notion of sexiness in the era of Freud and Jack the Ripper? The latter became a symbol of fate for women forced into prostitution against their will, while the former destroyed female desire in its womb with his Electra complex theory. It was truly a terrible time for women, and the genre of Victorian erotica contributed to the hardship.

This genre emerged in the Victorian Era, named after Queen Victoria, who ruled in the 19th century. A product of the sexual culture of the time, it was characterized by a paradoxicalanti-sensuality and rigid morality and an obsession with sex. Enlightened progressives pushed against repressive sexual mores. Victorians struggled with overpopulation, believed to be the direct cause of disease and famine, and sex was socially controlled as a result. Again paradoxically, sex between married heterosexual couples was the only socially and morally permissible form of sex. Paradoxically, because that was a direct cause of overpopulation. Faulty logic aside, sexual desire and pleasure were seen as a deviation from the norm, sinful and sinister.

Strictly punishable forms of sexual behavior included masturbation, pornography, homosexuality (especially male), and prostitution.

Prudish Victorian attitudes stood in stark contrast to genuine Victorian life, much of which centered on sex. Sex was proliferated and repressed at the same time. It was featured in medical manuals like Functions and Disorders of Reproductive Organs and The Sexual Impulse and in cultural magazines like The Rambler and The Penny Magazine. It was popular in entertainment. A lot of art, theatre, and literature of the time included and even expressed sexual and sensual themes.

Normally, erotic stimulation was suggested or implied. Female erotic was marked through hairstyles, clothing, headgear, and horribly restrictive corsets, which came to symbolize the attitude toward sex at the time. Explicit nudity was seldom-seen. The process of uncovering, more specifically the legs, caused sexual arousal.

Popular modes of arousal included veiling and silhouetting, with silhouettes of naked women and brief uncovering of legscreating voyeuristic arousal.

Rampant sexual abuse by fathers of daughters underlays Freud’s Electra complex. Freud was a Victorian-era psychiatrist, as you may know, whose works focused on sexual desire. He was not only a good doctor but also a good businessman. A lot of the girls he examined complained about the abuse. We don’t know how he really felt about knowing the truth, but ultimately, he chose to hide it under the Electra complex theory, according to which girls had an innate sexual desire toward their fathers (like boys did to mothers – Oedipus complex) and dreamt of sex with their fathers, hence the “complaints”.