Sex Advice From 1890: Masturbation Makes You Crave Vinegar and Chalkby Chiara Atik on April 04, 2011
What did sex ed look like in 1890? Terrifying and convoluted!
We recently got our hands on a Victorian book for young girls, What a Young Woman Ought to Know, and man does it ever make us feel grateful for our awkward middle school gym teachers.
Published in 1890 as part of a “Purity and Truth: Self and Sex” series. Written in England, printed in Philadelphia.
Seriously, does it look like these two have ever had sex in their lives?
The book is dedicated to“the thousands of girls whose honest inquiries concerning the origin of life and being deserve such a truthful, intelligent and satisfactory answer as will save them from ignorance, enable them to avoid vice, and deliver them from social and solitary sins.”
Great, so it’s going to be truthful, intelligent, and up front about sex. Can’t wait! Also, it’s always good to know what sort of solitary sins to avoid. (Eating frosting right out of the container? Picking your nose?)
Chapter 1: The Origin Of Life
We read this chapter like three times just to try to figure out what the hell was going on.
Sample sentence: “We can raise flowers, fruits or vegetables, because the plant can produce itself through the seed. And we can plant just such seeds as we want and raise the kind of plant we would wish.”
Can’t you just imagine the poor little 12 year old Victorian girl trying desperately to follow this train of thought?
Chapter 2: Man Learns By Experience To Cultivate Plants To Meet His Own Needs
This isn’t even a metaphor. This chapter is straight up about planting seeds that grow into…plants. When are we getting to the sex?
Chapter 3: The Father and Mother Nature Not Always in the Same Flower
After about three useless paragraphs about Indian corn, we get to this:
“The busy bee intent on getting honey for himself has no idea that he is bearing life on his hairy thighs, but they are covered with the pollen he has cought in his visit to a flower and this will be left in the seed-bearing blossom of the same species of flower he next chances to call upon.”
51 pages in and “hairy thighs” is about as hot as this article has gotten: too bad it refers to an insect.
Chapter 6: Where Babies Come From Answered
Finally, we learn that an egg is in a mother’s body, and that the baby grows inside and is nurtured by the body. And as for how the baby comes out?
“When the time came for you to go out into the world to live apart, the door of your little room opened with much pain and suffering, and then you came into the world, or were born, as we say.“
Right, yes, of course. That makes total sense.
As for how the egg gets fertilized:
“The germ of life lay wrapped up in the egg, but it would never wake up unless it were touched by the power that only a father could give.“
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is all Victorian women would know about sexual intercourse until their wedding nights, when boy were they in for a surprise!
“Girls sometimes form a habit of handling their sexual organs because they find a certain pleasure in so doing…”
“Maybe they have never know that it is wrong, but usually they are ashamed of it, and as they go alone to practice this habit, it is called the habit of solitary vice.”
A-ha. Solitary Vice=masturbation. So what happens to girls who masturbate? Well, let’s see:
They will decline in health and disposition
They will become peevish, irritable, morose, and disobedient
They will become indisposed to activity
They will develop unusual appetites for for mustard, pepper, vinegar, and, (alarmingly?) clay, chalk and charcoal.
Bet that explains a lot of your chalk and mustard cravings, doesn’t it?
What It Is To Become A Woman
“She feels a strange weariness, perhaps a headache or backache. She is nervous, it may be irritable, and inclined to cry over little things, or even about nothing. If she understands what all these things mean, she will say to herself, ‘I am getting to be a woman.’”
Honestly, it’s a wonder more Victorian Adolescents didn’t jump out the window before reaching womanhood.
“Many little girls are hurried through physical development through novel reading. I ask you not to read love-stories and silly books of romance.”
This is probably the best piece of advice in the book. Judging from this, Victorian sex lives were awful: reading romantic novels would surely only lead to disillusionment and letdown.
What We Learned
How plants are pollinated.
That babies grow inside the mother until they open a door to their room and come out into the world.
Masturbation is deadly.
Girls get irritable sometimes.
Novels are bad.
What We Didn’t Learn
What sex is.