Geschlecht Geschichte Uncategorized victorian era

How Did Sex Work in The Victorian Era?

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Unveiling the complexities of Victorian Era sexuality: delve into the tensions, societal expectations, and individual desires.

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The Victorian era, spanning from 1837 to 1901, is often characterized by its rigid social norms, strict moral codes, and an emphasis on propriety and restraint. However, beneath the veneer of prudishness and decorum, Victorian sexuality was a complex and multifaceted aspect of society. This article aims to delve into the nuances of Victorian attitudes towards sexuality, exploring the tensions between repression and rebellion, social expectations and individual desires.

Social Constructs and Moral Codes

Victorian society was governed by a set of stringent moral codes and social constructs that dictated acceptable behavior, particularly regarding matters of sexuality. The era was marked by an idealized image of domesticity, purity, and chastity, particularly for women. Respectability and virtue were highly valued, and any deviation from these ideals was met with social ostracization and condemnation.

The Cult of True Womanhood

Central to Victorian ideals of femininity was the concept of the “angel in the house” or the “cult of true womanhood.” Women were expected to embody qualities of purity, piety, domesticity, and submissiveness. Their primary role was seen as that of wives and mothers, devoted to the care and nurturing of their families. Female sexuality was often relegated to the private sphere, and any display of sexual agency or desire was deemed scandalous.

victorian era sexuality

Sexual Repression and Double Standards

While the Victorian period is often associated with sexual repression, it is important to recognize that this repression was not uniform across all levels of society. While the middle and upper classes adhered more strictly to moral codes regarding sexuality, the lower classes often faced different circumstances. Poverty, overcrowding, and lack of privacy meant that sexual mores were often more relaxed, and extramarital relationships or premarital sex were not uncommon.

angry woman in the victorian era

Moreover, there existed a significant double standard regarding sexual behavior between men and women. While men were afforded greater sexual freedom and were often expected to sow their wild oats before settling down, women were expected to remain chaste and virtuous until marriage. Adultery was severely condemned, particularly for women, and could result in ruinous consequences for their social standing and reputation.

Sexuality and the Medical Discourse in the Victorian Era

The Victorian era also witnessed the emergence of the medical discourse surrounding sexuality, particularly through the works of figures such as Richard von Krafft-Ebing and Havelock Ellis. This period saw an increased interest in understanding and categorizing various sexual behaviors and identities, and a diverse array of ”medical” treatments albeit through a lens of pathology and moral judgment.

victorian era sexuality

Sexual Rebellion and Subversion in the Victorian Era

Despite the prevailing moral conservatism, Victorian society was not devoid of sexual rebellion and subversion. The era saw the rise of movements advocating for sexual freedom and women’s rights, challenging traditional notions of gender and sexuality. Figures such as the suffragist Annie Besant and the birth control advocate Charles Bradlaugh pushed the boundaries of societal norms, advocating for women’s reproductive rights and sexual autonomy.

Literature and Erotica in the Victorian Era

Victorian literature provides a rich tapestry of themes related to sexuality, often exploring hidden desires and taboo subjects beneath the surface of polite society. Authors such as Oscar Wilde, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, and the Brontë sisters offered glimpses into the complexities of human passion and desire, albeit often couched in veiled language and metaphor.


The study of Victorian sexuality reveals a fascinating interplay between repression and rebellion, societal expectations and individual desires. While the era is often remembered for its rigid moral codes and strict social norms, it was also a period marked by subversion, resistance, and the gradual loosening of sexual mores. Understanding Victorian sexuality requires a nuanced approach that acknowledges both the constraints of the time and the resilience of human nature in navigating the complexities of desire and identity.

Further reading

Has this article peaked your interest in historical sexual practices?
Read all about 19th century hysteria and the invention of the vibrator!

hysteria meaning

And if you want to delve further into the past. Read all about the sexual and political intricacies of ancient harems!

Harems: der uralte Tiktok-Trend des Benching

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