"On a voyage to England in 1757, Ben Franklin narrowly escaped shipwreck.
"Afterward, he wrote to his wife, 'The bell ringing for church, we went thither immediately, and with hearts full of gratitude, returned sincere thanks to God for the mercies we had received.
“'Were I a Roman Catholic, perhaps I should on this occasion vow to build a chapel to some saint, but as I am not, if I were to vow at all, it should be to build a light-house.'"
The uterus: storing fetuses and sucking out rape since 1850!2. Orgasm Contests
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.”
Now for a few random sex tips, no longer by Becklard. My comments are in brackets:
5. Prevent the “solitary vice” by eating bland foods
J.H. Kellogg, of Kellogg’s Cornflakes, [who we've looked at before on this blog] 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. Make your kids too tired to masturbate
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.”
[As a note: I don't think I believe this last one. I'd like to see any documentation of court cases or rulings that gave this judgment. I'd also like to know WHEN during the Victorian era this became law, if it ever did. The debate over women's rights in marriage, especially when it came to refusing sex and marital rape, were pretty fraught during most of the Victorian era].
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.”
[Wow. That sounds like a healthy marriage.]
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.”
[That sounds like the most messed up game of Marco Polo EVER.]
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.
[Woah woah woah. The Victorians had just as much knowledge about sex as we do. They just didn't put it into their entertainment and average conversation in the same ways that we do, so obviously we tend to think, 'Oh, if they never wrote about it explicitly in books, they must not have known what it is!' Sex in literature in the Victorian tended to be a lot more coded, and while it was understood by people of the day, we have lost a lot of the meaning and the skill in reading it. I hate this false idea that the Victorians were all innocent prudes who were like, 'Coitus? What is this coitus? Oh, that sounds just awful!"]
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.