Sexuality in the 19th Century


The Society for the Suppression of Vice was formed in London. Its aims were to control the spread of immorality, and “to preserve the minds of the young from contamination by exposure to the corrupting influence of impure and licentious books, prints, and other publications”. The society continued its work of prosecuting artists and writers and assisting authorities in banning publications with any level of sexual content, well into the Victorian era.

In 1873, Anthony Comstock started the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice to do the same work across the Atlantic.


The term “sadism” first made it into the English dictionary, after Marquis de Sade. In his writings, the French aristocrat de Sade explored sexuality with openness and free expression that was beyond his time, but also showed incredible cruelty in some of his sexual acts, which he personally explored and then described in writing. This included capture, violent abuse and rape.

De Sade’s sadism did not derive from a will for violence and cruelty, but from a philosophy of licentiousness and what he defined as complete lack of limitation from morality.


The start of the Victorian era saw the grizzly Queen Victoria take her seat as the English monarch, which would last until 1901. While this is an age which has become known as being sexually uptight and demure, it was actually the golden age of pornography. It is probable that the porn, kink and erotic literature that this time spawned, are a direct result of the way sex was suppressed.

By the way, women did quite well under Queen Vic. While they weren’t having much fun in the bedroom, they were given the legal right to property, the right to divorce and the right to seek child custody.


Charles Goodyear (yes, the tire mogul) introduced the new era of condoms, by inventing a manufacturing process, which he called Vulcanization. This meant that rubber could be processed to make it very thin and strong. The new age of condoms made them much safer than earlier condoms which were made of natural materials (intestines) or textiles (linen), and were therefore neither strong nor safe for use.


Sigmund Freud was born in Moravia (now the Czech Republic). According to his own theories, between his birth and age 5, he did most of his psycho-sexual development, but his writings on sexuality that changed Western thinking, were done over the next 83 years.

Among his revolutionary writing were:

  • Studies in Hysteria (1895) in which Freud contends that sexuality is the central cause of Hysteria
  • The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) based on analysis of his own dreams
  • Three Essays on Sexuality (1905) proposed that children are born with sexual urges and that their parents are their first sexual objects
  • Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920) where Freud introduced the competing drives of Eros, working towards sexual connection, reproduction, harmony, creativity, and self-preservation, versus Thanatos driving towards destruction, aggression and self-destruction.


A then-famous gynecologist by the name of Dr. Isaac Baker Brown began practicing clitoridectomies (removal of the outer clitoris) on women in London. This procedure followed from his professional “discovery” that women’s masturbation caused epilepsy, hysteria and idiocy!

The surgery practice didn’t do any good for his reputation, in fact, it had him thrown out of Obstetrical Society of London. Unfortunately, despite the medical rejection of this ridiculous intervention, gynecologists in America began following his example and performing clitoridectomies. Time would prove this to be not only unnecessarily harmful, but that it failed to masturbating women from doing what loved.


The term “Homosexual” was first used. Karl Maria Kertbeny, a German researcher who was studying sexual orientation, wrote a letter to the German minister of justice. At this time the Germans were revising their penal codes and Kertbeny was among those who believed that sexual contact between two people of the same gender should be criminalized.

Circa 1880

The first vibrators were invented and brought onto the market. They were powered by electricity, this only a decade after the first electric generator was invented by Thomas Edison, and a decade before household appliances such as the vacuum cleaner, the fan, the kettle and so on.

At this time they were called Massagers and were used by physicians in their private clinics to treat women, who were thought to be suffering from Hysteria. Orgasm was then considered to be a cure for this condition.


The first “modern” birth control clinic in the world was opened in Amsterdam, by Aletta Jacobs and was sponsored by the trade unions. Jacobs was a physician who was accepted to medical school at the University of Groningen after being granted special permission from the minister to allow a woman to do such.


The first kiss on the big screen was between May Irwin and John C. Rice in the movie called “The Kiss”. It caused a major stir, with the churches calling for its banning.

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