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Wedding Night Terror: the uneducated virgin and Victorian England


"You can't get pregnant if you're not married" and other sexual misinformation

Sexual knowledge in the hands of unmarried people was seen as dangerous—those children (or, in the case of an unmarried woman in her parent's home, adults) who learned too much about sex were seen as at risk for participating in deviant premarital relations. Having incomplete information on a subject is worse than having no information at all: while young boys may have understood the mechanics of sex and where to purchase sexual experiences, they didn't know about the prevalence of STDs, which spread so widely that genital cauterization was seen as a viable way to keep the viruses and infections in check (Porter 134). Misinformation abounded among the under-educated. It was common belief, for example, that STDs could be passed through towels, water fountains and common eating utensils, meaning that philandering husbands didn't have to explain where they picked up the clap (Melody 23). Sinful sex, mainly sex out of wedlock, was thought to be “procreatively unproductive,” which is obviously wildly untrue (Porter 15). The misinformation didn't stop at rumor though: sex manuals of the time also propagated incorrect ideas as fact. One writer, Henry Hanchett, who will be discussed in detail later, wrote that “vicarious menstruation” was possible, where the egg was expelled through the nose, lungs or some other place (Melody 25). It was commonly written that women only submitted to their husbands' sexual desires because they wanted to be mothers, not because they had any sexual desires themselves (Porter 142). This spread of misinformation lead to a lot of confused people, some with damaged health. Not all sex manuals were so misinformed, but most depicted sexuality in a less-than-honest way.
Does this couple know how babies are made?
"How Do You Do?" Isaac Henry Calgia, via Wikimedia Commons