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Were respectable Victorians any more concerned about sex than their great grandparents had been?

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Introduction

Were respectable Victorians any more concerned about sex than their great grandparents had been? Before one can answer the question above, two key terms need to be explained: 'respectable' and 'sex'. The Victorian climate was such that the term respectable is usually applied only to those members of society with sufficient status to be marked out as noticeable in a rural/urban setting. To this extent, it is perhaps more correct to realise that the question is aiming towards those Victorians of middle to high status than those of the middle and upper classes. More to the point, respectable may mean either those people of status, or those men of high status. 'Sex' is a term that carries two main connotations, intercourse and gender. Gender itself is a pretty wide ranging issue, covering the role of women in both social life and in the home, as well as increasing political activity from females. In effect, the question is somewhat multi-faceted, and requires a three-sided response: how far were men more aware of women's need and rights in the nineteenth century than in the eighteenth; how did the role of the female change between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; and, how did general attitudes towards intercourse and women change in a broader sense? ...read more.

Middle

decreased rapidly, yet this may be representative more of the austere privacy of the Victorian household which would be reluctant to admit such activities than an actual fall in such indiscretions. In effect, the attitudes towards women changed. They changed in both the way women were treated, and in the assumption of traditional female roles in the household of men. Yet the Victorian woman was equally different from her eighteenth century counterpart. The Victorian woman was a changing force in society. Such occurrences as the Custody of Infants Act of 1839, and the later trend for educating girls at schools (both precipitated women) give evidence to the changing female character. The Custody of Infants Act in particular is representative of the power able to be exercised by Victorian women over their husbands. This Act, which crystallised after the legal battle fought by Caroline Norton to keep her children after separation from a violent husband. This not only shows that the female had a right to her children in equal capacity to her husband, but also that there was an ability for a woman to challenge a man in a court- a legal power not previously seen. It also is indicative of the new emphasis on motherhood, or more to the point, its importance over and above the importance of the male figure. ...read more.

Conclusion

In effect, trends of sex education were just breaking through, but nonetheless they were there. In conclusion, the Victorians were more aware of sex, both categorical and carnal. Trends towards traditional sexual roles were changed as men frequently took over roles at home, and women often took over their husbands businesses after death. Family trends revolutionised the position of the male at home, along with a willingness to consider women's rights by allowing the Custody and Divorce Acts to be passed through parliament. Moreover, the Victorian female was able to push for such reform as she found a new social and political voice not before experience. This is not to say that suddenly the female was the central character in society, far from it. Husband continued to beat wives, and the Divorce Act didn't precipitate a mass rush for every abused female to divorce their husbands. The female role was still very much subordinate to the male, but it was significantly improved on the position of the eighteenth century female. Trends towards intercourse complemented this as trends in marriage changed the way Victorian men sought sex. Prostitution declined and the social/medical considerations of sex changed in a way not seen in the eighteenth century. Although the austere male dominated society still excused the male from any blame of carnal desire, as compared with the female who was pushed to extremes of frigidity or insatiability. In effect, awareness of sex was increased, or at least more openly discussed. ...read more.

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