In the Victorian era, sexual intercourse was a practice only considered socially acceptable in order to procreate. Sexual desires were accepted for men, but considered not virtuous for women. In fact, promiscuity was thought to be a sign of national decay. Early love manuals encourage intercourse for pleasure, but caution readers to refrain from intercourse too frequently because many thought too much sexual activity could be harmful insofar as to say it caused cancer, heart conditions and hysteria. Sexual activity acceptance took an even bigger hit in the 1840s after Sylvester Graham claimed in his writings that women experienced no need or want for sexual pleasure and that they did not care about sex in marriage. Other manuals upheld the idea of “marital continence” or the practice of a couple (husband & wife) choosing to abstain from any sexual indulgence in any form. Those women who did seek sexual fulfillment were seen to be leading lives that were not God-filled.
One of the few who challenged the belief that women had no need for sexual experiences was physician Elizabeth Blackwell who believed that a female’s lack of sexual lust came from a fear of injury or death during childbirth and that women were passive due to the fact that men would be rushed to perform quickly leaving women without satisfaction or fulfillment. Other doctors believed that at certain times a woman’s capacity for sexual pleasure was much greater and more intense and prolonged than a male’s.
A belief parroted in Alkaloidal Clinic (1891) declared that women’s lack of education made them believe sex to be immoral and indecent, resulting in a complete race of sexless women who could experience no pleasure during vaginal intercourse. This belief dominated society in the late 1800′s to the early 1900′s.
Change in society about female sexuality came with what was often referred to as the “sexual revolution.” Beginning in the 1950s with the writings of Simone De Beauvoir in which the importance of clitoral stimulation and sex purely for sexual pleasure was emphasized, these new ideas in combination with the women’s liberation movement were in stark contrast to Freudian beliefs that the vagina was the only source for sexual pleasure and orgasm.
Another firm step forward came in the 1960′s when living ideals were all about “sex, drugs & rock & roll.” By the 1970′s, premarital sex was becoming much more acceptable as a social norm. Because of the strides made in the 1960′s, it was finally acknowledged that men and women have an equal need for sexual fulfillment and pleasure.
Today, sex is much more openly accepted and even discussed frankly in society. Although we still have a long way to go in order to accept all the facets of sexuality, we have come an awful long way from chastity belts and clitoridectomy (removal of clitoris).
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