A Victorian "Kama Sutra"

The story—likely apocryphal—is that one of Queen Victoria’s daughters, dreading her wedding night and fearing that her husband might be beastly, asked her mother what she ought to do. Her Majesty told her daughter that she must simply do her duty. She advised: “Close your eyes and think of England.” If only she had had B.G. Jefferis and J.L. Nichols’s Search Lights on Health: Light on Dark Corners!

Beaver Staff

Posted February 14, 2017

Though it may seem the sex manual found its beginning in Alex Comfort’s 1974 bestseller The Joy of Sex, sex guides have had a long, although often covert, publishing history.

In the nineteenth century, however, with rising literacy and scientific inquiry, and growing freedom of the press, sex manuals were produced with greater frequency. They were not, however, explicit primers to physical lovemaking à la Comfort.

Even the most progressive manuals of the Victorian period went little further than establishing the nature and virtue of love, advocating sexual expression only within the bounds of marriage, and occasionally dipping into the fraught subject of contraception.

A few manuals challenged some of the prevailing constraints of the Victorian period, notably by expressing the right of women to full sexual expression, but most reflected the view that outside of marriage, sexual intercourse was improper and its exclusive purpose procreation, and that the well-being of society required males to practise considerable self-restraint in matters sexual.

One such manual popular in Canada in the late nineteenth century was Search Lights on Health. Light on Dark Comers, by B.G. Jefferis and J.L. Nichols, published in Toronto, excerpts of which follow.

Whether any light is shed is a matter of perspective.

On self-control

Many of our young men lack moral principle. They cannot look upon a beautiful girl with a pure heart and pure thoughts. They have not practiced that self-control which develops true manhood, and brings into subordination evil thoughts, evil passions, and evil practices. …

A young man who allows his mind to swell upon the vision of nude women will soon become a victim of ruinous passion, and either fall under the influence of lewd women or resort to self-abuse. The man who has no control over this mind and allows impure thought to be associated with the name of every female that may be suggested to his mind, is but committing adultery in his heart. …

Restraint is the noblest freedom. No man can affirm that self-denial ever injured him; on the contrary, self-restraint has been liberty, strength and blessing.

On youthful sexual excitement

There are many children born healthy and vigorous who destroy the full vigor of their generative organs in youth by self-abuse, and if they survive and marry, their children will have small bones, small frames and sickly constitutions.

The male organ was made for a high and holy purpose, and woe be to him who pollutes his manhood by practicing the secret vice.…

There can be little doubt that vast numbers of boys are guilty of this practice. In many cases, the degrading habit has been taught by others, e.g., by elder boys at school, where association largely results in mutual corruption.

On the female torso

Men love full breasts, because it promotes maternity. If, however, the breasts are abnormally large, it indicates maternal deficiency the same as any disproportion or extreme.

On the male cranium

Do not marry a man with a low, flat head; for however fascinating, genteel, polite, tender, plausible or winning he may be, you will repent the day of your espousal.

On feet

Small feet and small ankles are very attractive, because they are in harmony with a perfect female form, and men admire perfection. Small feet and ankles indicate modesty and reserve, while large feet and ankles indicate coarseness, physical power, authority, predominance.

On flirting

Those who show too great familiarity with the other sex, who entertain lascivious thoughts, continually exciting the sexual desires, always suffer a weakening of power and sometimes the actual diseases of degeneration, chronic inflammation of the gland, spermatorrhoea, impotence and the like. Young man, beware, your punishment for trifling with the affections of others may cost you a life of affliction.

On sensuality

This is the age of sensuality; unnatural passions are cultivated and indulged. Young people in the course of their engagement often sow the seed of serious excesses. This habit of embracing, sitting in the lover’s lap, leaning on his breast, long and uninterrupted periods of secluded companionship, have become so common that it is amazing how a young lady can safely arrive at the wedding day. …

Lust crucifies love. The young sensual husband is generally at fault. Passion sways and the duty to bride and wife is not thought of, and so a modest young wife is often actually forced and assaulted by the unsympathetic haste of her husband. …

Sensuality will drive away the roses in the cheeks of womanhood, undermine health and produce a brazen countenance that can be read by all men. The harlot may commit her sins in the dark, but her countenance reveals her character and her immorality is an open secret.

On the ideal man

Women naturally love men of strength, size and fine physique.… A woman always pities a weakly man, but rarely ever had any love for him.… All men would be of good size in frame and flesh, were it not for the infirmities visited upon them by the indiscretion of parents and ancestors of generations before.

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On the ideal woman

Men love beautiful women, for women’s beauty is the highest type of all beauty. A handsome woman needs no diamonds, no silks or satins; her brilliant face outshines diamonds and her form is beautiful in calico.

On the wedding night

A young couple rushing together in their animal passion soon produce a nervous and irritating condition which ere long brings apathy, indifference, if not dislike. True love and a high regard for each other will temper passion into moderation.

On lovemaking

The best writers lay down the rule for the government of the marriage-bed, that sexual indulgences should only occur about once a week or ten days … it is a hygienic and physiological fact that those who indulge only once a month receive a far greater degree of intensity of enjoyment than those who indulge their passions more frequently.…

Rampant lust and sexual abuses soon destroy the natural pleasures of intercourse and unhappiness will be the result. Remember that intercourse should not become the polluted purpose of marriage.…

Intercourse should be absolutely avoided just before or after meals, or just after mental excitement or physical exercise. No wife should indulge her husband when he is under the influence of alcoholic stimulants, for idiocy and other serious maladies are liable to be visited upon the offspring.

On being a good wife

Reverence your husband. He sustains by God’s order a position of dignity as head of a family, head of the woman. Any breaking down of this order indicates a mistake in the union, or a digression from duty.…

Now, if a woman cannot broil a beefsteak, nor boil the coffee when it is necessary, if she cannot mend the linen, nor patch a coat, if she cannot make a bed, order the dinner, create a lamp-shade, ventilate the house, nor do anything practical in the way of making home actually a home, how can she be expected to make ever a good wife, not to speak of a better or best wife?

On being a good husband

Express your will, not by commands, but by suggestions.… You are clothed with authority. But this does not authorize you to be stern and harsh.… Your authority is the dignity of love.… A simple suggestion that may embody a wish, an opinion or an argument, becomes one who reigns over such a kingdom as yours.…

Recall and repeat the little attentions and delicate compliments that once made you so agreeable, and that fanned her love into a consuming flame.

On female sexuality

The average woman has so little sexual desire that if licentiousness depended upon her, uninfluenced by her desire to please man and secure his support, there would be very little sexual excess.

On male sexuality

Every healthful man has sexual desires, and he might as well refuse to satisfy his hunger as to deny their existence.

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This article originally appeared in the February-March 2001 issue of The Beaver.

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