Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

Butler could speak on this subject with authority, and his novel “The Way of All Flesh” superbly epitomizes the disastrous consequences of the puritan, patrist attitude and demonstrates the insidious way in which such parents can destroy the spontaneity and sincerity of their children.

It was this patriarchal trend which caused the subject of birth control to meet with such violent opposition. If a clear-cut instance of the abruptness with which attitudes can change when a change in parental identifications is occurring, were wanted, no better example could be found than that of attitudes to birth control. John Stuart Mill was imprisoned for suggesting that the use of birth control might reduce the rate of infanticide. Only a few decades before, Bentham had been quite in order in suggesting a wider use of the condom in order to reduce the poor-rate! The new laws against obscenity were promptly used to suppress discussion of birth-control, and few seem to have felt that there might be anything inappropriate in treating discussion of the topic as obscenity. Knowlton’s “Fruits of Philosophy” had been on sale for forty years when a Bristol bookseller was convicted for selling it. Bradlaugh immediately republished it, thus provoking the famous trial which he hoped might lead to an alteration of the law, but which led, as it turned out, to a sentence of six months’ imprisonment and a £200 fine — penalties from which he escaped upon appeal only by the good fortune of a technical error in the drawing of the indictment.

Having seen in earlier chapters how the sexual inhibitions of patrists are reinforced by the sense of guilt created by taboos on infantile masturbation, it is clearly to the point to ask whether or not the Victorians laid special stress on this. And, in fact, they devoted immense care to this subject. It is not surprising in view of the German tendency to authoritarianism, to find a preoccupation with this subject first developing there: as early as 1786, in his “Unterricht für Eltenr“, S. G. Vogel advocated the infibulation of the foreskin to prevent masturbation, and the subject became quite generally discussed in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. Bloch speaks of small cages which fathers fitted to their sons, like a male girdle of chastity, keeping the key themselves. J. L. Milton’s book on the subject, “Spermatorrhea“, had run through twelve editions by 1887; he describes cages lined with spikes, which were worn at night, and even — grotesque thought — a device whereby any filial erection was made to ring an electric bell in the parent’s room.

Significantly, the Victorians, in keeping with their conception of women as pure and sexless, were much less concerned with the idea of female masturbation, although on the Continent the use of instrumental devices for this purpose appears to have been developed to an almost oriental extreme.