Victorian Sex Research

Another interesting link from Dr. Cooper. Surf on over to the Stanford Magazine to read Kara Platoni's article The Sex Scholar. Platoni's article is about the research of Clelia Mosher (1863-1940). Mosher was famous in her day for proving that women breathe from the diaphragm just as men do. More, the reason it was believed that women breathed differently from men (from the chest rather than the diaphragm) was due to the corsets and constrictive clothing Victorian-era women had to wear! Mosher also did pioneering work on menstruation and was one of the first to advocate core body strength training to help women cope with menstrual pain and cramping.

But today Mosher is particularly famous for conducting one of the very first scientific investigations into female sexuality. Platoni describes the origin of Mosher's research:

Mosher started it in 1892 as a 28-year-old biology undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin; she had been asked to address a local Mother's Club on "the marital relation" and as a single, childless woman seems to have used data collection to fill gaps in her knowledge. Afterward, Mosher continued conducting surveys until 1920, using variations on the same form and amassing 45 profiles in all. Yet Mosher never published or drew more than cursory observations from her data. She died in 1940, and the survey was entirely forgotten when [Carl] Degler unearthed it [in 1973].
What is so fascinating about Mosher's interviews is how they completely overturn the stereotypes of Victorian-era female repression and sexual prudery:
Slightly more than half of these educated women claimed to have known nothing of sex prior to marriage; the better informed said they'd gotten their information from books, talks with older women and natural observations like "watching farm animals." Yet no matter how sheltered they'd initially been, these women had—and enjoyed—sex. Of the 45 women, 35 said they desired sex; 34 said they had experienced orgasms; 24 felt that pleasure for both sexes was a reason for intercourse; and about three-quarters of them engaged in it at least once a week.

...Their responses were often mixed. Some enjoyed sex but worried that they shouldn't. One slept apart from her husband "to avoid temptation of too frequent intercourse." Some didn't enjoy sex but faulted their partner. Mosher writes: [She] "Thinks men have not been properly trained."

Their responses reflected the cultural shifts of the late 19th century, as marriage became viewed as a romantic union, not just an economic one, and as people began to dissociate sex from procreation... One woman, born in 1867, wrote that before marriage she believed sex to be only for reproduction, but later changed her mind: "In my experience the habitual bodily expression of love has a deep psychological effect in making possible complete mental sympathy & perfecting the spiritual union that must be the lasting 'marriage' after the passion of love has passed away with the years." Wrote another, born in 1863, "It seems to me to be a natural and physical sign of a spiritual union, a renewal of the marriage vows."

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