Victorian Sex Was Bizarre And Filled With Contradictions

Published June 19, 2014
Updated April 22, 2021

Kids Were Forbidden To Touch Themselves; Were Allowed To Pose Nude For Creepy “Uncles”

Okay, let’s wrap this up with a quick game of “Spot the Bigger Weirdo.”

John Harvey Kellogg was the man who brought the world Corn Flakes. He invented them—and the concept of breakfast cereal itself—after a failed attempt to make bread out of corn. Why try to make bread out of corn, you ask? Why, because regular bread inflamed the humours and made people masturbate, of course!

Kellogg ran a sanitarium in Michigan in the late 19th century, or several decades before medicine, let alone psychology, became scientific. Kellogg was appalled by the masturbation epidemic he saw wrecking the health of everyone around him, so he helpfully suggested a few tips for curbing “the solitary vice”:

  • A spare diet, low in calories and free of meat
  • Vigorous exercise
  • Frequent yogurt enemas (dibs on the band name)
  • Circumcision for boys and girls alike
  • Electrified cages around the genitals that administer electric shocks when children try to touch themselves
  • Victorian Sex Corn Flakes

    Hands where we can see them, Cornstalk. Source: Vintage Printable

    Our second entrant occupies the far opposite edge of the childhood sexuality spectrum—Lewis Carroll.

    Charles Lutwidge Dodgson wrote the Alice in Wonderland adventures under his pen name, Lewis Carroll. By all accounts, he was everything a respectable Victorian gentleman could hope to be. He was a writer, mathematician, and a member of the Anglican clergy. He wrote the Alice books for this girl, Alice Liddell:

    Alice Liddell

    Source: Wikipedia

    That certainly is a picture of a little girl. Maybe the way it looks to us today is just because our modern minds are all in the gutter and pictures of six-year-old girls posing in torn gowns was totally innocent back then. What’s that? He was a painter, too?

    Victorian Sex Beatrice Hatch

    Source: Wikipedia


    Honestly, a lot has been read into Dodgson’s hobby of taking pictures of young girls that probably wasn’t there. Dodgson was close with the Liddell family, after all, and the girls’ parents were generally present for the photography sessions. But in a way, that makes it even stranger. It’s an odd reflection on Victorian sexual mores that this picture was taken with parental consent:

    So, yeah. Victorians. Interesting people.

    Richard Stockton
    Richard Stockton is a freelance science and technology writer from Sacramento, California.