19th Century

Victoria Woodhull: Free Love and Feminism (Part 2)


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Read Part 1 here.

Victoria moved with her second husband, her children from her first marriage, her first husband who had become so ill and destitute they took him in, along with her sister to New York City in 1869. Victoria and Tennessee’s clairvoyance skills secured them a friendship with Commodore Vanderbilt. In exchange for their stock market prediction that landed him millions, he gave them a sum of money with which they opened their own brokerage firm on Wall Street. The firm did quite well despite having to deal with blatant discrimination. They also started a newspaper, The Woodhull & Claflin Weekly, which continued publishing a variety of subversive and radical ideas for six years. The journal even published Karl Marx’s “Communist Manifesto” along with articles by Colonel Blood and Stephen Pearle Andrews. Victoria, Blood, Tennessee, and their family moved to a mansion in Murray Hill. Victoria was supporting her household yet again but this time not as an abused child or desperate wife with a dissolute husband but as a powerful independent woman.

Victoria had become a strong advocate for women’s rights. She wrote a letter to the congressional committee and secured an invitation to read it to the House Judiciary Committee thanks to her friendship with Benjamin Butler. There Victoria argued that women already have the right to vote because the 14th amendment which grants citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the US and the 15th amendment in which states the government cannot deny a citizen the right to vote based on race, color or previous condition of servitude. She argued that women were citizens and could not be deprived of the right to vote just like the recently emancipated slaves. She likened a wife’s obligations to sexual servitude and involuntary motherhood to slavery. In her opinion, a prostitute is a free woman compared to a wife.

Victoria’s speech got the attention of other suffragists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. They invited her to the National Women’s Suffrage Convention. Her petition to the Judiciary committee was voted down and her request to speak on the floor of the House of Representatives was denied. Prior to her speaking in DC, Victoria had announced her intent to run for president by publishing it in the New York Herald in 1870. By 1872, the Equal Rights Party officially nominated her for the presidency. They even chose her running mate, Frederick Douglass, without him even being present. It’s unknown if he denied it or was even aware of his nomination as vice president. Victoria spoke publicly during her campaign not only about women’s rights and feminism, but free love, sex education, and even birth control. These subversive ideas made some women in the suffragist movement uncomfortable. While the usual election mudslinging was even more fiercely thrown at Victoria, public opinion began to turn.

In response to criticism about her free love ideals, Victoria published a tell-all story accusing Harry Ward Beecher, a renowned preacher and brother of suffragist Harriet Beecher Stow, of cheating on his wife. Victoria knew Beecher was having an affair with Theodore Tilton’s wife, Elizabeth. She hated the idea that he was “preaching morality in public while practicing adultery in private.” Anthony Comstock himself arrange for her arrest with the charge of “publishing an obscene paper” according to the Comstock Law. The Beecher cheating story cited as the obscene paper. She and her sister were held in the Ludlow Street Jail, usually reserved for more harsh offenses, for six months. Victoria missed Election Day and couldn’t even vote for herself. In the end, she didn’t get a single electoral vote, although her actual vote count is unknown. She couldn’t have been elected anyway as her inauguration would have been several months before her 35th birthday.

In response to her accusation of Harry Ward Beecher, she was accused of adultery with Theodore Tilton, a close friend of hers who even wrote her biography. It was most likely in retaliation by Beecher’s sister Harriet. The suffragists decided to distance themselves from Victoria’s radical free love feminism. Thomas Nast even characterized her as “Mrs. Satan” in Harper’s Weekly. Victoria and Tennessee dealt with several arrests, lengthy and expensive trials, and Beecher’s refusal to admit his betrayal. They found their brokerage firm closed, and their newspaper shut down. There were accusations of prostitution and infidelity. They lost everything. Victoria and her family were evicted and couldn’t find a single person willing to rent to them.

Commodore Vanderbilt died in 1877 and his children quibbled over his estate. It’s rumored that to ensure that Victoria and Tennessee did not testify the Commodore’s son William paid them off. The year before Victoria and Colonel Blood had divorced and gone their separate ways. I don’t know how they got divorced since they were never legally married in the first place. Victoria and her sister took the Vanderbilt money and moved to England. I can’t tell if they were asked by William Vanderbilt to leave the country or they just took the money and left to start anew. The tumultuous post-nomination years left them in shambles. In England, Victoria met and married banker John Biddulph Martin of the Martin Bank family. Now known as Victoria Woodhull Martin, Victoria entertained the upper class of London. She started a magazine with her daughter Zula Maud called “The Humanitarian” that ran from 1892-1901. Tennesse would marry Sir Francis Cook, Viscount of Monserrate, who would later become a 1st baronet making her Lady Cook. After Victoria’s third husband died in 1901, Victoria retired from society and lived a quiet life in the English countryside until she died of heart failure in her sleep in 1927.

Victoria was an irrepressible force in her lifetime. She sought to nominate herself for president two more times, in 1883 and 1893, but she couldn’t escape her reputation. Victoria was quite an enigmatic speaker and continued to lecture until 1893. You can find some of Victoria Woodhull’s speeches online. In her own words, she was “… too many years ahead of this age.” Still, she managed to do amazing things in a time where women had no rights and were treated like property. She fought for the right to be able to exercise free will. When it came to relationships, Victoria felt she had “… an inalienable, constitutional and natural right to love whom I may, to love as long or short a period as I can; to change that love every day if I please.” Her ideas of free love, sexual freedom, sex workers rights and the rights of the individual are as important today as they were 150 years ago.

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Victoria Woodhull: Free Love and Feminism (Part 1)


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While attending OpenSF 2012 as a fledgling sex educator, I sat in a hotel hospitality suite listening to Nina Hartley talk about the Woodhull Freedom Alliance. I was excited to hear about their mission to affirm sexual freedom as a fundamental human right. Nina talked about how they worked towards changing or creating new legislation and policies that would ensure the freedom of sexual expression without political or social interference. Woodhull defines sexual freedom as the fundamental human right of all individuals to develop and express their unique sexuality. At the time of the conference, the Alliance had already been around for nearly a decade as a champion of human rights and the freedom of sexual expression. Four years later the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit is an event everyone I know looks forward to attending. I decided to write an article about their namesake, Victoria Woodhull, in honor of upcoming summit.

Victoria was born Victoria California Claflin on September 23, 1838, in Homer, Ohio. I found contradicting sources in regards to whether she was the 6th or 7th of 10 children. The confusion may stem from some of her siblings dying young. Her father, Reuben Buckman Claflin, known as Buck or One Eyed Buck, was known as a swindler and con man with a long list of jobs including postmaster, raftsman, farmer, and lawyer. Her mother, Roxanna Hummel Claflin, was a religious zealot. Victoria’s childhood was filled with abuse and neglect. She didn’t start school until she was eight then dropped out at 11 when her family abruptly moved out of Homer. The townsfolk accused Buck of burning down the family gristmill to take advantage of the hefty insurance he had taken on it. He was run out of town for alleged arson and insurance fraud, and the family was forced to follow sometime after, although some sources say he wasn’t even in town when the mill burnt down. A fundraiser was held to get Annie Claflin and her children a horse drawn carriage and some food so they could join Buck. Buck Claflin has been described as everything from a genius to a thief. He did wind up being quite a snake oil salesman and used his kids to take advantage of the burgeoning interest in spiritualism.

Spiritualism was all the rage by the time the Claflins left Homer. Victoria believed she had the ability to communicate with the dead, including the spirits of her dead siblings. She was also known as a child preacher who used to read scripture, and Indian stories when her youthful audience got bored, on a mound just outside of town. She enjoyed being the center of attention. She was purported to have visions, have contact with spirits of the dead, and was a magnetic healer. She even claimed to have been visited by her spirit guide Demosthenes, who was a famous orator in ancient Greece. He told her she would live a life in a land filled with ships and be the ruler of many people.

Buck put both Victoria and her younger sister Tennessee to work in a traveling medicine show. Victoria would use her skills to tell fortunes, and Tennessee would cure the sick. They would also sell a concoction called Miss Tennessee’s Magnetic Life Elixir recommended for a variety of illnesses. They spent some years wandering the Midwest making a living using magnetic healing and communing with the spirits of the dead. At one point they settled in Ottawa, IL where they took over a floor of the Fox River House, a local hotel, and set up a cancer hospital. Tennessee couldn’t follow through on healing the cancer-stricken. When one of her “patients” died, they hightailed it out of town before she could be charged with manslaughter.

The girls would work about 12 hours a day. Between the long hours and the constant moving from town to town, Victoria became very ill. She experienced fever and rheumatism for about two years. Dr. Canning Woodhull attended to her health and after she recovered she accompanied him on a 4th of July picnic. Canning presented himself as a gentleman from a prestigious background in which Victoria saw a way out of the madness of the Claflin Clan. Unfortunately, during the short four months of courting, Victoria did not see her husband for who he truly was until after their marriage. Canning was a drunkard who was also prone to infidelity. Three days after their wedding he abandoned his new wife for the night. In a time when marriage was nothing more than servitude, Victoria was now stuck in a loveless marriage where her husband spent more time drinking and spending the night with women of ill repute than he was working and providing for his family.

About a year later, while they were living in Chicago, Victoria gave birth to their first child. I’ve found conflicting details about Byron Woodhull. Some say that he was born with either brain damage or intellectual disability. Some say he was dropped or injured as a toddler, which lead to brain damage. Either way, Victoria blamed Canning’s alcoholism for her son’s mental disability. Byron was uncommunicative and needed someone to care for him his entire life. After having to pull her husband out of many a mistress’s embrace while she and her son froze and starved in their small Chicago farmhouse, Victoria decided to try a new life in California. She took her husband and son to San Francisco in the hopes that Canning would be inspired to be the good husband he had so far failed to be. Instead, it was more of the same.

In San Francisco, just as in Chicago, Victoria worked to keep her family alive. Looking for a way to make money led to a stint on the stage as an actress. She was apparently quite good at it. Her acting career didn’t last for long as one night while performing on stage Victoria had a vision. In her vision, she heard a voice say “Victoria, come home” and saw her sister Tennessee beaconing to her. She immediately left the theater, packed her bags along with husband and child, and returned to Ohio. Victoria fell back into spiritualism and worked as a medium and healer while moving from town to town.

Victoria had a second child seven years after the birth of her son. Zula Maude was born while the family lived in New York. Canning was so inebriated that he botched his daughter’s birth, either due to imprecisely cutting the cord or tying it off poorly, which nearly caused her to bleed to death. She had to rely on the kindness of a neighbor for help since she was abandoned yet again by her husband while recovering from childbirth. This was the last straw. Victoria no longer felt she could stay with her husband and left. Victoria continued to work as a medium, which led her to St. Louis, Missouri. There Victoria met Colonel James Harvey Blood when he sought Victoria’s healing expertise. When she met Col. Blood, she immediately had a vision. While in a trance, the spirits told her their “futures were linked” and they were now betrothed to each other. Blood, still married at the time, had to divorce his current wife first. Victoria filed for divorce and in an age where divorce was extremely rare, she won.

Blood was a radical who was quite an influence on Victoria. One of the radical ideas they both agreed upon was free love. Free love in the 19th century was not about sex, per se, but about marriage. Free love advocates wanted to keep the government out of the bedroom and many thought of marriage as a type of slavery. No law or societal rule should tell someone with whom, when or how often to love. A relationship was private, extremely unusual thinking at the time. It’s thought that Blood and Victoria divorced a year later (although their marital paperwork was incomplete and never filed, so they were most likely not ever legally married anyway) so they could base their relationship on free love.

To be continued later this week. Victoria set up a brokerage and a newspaper in New York then sets her sights on the presidency.

Click here for part 2

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History of the Sex Doll: The Era of Plastic


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By Dollfriend (here) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Dollfriend (here) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I remember seeing ads in my younger days for sex dolls. The photos always showed a very realistic looking woman that seemed to hint that this doll would be incredibly life like. You too can have your very own sexy maid or luscious girlfriend. Even back then I knew this couldn’t be possible since most of the blow up dolls I had seen were less than life like pieces of plastic. Even today, blow-up dolls based on famous porn stars have a misleading real photo on the box. When you see what they look like inflated, thanks to a handy site that inflated them and posted pics, there is much room for interpretation. The disclaimer by the manufacturers often states that the doll is based on the model show in the photos. (There isn’t even fine print to tell you that most of the time) We’ve progressed too much more life like dolls since those early days but the simple inflatable doll that barely looks human is still sold and enjoyed by their purchasers. Science helped us go from cloth and leather to rubber then vinyl starting in the mid 19th century

Vinyl and plastic have not been around for very long if you consider how long humans have populated the earth. Rubber has been around for a while but before the advent of vulcanization, it quickly became brittle and would gum up if heated. Around the 1840s, the process of vulcanization was developed paving the way for a more versatile and long lasting material. There is very little information to be found about early sex dolls made out of rubber. Iwan Bloch wrote about sex dolls in 1908, stating they were made out of rubber and other plastic materials, in both female and male form, and that some were made more true to life with the ability to simulate vaginal lubrication and even ejaculation.

Sarah Valverde’s thesis makes mention of an ad in a 1902 Paris circular that was translated by Henry Carey about a custom made doll. It suggests that they were capable of making something quite close to nature. I couldn’t find the source material for this but this is what is quoted in the thesis: “All moves, arms, legs, buttocks, head, eyes; a perfect likeness of the person whose photograph is sent…the complete apparatus, guaranteed against breakage, man or woman, 3000 francs”

I’d love to see how close this perfect likeness was. I’m thinking it may not be as life like as we see with modern love dolls.

Polyvinyl chloride was discovered in the 1870’s. Vinyl or PVC in its plasticized form is lightweight and flexible. It’s also cheaper than rubber, latex or silicone and allows the doll to be inflated. The blow-up doll was born. It’s hard to know how early vinyl blow-up dolls were created since the Comstock Law made it illegal to advertise or send via mail anything of a sexual nature. In 1968, the law had lost its last foothold and we start to see the first ads. Blow-up dolls can be made of welded vinyl or latex, which was invented in 1920. These dolls barely look human with simply shaped arms and legs that often don’t have fingers or toes. The head is often just a bulbous shape with a wide-open mouth lined for your pleasure, although not all of them have an open mouth. The doll will also have one or two other orifices for vaginal and/or anal penetration. The breasts will often have nipples painted on but very little else adorns the body. A head of hair can be painted on or can be just a crude wig. They usually don’t last long as they pop after repeated use. Ads in the 70’s and 80’s show dolls that can be ordered with different color hair and sometimes even different hairstyles to suit the customer’s tastes.

The porn star dolls have been around for a long time and often take a very active imagination to see any similarities. I couldn’t find any information on the very first porn star dolls although the Linda Lovelace doll that came out in the 70’s comes up. In fact, I can’t even find any information about who made the very first blow-up doll. Unfortunately, when you do a search for first blow-up doll or who invented the blow up doll you get a thousand hits for Hitler. Rumor has it that Hitler came up with the idea for an inflatable sex doll to keep soldiers from mixing with non-Aryan women. The Borghild project was also supposed to save Nazi soldiers from rampant cases of syphilis when visiting Parisian bordellos. A few photos that were purported to be evidence of these dolls turned out to be a hoax. Some say the soldiers were too embarrassed to be found with these dolls if captured by the enemy. The best part of this myth is that the prototype of this doll would be the inspiration for the Barbie Doll but Barbie was derived from the Bild Lilli doll fashioned to look like a popular comic strip character named Lilli.

A game changer for the sex doll would be artist Matt McMullen’s desire to make a mannequin that had more realistic curves. While he was developing these prototypes made of hard latex with an interior skeleton, many people asked if they would be anatomically correct. A light bulb went off in Matt’s head as he realized the idea of just making a more lifelike mannequin was not where he should be heading. People would actually pay for his fully anatomical dolls, thus the Read Doll was created. Latex turned to silicone and Matt’s decision to switch from using tin cured silicone to platinum cured was taken up by the entire industry. The first female RealDoll was introduced in 1996, the first male doll in 2008.

In the 20 years since the first RealDoll was created a whole culture of iDollators has become a worldwide phenomenon. All this is a far cry from the false advertisement of those first vinyl dolls. Blow-up dolls continue to be made and sold, most likely because RealDolls and other high quality realistic love dolls are very expensive and very heavy. Sex doll technology is always improving as companies strive for a more realistic and more interactive experience.

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Sexuality in Fashion: The Myth of Wet Dresses and the Muslin Disease


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James Gillray [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In the late 18th to early 19th century, upper class women’s fashion changed dramatically. For centuries, they wore multilayered complicated dresses that often changed their silhouette to something not quite natural. Women were a mystery from the waist down with voluminous skirts and undercarriage that ranged from the tubular cartwheel farthingale to the basket like hips of panniers. It was a time of revolution both culturally and politically. The taking down of the extravagant monarchy in France during the March on Versailles in 1789 brought on a period of “austerity” in fashion. Gone are the grand gowns bedecked with ruching, ribbons, lace, and furs. The new era gowns were often made of muslin a type of cotton fabric. There are other influences that shaped this new silhouette and style. It’s said that the rise of the chemise style gown came about because it was what the women wore while imprisoned during the revolution. The classical style of ancient Greece and Rome becomes extremely popular and is seen in the rising waistline, draping fabric, and Grecian inspired dress trim, accessories, and hairstyles.

Between 1795 and 1799 a new group of fashionistas take the simplicity of the classical style to extremes. With the revolution somewhat in the past, decadent fashion makes a return with the Incroyables and Merveilleuses of the Directoire period. The Merveilleuse wore lighter weight muslin, gauze or linen gowns that were sometimes quite sheer. They did away with the underpinnings and often just wore a pink bodysuit underneath to accentuate the appearance of being nude underneath. Necklines were low and skirts often slit up the side. They wore sandals or lightweight slippers with ties that crisscrossed up their calves to the knee. The dresses worn by the general public were already scandalous even though they were still worn with undergarments that included a corset, petticoat, and even underwear, as long pantaloons were necessary under the less structured dress. This was mostly because the dresses and lightweight petticoat revealed a woman’s figure more than it had in centuries. You could almost see the natural shape of a woman’s legs and posterior! The Merveilleuse would take this to the extreme showing more than a silhouette but the hint of skin.

Unfortunately, I read often about the wetting down of muslin dresses to further expose the body in all its glory. Stories of women coming down with pneumonia which could lead to death, otherwise known as the muslin disease, due to walking around in wet garments. Despite it being repeated on many websites, I could not find any evidence of this actually happening. It looks like many people have taken the words of harsh critics who thought the clingy dresses looked like they were wet down as truth. There are lots of scathing caricatures that exaggerate the style to make fun and criticize. Out of all the images I’ve seen none of them indicate that the dresses were wet in any way. And really, I wonder how long these dresses can stay wet, certainly not long enough to make it through an entire ball I would think. It’s more likely “muslin disease” was just the product of women going out on a cold wintery day with plunging necklines and semi sheer fabric to remain de rigueur.

The wet t-shirt style escapades of the Merveilleuse are decidedly unsubstantiated. It was a short time when women could celebrate their silhouette. This freedom of sexual expression in dress would be short lived. Napoleon would bring on the return of repression and take away the more egalitarian role women had during the revolution. It would be more than a century before the flapper would bring back a similar freedom of dress and sexuality we saw with the marvelous Merveilleuse.

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Graham and Kellogg – The Anti-Masturbation Diet


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Graham crackers and corn flakes have such a ubiquitous presence in our lives. As a girl scout, I have fond memories of graham crackers oozing gooey marshmallows and melted chocolate. I also loved the cinnamon sugar covered ones. When I had my kids, it seems like all moms carried those wax rectangles of graham crackers from the moment our kids could handle solid food. I have a not so fond memory of cold cracker mush all over my kid’s mouth and hands, and inevitably on my shirt. I’ve also been a fan of corn flakes, although I preferred them with sugar heavily sprinkled on top. Few are unfamiliar with the large white box with the big rooster on it.

I knew that Kellogg was into an unconventional dietary routine (I saw The Road to Wellville) but knew little about Graham. I was surprised to find out fairly recently that they both shared the same idea that spurred the creation of these staples. Simply put, anti-masturbation. Both Graham and Kellogg felt that people’s diet contributed to their sexual urges. Deviant sexual urges like masturbation. First Graham then Kellogg, inspired by Grahams beliefs, wrote prodigiously about the evils of self-abuse and that diet could curb sexual arousal. They were both practitioners of vegetarianism. They both advocated a simple bland diet and abstinence from tobacco and alcohol. Kellogg condemned the consumption of meat, Graham the consumption of white bread. Some of this actually sounds tremendously modern, except for their fervent belief that masturbation was terrible for your health.

Sylvester Graham, a former Presbyterian minister, spent most of his life writing, lecturing, and developing lifestyle and diet plans. Having gotten on the temperance bandwagon during his minister days in the 1830’s, he continued to preach as a lecturer. Temperance groups at this time focus mostly on alcohol and tobacco. Graham felt that sexual excess, including masturbation, was contributing to ill health, both mentally and physically. He also believed that the refined carb and fatty meat-laden American diet of the early 19th century was terrible for your health. He wanted to get people back to their living off the land roots. He felt that the manufactured food of the time had gotten people away from the wholesome tables of yesteryear. It was true that at the time people were consuming processed white bread like never before. This bread often had added ingredients like alum and chlorine to make them more white and last longer. Refined white bread had become a symbol of upward mobility to middle-class society, a status symbol since it was purchased and not made at home. Graham was convinced that these chemical additives made bread unwholesome. He also believed a vegetarian diet could cure people of alcoholism as well as rid them of sexual desires.

Graham lectured often about how this unhealthy diet increased our sexual desires, which lead to our overall ill heath including mental feebleness and insanity. He believed that “venereal excess” should be avoided, not only masturbation and premarital sex but also only engaging in marital coitus once a month. He created a super bland diet that did away with any stimulants like coffee, tea, and seasonings. It was focused on whole grains with fresh fruit and vegetables plus a recommended regimen of exercise, frequent bathing, and fresh air. You weren’t even allowed to use pepper, a point of contention when Oberlin College made the Graham diet part of its dining plan. A professor there was let go for spicing up his food with some pepper. The diet plan was gone soon afterward.

Graham didn’t create the graham cracker as we know it today. He invented his “Graham flour,” which consisted of specially ground whole-wheat flour where the bran and the germ are ground and combined. This he used to make Graham bread and by 1829 a Graham flour based cracker. He had quite a following, at first, attracting a fan base that was referred to as “Grahamites” who practiced temperance, abstinence from alcohol, and who adopted his rigorous diet and lifestyle plan. He was also ridiculed and threatened with bodily harm, mostly from bakers and butchers who were not happy with his ideas about purchased bread and a meatless diet. At one point there were even boarding houses of “Grahamites” but as Graham’s own ideas became more radical and vocal, and geared more towards abstinence than temperance, his follower lost interest and dispersed. But some carried on his ideals, one such person was John Harvey Kellogg

JH Kellogg took many of these ideas (vegetarianism, whole grains, exercise, fresh air, temperance, and abstinence) and applied it to the regiment at the Battle Creek Sanitarium as a way to gain a longer and healthier life. He was the chief medical officer of the sanitarium while his brother Will was the bookkeeper. He one-upped this with some interesting ideas about enemas, basically water followed by yogurt enemas. He also ascribed to the idea of using bland foods to curb sexual desires. Together with his brother they created a bland yet crunchy corn flake cereal in 1878 that would live on for years under the ubiquitous name of Corn Flakes. JH’s brother wanted to add sugar to better market the cereal but his brother was too busy trying to fight against the depleting effects of masturbation and sexual excess to see the business opportunity here. It’s also rumored that C.W. Post was a guest at the sanitarium and stole the recipe idea for the corn flake then went on to create the Post cereal empire. Will Kellogg would eventually go off on his own and create a company that would later be known at the Kellogg Company we know today. He and his brothers fought about it for years.

Kellogg was an even stronger advocate against masturbation and sexual excess than Graham. He not only believed that a diet and lifestyle stripped of stimulants would lower the desire to self-pollute, he also advocated things like special circumcisions and surgeries to prevent masturbation. He’s been quoted to recommend sewing a silver suture into the foreskin to prevent it from pulling back from the glans thus preventing erections. He also suggested using phenol, an acid, to curb the use to self-pleasure. He recommended everything from cages, administering blisters on genitalia and electric shock. This man would stop at nothing to stop you from rubbing one out. He was adamant in his cause because like Graham he believed that self-abuse, or venereal excess, as Graham called it, would lead to disease and insanity.

Kellogg’s cereal is slightly different today than in the early days. JH’s plain flakes of corn now have some sugar, malt, high fructose corn syrup and other ingredients. The company also makes sugar-laden cereals like Froot Loops and Cocoa Krispies. Graham’s crackers changed a lot after the company changed hands. The crackers are now made with white flour and contain sugar. I was quite fond of the cinnamon sugar covered ones when I was a kid. Reverend Graham would be horrified to see what is now considered a graham cracker, especially when marshmallows and chocolate bars are sandwiched between them. You can find healthier options made of whole grain with low or no sugar at health food stores but what you find in a grocery story is not the tool against onanism from back in the day. We’ve also thankfully learned that masturbation is healthy and can help with many of the ailments it was once blamed for.

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Sexuality in Fashion: Split Drawers to Crotchless Panties


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I remember the first time I bought a pair of crotchless panties. I went to Fredrick’s of Hollywood and bought a set that comprised of ruffle-trimmed nipple-less bra and crotchless panties in a shiny black fabric. It seemed sexy at the time. I had imagined buying them ever since I saw them in Fredrick’s magazine ads when I was younger. When I put them on the fabric was a little cheap and uncomfortable. Don’t think I had them on for very long. I eventually found wearing a sexy pair of panties over a garter much sexier. That wouldn’t be the last time I wore crotchless undergarments. I would soon get into the world of historical reenactment and find myself wearing crotchless undergarments nearly every week, in the shape of Victorian drawers.

The idea of drawers being open at the crotch did not have the same erotic intention of the modern crotchless panty. In fact, up until the late 1700s women just wore a long chemise that went down past her knees under her dress, corset, and petticoats. Nothing was worn underneath since the skirts were long and the chemise and underskirts provided enough coverage. Undergarments that consisted of two legs that tied at the top but left the crotch area uncovered show up in the 1700s. It was thought that only prostitutes and women of questionable morals wore them. When dresses moved to a more natural shape at the end of the 1800’s this idea is discarded and pantalettes or pantaloons become acceptable. There was some reluctance to accept them at first as having something on underneath that resembled pants did not meet with immediate approval.

The reason split drawers are open at the crotch is to make going to the bathroom easier. When you have a corset and several layers of petticoats and skirts you can’t pull down underwear to sit. It’s easier to hike up your skirts and squat. Having been there and done that I can attest to the easy of the open crotch drawers. I once made the mistake and wrestled with my underwear in a bustle dress in a way that was completely exhausting and made me worry the underwear would win. My long cotton split drawers never once felt remotely sexy, even ones with pintucks, lace, and ribbons at the hem. My chemise came down to nearly my knees so nothing was exposed. In fact, I walked around in my skivvies in front of people often when I demonstrated how the Victorian woman dressed for a history event. One young gentleman found it difficult to talk to me in my underthings even though not a bit of skin below my sans cleavage neckline was exposed. Just the idea of me being in my underwear was enough to make him uncomfortable with my relative state of undress.

It interesting to see how we can go from going commando being perfectly acceptable but wearing tubes of cloth around our legs is immoral, to the idea of wearing a dress without panties bringing about a hefty dose of slut shaming. But then again we’ve gone from a glimpse of stocking being something shocking to the string bikini in less than a century. Our concept of what is considered scandalous in our clothing, even undergarments, can change in ways that seems odd to our modern sensibility. The idea of a certain style of underwear being acceptable while women of questionable morals only use another seems to be common in western dress. I imagine in several hundred years we may find what is acceptable under our clothes will change again.

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Victorian Anti-Masturbation/Anti-Nocturnal Emissions Devices


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Not everyone is on board with the health benefits of masturbation. The fact that we get to talk about it at all nowadays is an important advancement. Society wasn’t always this open minded about self-pleasure but like most events in history it’s tolerance has ebbed and flowed depending on the culture and the time. In some ancient cultures, and even a few more modern ones, masturbation is thought of as a natural and normal part of life. There was a fervor against masturbation in the 18th, 19th century and early 20th century when not only was it a religious issue but a medical one. During this time medicine was still nothing much more than a guessing game laden with folk wisdom and very little actual science. Many treatises were written about the perils of masturbation. It was said to lead to a variety of maladies of the mind and body and often thought of as a disease that could have fatal consequences. Even naturally occurring nocturnal emissions were diagnosed as the disease Spermatorrhea. The Victorian era saw a plethora of anti-masturbation and nocturnal emission prevention device patents. Hard to believe these cruel and often painful devices were ever created much less used.

Jaws That Bite, Claws That Catch

Pointed teeth and sharp clamps seemed to be a popular Victorian idea for preventing erections which might lead to ejaculation or worse yet lure you to touch yourself then lead to ejaculation or orgasm. There were a variety of sheaths that used tiny teeth to wake the wearer in the hopes of stopping any potential night emissions. One of the most popular among anti-masturbation research articles is the Spermatorrhea ring or Jugum Penis. It has a teeth filled trap that went around the penis and was clipped so it was secured at the base. This device was sure to wake you if getting aroused during sleep thus deterring nocturnal emissions and masturbation. Not all painful measures used pointed teeth but other ways to use pain to wake the wearer. The Bowden device was a metal cover that was slipped over the penis and clipped to the pubic hairs. If you became aroused, it ripped out pubic hairs as a sure fire way to wake you. The pain of tearing out pubes would put a damper on that impending erection too.

Sheaths and Trusses

There were a variety of sheaths and trusses given patents in the Victorian Era. Sheaths seemed more of a rarity with trusses, basically male chastity belts, being more common. The goal was to either prevent your member from growing thus preventing the possibility of ejaculation and/or prevent yourself from touching and manipulating said erect penis. One example is a mechanical sheath created by Raphael Sonn in 1906. This tight metal sheath had a close enough fit that removal would cause intense pain or mutilation. It could only be opened with a tiny key. Harvey Stephenson’s Spermatic Truss patented in 1876 was a device that strapped the penis into a pouch that was then strapped to the leg to prevent erection. A later version of this device didn’t strap the penis to the leg but instead provided a spike-lined pouch to deter erections. Cage devices that were even recommended by medical journals may not necessarily have prevented erections but prevented being about to do anything with them. Fitting over the penis the cage would prevent masturbation by preventing the hand from coming into contact with the penis. You could also get a metal covering for the penis and testicles, sort of a steel codpiece worn under clothes, was a way to prevent the wearer from getting aroused or touching themselves. Examples of these metal casings show holes for urination and a bit of air circulation. It looks like they attached to your waistband or may have had a waistband of their own.

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