The Controversial Sex Manuals of Ida Craddock


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A while back, I did an article listing early sex manuals. Inspired by Women’s History Month and a desire to delve deeper into a book off the list, I decided to look into the work of Ida Craddock.

Born in Philadelphia in 1857, Ida Craddock turns out to be quite a fascinating woman. Her work is an interesting amalgamation of free speech, religious eroticism, and Onanism. Ida not only talked frankly about sex but also advocated sex for pleasure and seeing to a woman’s needs first, at least among married couples. She even gave detailed instructions to women on how to move during sex to make it more pleasurable. Ida not only offered her advice via written pamphlets but had an office on Dearborn Street in Chicago where she offered in-person consultations for married couples.

Anthony Comstock was not having any of it, especially since she distributed her pamphlets through the mail. Comstock’s war against corruption and obscenity managed to make the distribution of written material of a sexual nature illegal. Comstock and Craddock clashed early on after her editorials defending the belly dancer “Little Egypt” whom many conservative Victorians, Comstock included, thought an obscene addition to the World’s Columbian Exposition. It was Ida’s writing as a sexologist that would bring Comstock and his obscenity police after her again and again.

Ida did not start out as a sex educator. She was denied entrance to the University of Pennsylvania’s Liberal Arts program in 1882 due to her sex, even though she passed the rigorous entrance exams. Instead, Ida taught herself shorthand then went on to publish a textbook on the subject and teach stenography at Girard College. It was in her 30’s that she started writing about spirituality and sex.

Bought up in the Quaker faith, she abandoned it after developing an interest in a more alternative view of religion. Ida discovered the Theosophical Society, joined the Unitarian church, became secretary of the American Secular Union then dubbed herself a Priestess and Pastor of the Church of Yoga.

In contrast to her strict evangelical upbringing, Ida developed ideas about sex that she felt were an absolute necessity for men and women to enjoy marital bliss. She felt the lack of education about sex as cruel and abusive. Many women arrived on the wedding night not even knowing intercourse was on the menu much less how to do it. This ignorance leads to many a newlywed to have not only a horrific wedding night but would continue to hurt couples long after their honeymoon.

Despite being a free thinker, Ida’s desire for open and honest sex education commingled with the moral reform of the social purist. She then added a strong dose of Tantric techniques and teachings. This mixed cocktail of ideas made her booklets, The Wedding Night and Right Marital Living, fascinating to read as they were groundbreaking yet mired in oppressive Victorian mores. Both these texts not only contain the conservative Victorian views of female sexuality such as an abhorrence of contraception and the mistaken view that masturbation was a self-polluting act but also communicated ideas about sex that were revolutionary in their time like seeing to a woman’s pleasure first and educating people about sex before marriage.

It was not only unusual to get advice about sex but even more so from an unmarried woman. Perpetually single Ida told people she was married to an angel named Soph, and their lovemaking was spectacular. Her “Heavenly Bridegroom” may have been a convenient way to cover up having relations without being married but we’ll never know for sure. We do know she wrote extensively about spiritual sex.

The Wedding Night and Right Marital Living contain detailed instruction and information about sex that was rare for the time. Ida believed that lack of education was a terrible social ill and that women were being used as a vessel for their husband’s desires to the detriment of their health. She had heard stories of women who were given no instruction about their wedding night only to find themselves traumatized both mentally and physically. Ida surprisingly suggests in The Wedding Night, “In the majority of cases, no genital union at all should be attempted or even suggested, upon that night.” She recommends the bride and groom not attempt any sex on their wedding night but “go straight to sleep like two tired children.” This may have been unrealistic advice but her concern the couple having a satisfying sexual experience after a long and exhausting wedding day.

A positive mutual sexual experience lies at the core of both these texts. In The Wedding Night, a bride is required to be “aroused amorously, before that organ, in its state of activity, can become attractive.” Ida told her readers that women wouldn’t find a man’s erection desirable if she is not aroused yet also states that women don’t have any innate sexual desire. Ida asks the bridegroom to wait for sex until the bride shows desire, very unusual for the Victorian era. She tells the man to make sure to satisfy her passion first, but at the same time, she says woman’s passion is for affection and maternal love. She as times seems conflicted between women wanting to mother their husbands and sexually desire them.

Some advice in The Wedding Night is disconcerting but only to modern sensibilities. Ida tells her readers to not, under any circumstances, use the hand for sexual excitation on the women’s genitals. As she puts it, “There is but one lawful finger of love… and this is the male organ.” Ida also writes that the clitoris is to be “simply saluted” in passing. It needs to be ignored since it’s a “rudimentary male organ” and will pervert the sex act. Apparently, she is convinced that all sexual pleasure is derived from vaginal penetration only and any stimulation of the clitoris is to be avoided.

Ida thankfully states that a woman’s orgasm is just as important to her health as a man’s but doesn’t see clitoral stimulation as healthy since it is linked to male magnetism. She also thinks that a hooded clitoris is an unnatural condition and recommends circumcision. She even recommends having the hymen snipped if it is too tough. I would hope women did not take this advice.

In both texts, Ida believes the use of semen only for begetting a child. She sees withdrawal as unhealthy, and a man will show signs of ill health if he practices it. She goes on at length in Right Marital Living about the perils of preventing conception by any means. Men should not excrete semen in any way that does not result in the creation of a child and sites some “experts” such as Dr. W. Xavier Sudduth and Dr. Brown-Sequard. Dr. Brown-Sequard, a neurologist known for his groundbreaking discoveries about hormones and spinal cord injuries, supported the idea that seminal fluid needed to be reabsorbed into the body for men to maintain good health and virility. Dr. Sudduth was primarily an oral surgeon who later became a professor of experimental psychology. Ida quotes his “Psycho-Physics of Masturbation” in which Sudduth writes about the perils of masturbation and sex merely for the “means of sedation.”

Right Marital Living contains steps to attain orgasm without ejaculation. Ida calls upon a variety of deities for men to call upon to take his mind off of the bodily plane to stave off orgasm. Ida may at times come off as a good Christian woman in her writing, but she based her instructions on tantric sex, the practice of coitus reservatus or sexual continence, and even the nude embrace rooted in the Tantric practice of Maithuna.

After having moved from Chicago to New York, Ida’s persecution continued relentlessly. On October 16, 1902, Ida took her own life when faced with five years in a Federal prison for distributing her pamphlets. She had already done three months in a workhouse. Ida wrote a long letter to her mother and another to the public which denounced Comstock’s unrelenting censorship. Ida wrote she would rather die as she lived, a free woman.

To read the complete text of Ida Craddock, check out the following books.

4 Book Collection: Heavenly Bridegrooms, Psychic Wedlock, The Heaven of the Bible, The Wedding Night, Right Marital Living, and Other Papers on Marriage and Sex (Kindle Edition)

Sexual Outlaw, Erotic Mystic: The Essential Ida Craddock by Vere Chappell

Heaven’s Bride: The Unprintable Life of Ida C. Craddock, American Mystic, Scholar, Sexologist, Martyr, and Madwoman by Leigh Eric Schmidt

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Sex and Censorship: Banned Books


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Since it’s Banned Books week, I found myself thinking about how sex is often the reason for censorship. Some books have been banned due to political subversion, questioning religion or disturbing violence but when you look at the list of reasons explicit sexuality comes up often. I decided to look into books banned for sexual themes to see what I could find. I found a long sex education books and novels people have been trying to censor from days gone by and even to this day. Some books are banned as soon as they are written; others only in specific countries and others were denied shipment by the US postal service due to the Comstock law. Some books didn’t get completely banned but challenged, which according to the American Library Association is a formal complaint to remove a book from a school or library.

Books about sex education were often banned for obscenity even though they were trying to educate and provide people with a more satisfying sex life. Marie Stopes wrote several books that were a hit with early 20th century housewives but the U. S. Customs Service felt was obscene enough to ban. The book “Married Love” was published in 1918 then banned in the U.S. until 1931. “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male” by Alfred Kinsey, published in 1948, was often censored or banned from bookshelves because of it’s content. The public was shocked by Kinsey’s survey of men and women’s sex lives.

One often hears “promoting homosexuality and perversion” as a reason to ban a book. The book “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” published in 1971 by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, was challenged for ten years. Their recommendation to take a mirror and explore your vulva was a bit too much for some people, as was their open discussion of abortion and homosexuality. Alex Comfort’s “The Joy of Sex,” published in 1972, was challenged at times but “The Joy of Gay Sex” by Charles Silverstein was banned because it was a graphic how-to guide for, well, gay sex.

Sex education for kids remains difficult to keep on the shelves even today. “It’s Perfectly Normal” and “It’s So Amazing” by Robie Harris have been on a list of the ten most frequently challenged books nearly since it was released in 1994. “It’s Perfectly Normal” made it to number one on that list in 2005. Some parents had a problem with the “clothing optional” and in flagrante delicto characters of the book. Too much nudity and sex in a sex education book, even though it’s in a cute cartoon style. Naked cartoon characters and upfront description of sex also made people uncomfortable in the book “My Mom’s Having a Baby” by Dori Hillestad Butler.

Some books deal with censorship for centuries after they’re written. “The Decameron” was written in the mid-1300s by Giovanni Boccaccio and was burned and banned in Italy in 1497 and 1553. The book is about seven women and three men telling stories while hiding from the Black Death outside of Florence. They each tell a story every day for ten days. Some of the 100 stories have quite sexually explicit themes. Surprisingly, it would be banned in the US at the start of the Comstock Law in 1873, confiscated in Cincinnati in 1922, banned in Boston in 1933 and appeared on the National Organization of Decent Literature’s blacklist in 1954.

There is an extensive list of popular books banned for explicit sexuality. “Moll Flanders” by Daniel Defoe was published in 1722 and fell victim to the Comstock Law in 1873. “Fanny Hill” by John Cleland was published in 1748 and banned in 1821. It was the last book banned in the US when it was banned again in 1963. Marquise De Sade’s “Justine” (known by its original title “Les Infortunes de la Vertu”) was the first novel written by De Sade in 1791 and the first of his to be banned.

Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass,” a collection of poems published in 1855, cost Whitman his job in 1865. The book was informally banned, and most libraries refused to buy it. It was banned in Boston in the 1880’s. James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” published in 1922, was banned until the court case United States vs. One Book Called Ulysses in 1933. “Lady Chatterley ‘s Lover” published in 1928 by D.H. Lawrence was banned until it had its own court case in 1959. “Tropic of Cancer” by Henry Miller was published in 1934 then banned soon after its release. “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov in 1955, “Naked Lunch” by William Burroughs in 1959, and “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg in 1956 were all banned because of sexual content.

We still have novels challenged due to their open discussion of sexuality. Books I remember from my youth like “Forever” by Judy Blume (which I read in Junior High along with “Wifey”) and “The Chocolate War” by Robert Cormier (which I remember reading in high school) to current books like “Drama” by Raina Telgemeier (which my daughter read and loved). It seems that every new sex education book that tries to give kids the information they need in a straightforward way is on the fast track to the banned list as soon as it’s released. Thankfully, Banned Books Week by the American Library Association has been reminding us since 1982 that preventing people from reading books to due controversial content is something we need to continue to fight against. We all need to celebrate the freedom to read.

Want to learn more about Banned Books? Check out  Banned Books: Challenging Our Freedom to Read, available on amazon, through the link below. While you’re there, pick up some of the banned books you haven’t read yet and help Sexual History Tour. Disclosure: this is an affiliate link.

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