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Artículo When sex was even dirtier: eroticism and hygiene in the Victorian era Culture

Culture

When sex was even dirtier: eroticism and hygiene in the Victorian era

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Antonio J. Rodríguez

24 Enero 2017 08:58

These are some of the unpleasant truths about the sexual customs of Victorian women.

When we read romantic novels from the 19th century, or watch films set in the period, the sex scenes always seem suspiciously similar to what we're used to today: hairless legs, perfect cleanliness, elaborate positions taken straight from a Rocco Siffredi film..

But it's not difficult to imagine that hygiene habits weren't the same two hundred years ago. In this historical period, showering wasn't what you'd call prevalent.

The heroines dreamed up by Jane Austin and Charlotte Brönte probably smelled bad.

At least, that's what historian Therese Oneill affirms in her latest essay, Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady's Guide to Sex, Marriage and Manners.

In her book, Oneill reveals some uncomfortable and unpleasant truths about menstruation; ideas regarding feminine beauty; and hygiene habits of the women of the period.

According to the historian's discoveries, many of the things we've seen in films like The Scarlet Letter are lies. Do we really think that Demi Moore would have shaved her armpits at the end of the 18th century?

The world of intimate hygiene was, at that time, controlled by fake doctors; psychiatrists obsessed with curing “hysteria”; and lunatics of every kind.

One of the big problems for women in the period was washing their 'menstrual cloths', large pieces of material with which they cleaned their menstrual blood and which were considered a great shame if seen in public. This is why they never left them next to the washing basket if they couldn't pretend that all the blood came from the slaughtering of a pig or from having made blackberry jam the day before.

Now, maybe we don't understand why Victorian women dropped Belladonna – a poisonous plant – into their eyes so that their pupils would dilate and appear more 'languid and soulful', but, is it fair to judge them for it?

Therese Oneill doesn't think so.

'In 115 years, we're going to look like complete idiots, too.'

Therese Oneill

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