The Great Awakening encouraged a commitment to a new standard of morality. Women’s Sexuality in the 19th Century: The concept of Homosexuality as a sexual orientation appeared in America during the late 1800’s.
Considering both physical and psychological wellbeing, Masculine anxieties in the 19th century are repeatedly seen to be focusing on the purportedly malevolent impacts of masturbation, which was apparently there as one of a broad range of physical and psychological ailments, and on venereal illnesses, specifically syphilis. This carries us precisely into the topic of nineteenth century sexuality, which has been an ongoing subject of arguments and captivation.
When most people of this age were questioned, their responses suggested that they were both plainly ignorant and emotionally aloof when it came to sexual issues. But soon enough another side of these people was revealed, a hypocritical one, in the shape of a secret world where prostitution and pornography were very common. This social contrast was highlighted in a number of societies and the argument mainly presented was that sex was not something to be treated as a taboo but the exact opposite of it. People highlighting these ‘dark sides’ of their societies argued that this matter must be discussed obsessively on every forum and regulation would be far more fruitful for the society rather than suppression of the issue. One can argue that these were the reason why the subjects like art and medicine of that era were so influenced by sexuality.
Sexuality in that era was also highly gender biased. At that time, it was a common misconception that females don’t really like the ‘taste’ of sex, i.e. they merely did it to satisfy their partners and if it was up to them, women might not even want to do it. Lately, however, this misconception was cleared by scientific research as well as the involvement of more and more married women being involved in extra-marital affairs. It was also revealed by later studies that many couples actually did enjoy mutual pleasure as it is common nowadays. And thus the 19th century moralism, which was tantamount to slogans like “men are polygamous, women are monogamous’ with the added detail that majority of women don’t even have sexual urges as compared to males, was thrown in the trash can through social and biological ideas based on scientific investigation.
On one hand where women were being oppressed is the name of morality, these ‘moralists’ also proposed and, to some level, also imposed a socio-medical binding on the males grounded on male self-control to encourage the middleclass standards of familial life. These initiatives were taken to control males’ chronic desires, and also in regard of ancient predictions that population upsurge would inescapably exceed the planet’s food supplies. For similar motives, ‘irregular sexual activity’ was also slammed. There is sufficient proof that numerous working-class people were expected to be married or at least married once a pregnancy has happened. The proportion of illegal deliveries was comparatively small.
Prostitution, on the other hand, continued to be the most upsetting issue. Moral alarm were buzzing at full intensity in the mid-19th century as urban population was on the rise which consequently increased ‘flesh selling’ on the streets, theatres and public parks. To some extent it gave women the visible female freedom that they were wanting from the controlled society. From their point of view, women were subject to male dominance in roles of daughters, workers or domestic help. However, as prostitutes, they at least possessed personal and financial liberty. To curb this thinking, a ‘Contagious Diseases Acts’ was formalized which made a binding on female prostitutes to be medically examined for venereal disease from time to time. Those found positive were to be detained. The enforcement of this act gave rise to one of the most triumphant and distinguishing sexual restructuring campaigns of that epoch.
Feminists however still insisted and focused on both physical and mental sexual liberation for women. The quest for sexual satisfaction for women was the main philosophy which consequently set the groundwork for female autonomy.
How couples behave in private is no doubt hard to evaluate, but there has been evidence that partners who did not enforce intercourse were appreciated. This behavior is also evident by the indicator that 19th century families of eight to ten people were disappearing by the start of twentieth century. Couples during the last three decades were opting to plan and restrict their family size regardless of which social class they belonged to. Family size restrictions were escorted by hurdles for growing viewpoints to sexual relations from the modern woman and her male benefactors.
In a period where heterosexuality was not allowed to be discussed despite being considered both normal and natural, one can imagine how homosexuality would have been dealt with. But even with all the opposition during that era, homosexuality still increased, mainly in men (the literati kind to specific). While homosexuality was frowned upon in public, acts of this specific ‘indecency’ were not openly and harshly legislated by the last decade of nineteenth century. As a result of this law, gay sex was declared a disgraceful crime even in private. This new law even led to the infamous incarceration of Oscar Wilde in the year 1896. If we talk about females, the most famous association during that time was that of Anne Lister in west Yorkshire and her lesbian lover. The relationship, as described, is filled with sensuality and passion. Another affair in the same era that gained a lot of attention was that of Charlotte Cushman (an American actress) and her European lover Rosa Bonheur (a painter). The couple was famous for their outright boyish freedom and appearance.
In the end we can safely conclude that in the domains of gender, medication and sexuality, the 19th century people rarely conformed to their stereotypes. Unlike in other fields that involved complex ideas and experimentation, it took them much longer to realize that the basic human right to what a person does in their own time and space cannot be curbed. Unless someone is getting hurt, a human being is entitled to have and promote his opinions, live up to his own preferences and be what or whoever he wants to be.