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Prostitution in Medieval Europe

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Repression and Expression

The Victorian era, spanning from 1837 to 1901 during Queen Victoria's reign, is often characterized by its strict social mores and sexual repression. This period is marked by an intense emphasis on morality, modesty, and decorum, heavily influenced by religious and social expectations.

Key Points of Sexual Repression in the Victorian Era:

1. Strict Gender Roles:
  - Women were idealized as pure, modest, and domestic, with their primary roles being wives and mothers.
  - Men were expected to be strong, rational, and the primary breadwinners, but were also thought to possess uncontrollable sexual desires.

2. Moral and Religious Influence:
  - Christianity, particularly Protestantism, played a significant role in shaping sexual norms.
  - Sexual activity was deemed appropriate only within marriage and for procreation, not pleasure.

3. Social Codes and Etiquette:
  - Public display of affection and sexual expression were heavily censored.
  - Literature, art, and even clothing were regulated to avoid anything that could be considered sexually suggestive.

4. Medical and Scientific Views:
  - Sexual health was poorly understood, and many natural sexual behaviors were pathologized.
  - Masturbation was considered dangerous and morally corrupting, often linked to various physical and mental illnesses.

5. Censorship and Regulation:
  - Laws and policies were enacted to suppress obscenity. The Obscene Publications Act of 1857, for example, allowed for the prosecution of publishers of obscene material.
  - Sex education was virtually non-existent, and discussions about sex were taboo.

6. Double Standards:
  - There was a notable double standard between men and women regarding sexual behavior. Men’s sexual exploits were often overlooked or tolerated, whereas women faced severe social and personal consequences for similar behavior.

7. Undercurrents of Hypocrisy:
  - Despite the outward appearance of sexual repression, there were underground markets for pornography, brothels, and a thriving clandestine sexual culture.
  - The era saw the rise of figures like Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy, who subtly critiqued the sexual mores of their time through literature.

In summary, the Victorian era's sexual repression was characterized by a complex web of religious, social, and medical beliefs that enforced a stringent code of conduct on sexual behavior, particularly for women. This repression was, however, often accompanied by a clandestine culture of sexual expression and hypocrisy.



The phrase "lie back and think of England" is a piece of folklore often attributed to the Victorian era, capturing the societal attitudes towards sex, especially for women. The story suggests that women were advised to endure the act of sex with their husbands not for their own pleasure but as a duty to their country, ensuring the continuation of the British Empire through procreation.

Origin and Context:

Victorian Sexual Mores: The Victorian era was characterized by a strict moral code that considered sex a necessary but unpleasant duty for women, whose primary roles were seen as being wives and mothers. Women's sexual pleasure was largely ignored or suppressed.
Alleged Advice: The phrase is often attributed to Queen Victoria or an anonymous Victorian mother advising her daughter on her wedding night. The supposed advice was that the woman should tolerate sex without complaint, focusing instead on her duty to produce children for the nation.

Cultural Impact:

Symbol of Repression: The phrase has become a symbol of the sexual repression and gender roles of the Victorian era. It encapsulates the idea that women were expected to be passive and self-sacrificing, prioritizing national and familial duty over personal desire.

Critique of Sexual Norms: Over time, the phrase has been used to critique and mock the prudish and patriarchal attitudes of the period, highlighting the disparity between public morals and private realities.

Historical Evidence:

Uncertain Origins: There is no concrete evidence that Queen Victoria or any specific individual actually said this phrase. It seems to have evolved more as a cultural myth or anecdote rather than a documented piece of advice.
Enduring Legacy: Despite its dubious origins, the phrase has persisted in popular culture, often invoked to illustrate the restrictive sexual ethics of the past and the enduring struggle for women's sexual autonomy.

In summary, "lie back and think of England" is a phrase that reflects the Victorian era's attitudes towards sex and women's roles. While its exact origins are unclear, it has become an enduring metaphor for the sexual repression and gender expectations of the time.

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