Victorian-era women enjoyed making love, according to earliest sex survey

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The prudish reputation of Victorian women has been challenged by a long-forgotten sex survey, which reveals intimate details of the bedroom habits of 19th Century wives.

Middle-class women of the era seemed quite willing to blame their husbands when their love lives failed to meet their own expectations, according to the candid accounts that lay unread for decades in a university archive.

While public morality frowned upon discussion of female sexuality, the records show that in private couples took a much more open approach.

The illuminating personal testimonies were obtained from what is believed to be the first ever sex survey, begun 50 years before the US biologist Alfred Kinsey conducted the interviews that led to his acclaimed reports on sexual behaviour.

The research was a personal project of Dr Clelia Duel Mosher, a hygiene academic and early feminist who persuaded 45 women to fill out intimate questionnaires on their experiences of sex, marriage and contraception.

Between 1892 and 1920 the survey was completed by 45 women – mostly middle-class college and university graduates – providing modern historians with a unique insight into the secret romantic appetites of a generation raised with Victorian values.

The results show that most women knew little about sex before marriage, with some admitting that they only picked up the facts of life by observing the habits of farm animals.

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