How to Have Sex to Make Better Children

“Sorry to say, but it’s mostly her gene pool,” the pediatrician said, as she glanced over the information about our foster kid. “No amount of ADHD medication is going to make her a rocket scientist.”

Theories abound about the essential things one must do to produce productive children. One theory that’s probably true is having parents who don’t tie you to a chair before going out for the night, but in the case of our foster kid even that behavior is hereditary.

Victorians loved the ideas of science and progress. They were so darn optimistic about the future and mankind’s place in that future. There were the doubters and the haters, but many people bought into utopian notions even if they didn’t up and join a communistic free-love society like my hapless Buck Crenshaw does in THE DEW THAT GOES EARLY AWAY. I give Buck a pass because he only goes to please a gorgeous girl (and gets himself in a heap of trouble).

I suppose most Victorians had sex that we’d consider pretty normal. Some had affairs and others–a small minority–practiced continence.

In his book The Science of a New Life, John Cowan (a 19th century “scientist”) urged sex to be saved for bi-yearly sex marathons:

“The core of Cowan’s program was his ‘law of continence,’ which, with certain variations, was echoed by many reformers: ‘The noble army of the continent of mankind’ is made up of those who don’t drink, smoke, wear corsets, dress ostentatiously, overeat, or live sedentary lives. They practice ‘voluntary and entire abstinence except when used for procreation,’ and they do not misuse the marriage bed for ‘the perverted amativeness’ of physical pleasure or sexual relief. Since Amativeness, the phrenological organ of the sex drive, is located at the rear of the lower skull along with other animal faculties, it may become an organ of animal lust.  But coitus that occurs when Amativeness has been subordinated to Spirituality, the organ of reverence located at the top of the head, permits the highest sexual magnetic impulses to be telegraphed from the brain of the parents to the brain of their child. The ‘law of continence’ mandates one heroic procreative session every two years during a sunny August or September morn, so that the child may be born in springtime. Following a four-week period in which the prospective parents, in a spiritual mood, have been focusing their will powers on those qualities with which they want to endow their child, their copulation generates and electrical transference of these very qualities to the child.” Excerpted from Pseudo-science & Society in 19th century America, edited by Arthur Wrobel

We smile a little at this but I wonder if a little more reverence, a little more thought taken for the future of offspring wouldn’t be a good thing.

 

 

Utopia & Sex

JOHN HUMPHREY NOYES was a man of great vision–a deluded and selfish vision–yet one which inspired others to forsake their ordinary lives to join him in Christian communism.

Sharing looks good on paper.

Noyes was a magnetic man who believed in “healing energy.” He believed, like most 19th century perfectionist utopians, that the kingdom of heaven would be ushered in, not by trumpets and angels, but by good Christian men and women.

Noyes, in a dark night of the soul, convinced himself that he was to lead humanity (or at least a bunch of Americans) to this new heaven on earth. As their leader he would share his revelation (after marrying a dowdy but financially secure woman) that the first system of marriage illustrated throughout Genesis was now obsolete. Hadn’t Jesus told the SADDUCEES there were no marriages in heaven?

nymphs_finding_the_head_of_orpheus
Nymphs Finding The Head Of Orpheus

As above, so below was Noyes’ mantra. There were healings and possibly some good times. Mediocrity was seen as a special characteristic–one that kept people humble–even as Noyes’ enjoyed more and more power. By decreeing himself highly trained in love-making and instituting a “training program” by which young men were taught self control and the right way to sexually please women without getting them pregnant, Noyes’ embraced selective breeding and women’s rights.

What could possibly go wrong?

A friend of mine who grew up in a free love commune said it was a terribly unstable and lonely place for children. He noted the feel was more like a harem than anything heavenly. Dowdy women often footed the bills. Good-looking men were fought over.

john-william-waterhouse-the-easy-chair
Lonely child?

I lived with a couple who believed in no special god. They believed only they created the universe. They believed in wind turbines and open, communistic marriages. These beliefs reflected in their real lives looked something like this: hatred for those who weren’t as highly educated and environmentally aware and an underlying aggression toward each other over sexual slights and unmet needs.

Noyes had magnetism. Women wanted to have sex with his magnetism. His wife had to be convinced his revelations were from God.

The community did make nice silverware.

Does free love  work for anyone? I have only anecdotal evidence that it does not.

RELATED: VISIT JOHN HUMPHREY NOYES’ 19th CENTURY COMMUNE: SEX AS GOOD MEDICINE

ONEIDA SILVERWARE

READ ABOUT BUCK CRENSHAW’S ADVENTURES AT A 19th CENTURY COMMUNE

 

 

Lowell Mill Girl: A Life of Personal Responsibility

Harriet Hanson Robinson never let a group define her.
Harriet Hanson Robinson never let a group define her.

When does having a sense of group consciousness stand in the way of personal responsibility and self-actualization?

“Harriet called the mill her “Alma Mater,” and felt that its “incentive to labor” and the discipline of the work were of great value. “We were taught daily habits of regularity and of industry; it was, in fact, a sort of manual training or industrial school.”

Girls in this position did not see themselves as members of the working class–the term and concept working class was an invention of industrialism that was still in formation in the 1830’s. Group consciousness was absent from these girls, who viewed their stay in the mills as temporary, a stepping stone to a better life or else a deliberate sacrifice for others. Rather than improve the lot of all workers, they hoped to rise above it, individually.”  from A Good Poor Man’s Wife by Claudia  L. Bushman

Identifying with a group in our day seems to bring strife and irrational blaming of other groups. Wonder what the mill girls would say.

READ MORE ABOUT MILL GIRLS:

LOWELL MILL GIRLS

Books I’ve Known And Loved

Rogers1Many heard the city’s siren call: freedom, freedom, freedom.  In the wake of crumbling farm communities and great and small depressions, many American-born young women (and men) moved to the burgeoning city of New York for work and a fresh start, freed from a “patriarchal”, rural society in the second quarter of the 1800’s.

The void of fatherhood with its moral-ism and lack of privacy had to be filled. The city was the permissive mother, the blind eye to the youths’ experiments with freedom. Into this world stepped MARY ROGERS the beauty. From good New England stock (the Mathers and the Rogers of Connecticut) fallen on hard times she came with her mother(or grandmother) to the city and opened a boarding house for sailors, corkcutters and clerks.

Mary, freed from the moorings of the village and the old-fashioned notions about girls working in sales (you were always selling more of yourself than you knew) took a job selling cigars to the roughs and the Tammany politicians.

She disappeared once leaving a suicide note for mother and the news was big enough to make the papers, but she returned a few days later right as rain–it had all been a joke she said. In the city women had freedom but with freedom came danger. Men thrive on danger (so say the studies), but do women?

On one balmy Sunday Mary went out for a walk and never came back. Mother worried, as did her present boyfriend, the corkcutter, who was to meet her in the evening to go promenading on Broadway as everyone did. On Monday the corkcutter searched Manhattan. He searched the rural retreat of Hoboken (a paradise on Earth). He worried himself back to drinking.

And then Mary was found floating dead on the rocky shores of New Jersey. The beautiful cigar girl murdered! And not just murdered but violated in unspeakable ways!

The papers went mad for the story. The outraged public read in horror each gruesome detail of the autopsy (leaked to the papers a little each day). No newspaper man in his right mind would ignore the story that tapped into the fears middle class people had about the sexualized city. And look what had happened to this pretty girl with no protection!

A great manhunt began. Many men were wrongfully accused. The CORKCUTTER was soon found dead as well–alcohol and laudanum poisoning (most likely self-inflicted, but who really knew?).

Illustration from Poe's The Mystery of Marie Roget
Illustration from Poe’s The Mystery of Marie Roget

Even Edgar Allen Poe was mesmerized and wrote a mystery story:“THE MYSTERY OF MARIE ROGET. But all the men’s stories checked out. Why had Mary gone to Hoboken alone? On her deathbed a tavern owner in Hoboken confessed to helping an abortionist get rid of Mary’s body after a procedure gone awry. Seems the abortionist had connections to Madame Restell of New York, the notorious abortionist.

Despite its growing popularity in the city and lack of enforcement against it, abortion was reviled by most average citizens. As a thing done on the quiet no one really had to think about it. Ironically rural cultures had better infrastructure when it came to dealing with bastard children and out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Until the procedure made headlines (and Madame Restell was all about making headlines) the city could uneasily look away, but no longer.

Huge crowds of protesters threatened the madame in her home until the cops fought them off. Mary remained at once a tragic figure and a morality tale. Alone, young and seduced by men Mary was left to fend for herself and murdered at the hands of a woman who flaunted her skills as a killer of babies (people thought it was murder after the first quickening when the mother could feel the baby move).

Mary’s death was retold in countless fictionalized novels and newspapers; her real story illustrated over and over again for a public bent on lapping up the most grotesque details. Public and private lines were forever blurred in the papers. Mary was one girl, a girl of mystery still, but beautiful. Everyone said so.

MADAME RESTELL committed suicide in 1878 by slitting her throat.

Pulling Mary from the river.

THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF MARY ROGERS by Amy Gilman Strebnick

Sex in a Debtors’ Prison

I'm so in the mood for sex right now.
I’m so in the mood for sex right now.

Once upon a time (in 1748) a man named John Cleland sat in a lonely debtors’ prison in England. Day after dreary day he sat thinking of sex. He couldn’t help himself. Debtors’ prison was god-awfully dull.

We don’t know for sure if John ever pleasured himself, but according to Dr. William Acton anyone who did that sort of thing “cannot look anyone in the face, and becomes careless in dress and uncleanly in person. His intellect has become sluggish and enfeebled, and if his habits are persisted in, he may end in becoming a driveling idiot.” *

(I’m wondering here at the very sloppily dressed men I see these days)

Back to John. He hadn’t become quite the idiot yet, so he picked up pen and paper and wrote the first English prose erotic novel about a young virgin girl gone wild (through no real fault of her own). Poor Fanny is sent to live with a woman she believes to be rich. Turns out she’s pimping out girls. When the woman finds that Fanny is a virgin the hijinks begin. Despite everyone being against the book, it was passed around and sent overseas to puritanical America and passed round still more (mostly amongst young men behind barns and carriage houses).

It was also illustrated–rather poorly, but who cared? Not the young lads laughing behind the barn.

Illustration by Édouard-Henri Avril.
Illustration by Édouard-Henri Avril.

A sampling of John’s work:

“But what was yet more surprising, the owner of this natural curiosity, through the want of occasions in the strictness of his home-breeding, and the little time he had been in town not having afforded him one, was hitherto an absolute stranger, in practice at least, to the use of all that manhood he was so nobly stock’d with; and it now fell to my lot to stand his first trial of it, if I could resolve to run the risks of its disproportion to that tender part of me, which such an oversiz’d machine was very fit to lay in ruins.” Wikipedia

For the more erudite there was the other best-selling secret book: Aristotle’s Masterpiece. Since Aristotle wrote about animals having sex it was assumed he was an expert lover. The boys behind the carriage houses ate it up.

By the 1850’s the rules of sex were changing in America. It was assumed up until then that young people would have sex out of wedlock.  Not that premarital sex wasn’t frowned upon but it was tolerated and arrangements were made for the protection of children (not by any means were all the children protected).

Maybe it was the sight of so many bastards around sad and lonely without  their fathers that pushed society in the Victorian direction. The new moral code prescribed young men to WAIT. To CONTROL themselves. Yes, indeed. Boys in the North were expected to follow the new rules. The young Northern girls were to help them by being morally superior.

Southern young men were ridiculed for being virgins, especially in the small farming communities. And there was to be no help from the girls as they were seen as morally weaker and easily led by the dashing boys who read Fanny Hill and Aristotle behind the barn.

Of course, all boys were told (by other boys) that saving a good girl’s virtue was the right thing to do. Pleasuring oneself led to idiocy, so . . . there were the bad girls. In the North they were the immigrant ones. In the South, they were the slaves.

Back to the debtors’ prison and poor John only dreaming about all he could be getting up on the outside. John Celand was no idiot after all. He published Fanny Hill, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure and became a secret hero to boys through many printings and controversies.

I wonder if we aren’t set for a swing back even today. Will there be a sudden awakening to the many fatherless children of our times and its cost upon society (not to mention the sadness of being a child without a father)? Will sex and porn be sent back to the private places? Yes, there will always be books and laughter behind the barns, and there are only fairy tales about a virginal past, but maybe discretion would be nice for a change.

*Love, Sex and Marriage In The Civil War by Charles A. Mills

Knocked Up

Preggers Pinterest
Preggers
Pinterest

Knocking” began as a term for serious flirting circa 1800. Originally it was because you were knocking on the maiden’s “door” trying to “get in”. Understandably, this reference quickly changed to the actual act of “getting in” because beds knock against walls. If you leave your boots on, literally done at that time, you are “knocking boots“- a Southern U.S. term. Around 1813, the term “knocking up her boots” was common. A reference to the “missionary” position. By 1830, “knocked up” began as a reference to what we now know it as today. Sadly, it was a reference to a slave woman who became pregnant. {This can be verified via “Bing” search, and through searches of various history sources for; African-American History, Southern & Western U.S. History, Women’s History, etc:}www.answers.com

Love

She  Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—     for your love is more delightful than wine.  Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes;     your name is like perfume poured out.     No wonder the young women love you!  Take me away with you—let us hurry!     Let the king bring me into his chambers. […]

An Ideal Woman and Why We Hate Her

Oh, don't you look  so smug in your perfection!
Oh, don’t you look so smug in your perfection!

“. . . she carried out her duties as mistress of a small family with ‘piety, patience, frugality and industry’. Moreover,

‘… her ardent and unceasing flow of spirits, extreme activity and diligence, her punctuality, uprightness and remarkable frugality, combined with a firm reliance on God … carried her through the severest times of pressure, both with credit and respectability …’ (The General Baptist Repository and Missionary Observer, 1840).” bbc history of victorian women

Here’s why we don’t like you, dear: You make us look bad–and selfish. You save money, dress with no hint of muffin-top or dirty flip-flop feet and in general seem to  actually take your place in society seriously.

 

We moderns scoff at manners and “rigid” rules. You see the value in a well-run household. And damn those studies that actually prove children thrive  in predictable, nurturing settings! And the homemade family suppers you insist upon–turns out you were annoyingly right about them as well.

 

Keeping busy at the church? Statistically people who attend church regularly are more active in their community so just being spiritual doesn’t seem to cut it. As much as we brow beat you, dear, and try to convince you that being an office manager is as important as raising the next generation of adults and that being a salaried employee automatically makes you happy and that free love and the abandonment of your place as moral arbiter will make you EQUAL to men, you demur with that look of placid innocence we despise.

 

You don’t have to have rabid Facebook wars–pro-choice vs pro-life–that honestly would make you sick. You give us that scolding look that shows how shocked and dismayed at how hostile and ugly we’ve allowed ourselves to become. At least pretend to have some manners, you say. Our language shocks you and how we laugh when children repeat it!

 

You’re not sure you believe in evolution at all. Unless there’s a species that devolves. You wonder at how often we speak of happiness instead of goodness and we laugh at you mockingly. If there’s no such thing as truth then there’s no such thing as goodness. You’d know that if you were paying attention to something other than being perfect.

 

You look at us like we’re mad.