Warning: This post features antique photographs of nudes.
The Victorians gave us many things: the white wedding dress, air conditioning, the concept of childhood, the automobile, increased women’s rights and the telephone, just to name a few. They also gave us pornography.
Yes, pornography. Soon after the invention of photography, the erotic industry was born.
“The Victorian period is a key moment in the history of sexuality; it is the era in which the modern terminologies we use to structure the ways we think and talk about sexuality were invented,” Dr. Holly Furneaux says. “From the 1880s sexologists such as Richard von Kraft-Ebing and Havelock Ellis pioneered a science in which sexual preferences were analysed and categorised; they created terms including homosexuality, heterosexuality and nymphomaniac.”
The Victorians didn’t talk about sex publicly, so the stereotype is that they were so straight-laced they didn’t think about sex either. Truth is the Victorian world with all its strict social rules revolved around the idea of keeping sexual impulses under control.
Men were thought to have insatiable appetites that needed to be kept at bay. So animal-like were men, it was thought, that the mere sight of a woman’s ankle would send them into fits of ecstasy. Piano legs were covered for the same reason women’s legs were — to avoid any unwanted passion.
Meanwhile, no upstanding woman was supposed to even dream of sex. The act’s only function in her life was to make her a mother. Love letters from the period reveal that women did have desires of their own. They simply hid them with euphemisms and symbolism.
Don’t Conform to Beauty Standards
Victorian erotic photos fall into two categories: Those that contain sexual acts and those that contain tastefully posed nudes.
Those containing sexual acts — men, women, alone or together, and in any combination — are not much different than the types of erotic photos found today.
The nudes, on the other hand, contain nothing 21st century eyes would consider lewd. They are closer to art photos than erotica.
No matter the type of photos, the people appearing in them would not be considered attractive by modern standards. This is because:
- The women were small breasted, and many of the men were not well endowed.
- The women had pubic hair.
- Many of the women were not wearing makeup.
- The men did not have “six pack abs.”
- Some of the people had very athletic legs, probably because walking was their main form of transportation.
- Others had a bulge of fat in the thighs and stomach.
The models lived in a time before plastic surgery, personal trainers and Hollywood’s unnatural standards for beauty. Perhaps they were comfortable in their own bodies and had no shame posing in the body nature had given them. If this be the case, then the Victorians were more sexually liberated than we are, because they didn’t have body insecurities.
Victorian Naughty Nudes
The following are four examples of Victorian nudes along with one burlesque dancer from the same period.
Updated: 15 October 2020