Naughty Nudes

burlesque dancer

Naughty Nudes

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.”

Victorian Sexuality

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.

A Victorian nude poses with her buttocks to the camera
By 21st century standards, this nude would be considered overweight


A Victorian nude waves a fan
Fans were a way of sending unspoken messages in the Victorian world. Perhaps this nude is sending a message.


A Victorian nude salutes the viewer with a drink
A Victorian nude salutes the viewer with a drink


Victorian nude sitting with her leg up
In the days before air brushing, cosmetic surgery or the safety razor, Victorian pornography showed the female body as it actually is


A burlesque performer in costume
Burlesque performances would have been viewed as scandalous behavior by high society


Updated: 15 October 2020
Melina Druga
Most kids have an active imagination. My imagination has stayed strong into adulthood, and I’ve funneled that creativity into a successful writing career. I write history, both fiction and nonfiction, because although your school history classes may have been boring, the past is not. My goal is to bring the past to life in all its myriad of colors.

One thought on “Naughty Nudes

  1. I recently heard on the radio that a men’s magazine that has been long known for it’s nude centerfolds is planning to change the format and will no longer include nudes. The piece mentioned that it was due to the fact that millenials don’t seem as interested in nudes and they were trying to change things in order to attract more new subscribers from that age range. I don’t know if it is true or just a marketing ploy, but it is interesting, given how long nude photographs have been both popular and taboo.

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