Donna George Storey

“Wonder Upon Wonders”: The Fanciful History of the Vibrator

There is no better way to immerse yourself in the daily life of times past than reading a newspaper of a century ago over your morning tea. I’ve discussed the scandalous pleasures of perusing old newspapers in previous columns, but as the year-end holidays draw near, I wanted to offer you this special treat of a discovery from the 22 April 1913 edition of the York Dispatch (see page 2). And you thought no one in 1913 had any fun!

Professor C.U. Hoke’s mesmerizing vibrating fingers likely inspire a smile, but the testimonial by the lady who preferred not to be named in the newspaper–a true lady may only appear in the papers at her birth, marriage, and death—may even provoke a chuckle. Imagine the poor hotel keeper, clearly a widow, who was languishing in her bed with heart and female weakness. Fortunately, Prof. See-You-Hoax’s miraculous vibrating appliance handily restored her energy and her will to live. Results like these can be yours, too, but only with regular daily applications of the professor’s miracle cure.

Beyond the obvious hucksterism, I imagine most of us have heard the following story of the invention of the vibrator. Apparently Victorian doctors believed that the ubiquitous malady of hysteria in the female (basically discontentment with her social role) could be cured by genital massage to provoke hysterical paroxysms. In this story, both doctors and patients were innocent of any sexual element to the treatment and entirely ignorant of the existence of the female orgasm. Doctor and patient merely doggedly repeated the procedure during regular appointments. The suffering ladies attested that the treatment worked wonders for energy and mood, but the bored doctors started getting repetitive stress injuries in their hands. Fortunately, an inventor (Professor Hoke?) saved the day and physicians’ hands with his vibrating electrical device.

A movie was made with Hugh Dancy and Maggie Gyllenhaal called Hysteria (2011), which dramatizes this very tale, and if it’s in the movies, it must be true! Even better, the story apparently originated with a scholarly work entitled The Technology of Orgasm by Rachel Maines (1999). The book won two academic prizes.

Maines’ discovery caught fire with the public. And it is a good story.

However, according to Robinson Meyer and Ashley Fetters in the Atlantic’s “Victorian-Era Orgasms and the Crisis of Peer Review” (6 Sep 2018), the vibrator origin story isn’t true. Scholars Hallie Lieberman and Eric Schatzberg determined that “[m]anual massage of female genitals was never a routine medical treatment for hysteria.” These later scholars found that Maines provided no real evidential support in her book. The citations simply don’t lead to her conclusion. Maines herself now contends that, “I never claimed to have evidence that this was really the case.” She expected immediate pushback to her “hypothesis,” but claims she was surprised it took this long. “It was ripe to be turned into mythology somehow,” she said. Her goal, Maines said, was to get people thinking and talking about “orgasmic mutuality.” (“Victorian-Era Orgasms”)

The encouragement of a discussion of orgasmic mutuality is to be applauded. However, perhaps Maines could have been more straightforward in her presentation of the evidence in a scholarly context. She was obviously right that the story was ripe to be mythologized.

The Atlantic article also uses this case to show that academic presses don’t really fact-check, but instead rely on peer review. Perhaps the reviewers were so enchanted with the fantasy of doctor-induced paroxysms, their critical faculties were mesmerized into blissful credulity?

In any event, if you’re at a holiday cocktail party in person or on Zoom in the coming months, and someone so happens to regale you with this history of the invention of the vibrator, you can set them straight. It’s nothing but a fanciful tale. That leaves us erotica writers a lot of space to make up our own vibrator origin stories. The field is wide open, so do like Professor Hoke and get inventing!

The impact of an actual vibrator, on the other hand, has been proven to be very real for many stressed-out ladies. Remember, as the advertisement states, the professor is “at home” at the National Hotel in York, Pennsylvania, on Tuesday and Wednesday. Hurry now before his appliances sell out for the holidays.

“The Ruined Girl”: Illicit Love in 18th Century Germany

When you’re completely immersed in 18th century German church records—as I must confess I am—the one word you see over and over is “legitimate.” In birth, marriage, and even death records for children and unmarried youth, the “legitimacy” of a daughter or son accompanies each entry as if it were a middle name.

I began to wonder if any child was ever noted as “illegitimate.” Soon enough, those records began to emerge as well. As one might expect, these irregular situations got more attention from the priest scribe. The formula of date of birth, name of child, name and residence of parents and godparent required additional discussion of the identity of the father or the lack thereof.

As we storytellers know, the unusual situation gets more attention from the reader as well. Thanks to the services of a kind family member who has studied Latin, we can get a glimpse into dramas of illicit love in 18th-century Germany.

My first example actually dates back to the 17th century, which shows that extramarital relations most definitely did not begin in 1963, as the poet Philip Larkin suggested in his brilliant poem of social commentary, “Annus Mirabilis.”

On the contrary, we have evidence in these church records that extramarital sex occurred several times all the way back in 1677. That’s when a woman named Margarethe, who was not given a surname, gave birth to a boy she named Hieronymus.

In the church record, the priest notes: “The identity of the father, or fathers, is thought to be one of the soldiers from Lünnenburg who were here this year in the wintertime.” One assumes he knew there could only be one biological father, but Margarethe’s interactions with a number of different soldiers was apparently noted and condemned in the record for twenty-first-century readers to ponder.

Not all of the villagers were as judgmental. Young Hieronymus Reber agreed to stand as the babe’s baptismal sponsor, and my seventh-great-grandfather, Nicholaus Hufnagel, served as an additional witness. It was unusual to have two people stand as sponsors. I like to think that Grandpa Nick understood that poor Margarethe was doing the best she could and needed the extra support of her friends.

During the 18th century, the mothers of illegitimate children tend to be out-of-towners, with unusual surnames, making me wonder if they sought to have the birth recorded in a neighboring parish so as to escape the sanctioning eye of the neighborhood. Generally the priest names a father and the circumstances through which his identify was discovered. One father was a French commissar, another a traveling salesman, men who could escape responsibility easily. Sadly, many of the babies died soon after birth.

In one case in 1720, a sick mother who had recently lost her illegitimate child was being cared for by friends in the parish of Somborn. The priest visited her every day and his kindness apparently swayed the Protestant woman into considering conversion to Catholicism. The priest notes that the woman passed away before she could officially convert, but he absolved her of her sins before she died and buried her in a Catholic ceremony anyway.

I can’t but help see the exultation of victory in the way he underlined “Catholic rite” in et in Ca’met: Somb: ritu Catholica Sepulta est [buried in the cemetery in Somborn by the Catholic rite]. Hopefully St. Peter took note when the woman passed through the Pearly Gates.

While illegitimate births were rare in the 17th and 18th-century records, the 19th century sees an explosion of children born out of wedlock. Perhaps the Napoleonic Wars made young people more willing to seize pleasure in the moment?

In 1821, Magdalena, the wife of Jakob Kreis who was a soldier serving in Austria, gave birth to a son fathered by a local widower named Konrad Schreiber. Although the record is disapproving, a modern reader can’t help but imagine the two providing comfort for each other in their loneliness.

In 1828, there were FOUR illegitimate births on a single page! Two of the children were subsequently legitimized by the marriage of the parents, as noted in the margins.

The 26 April entry for Johann Georg, illegitimate son of Christina Roos, notes that the sponsor was “Joanne Roos, fratre corruptae.” My helpful Latin expert suggested possible translations beyond the literal “corrupted girl.” Brother of the adulteress, brother of the ruined one, brother of the seduced girl, brother of the misled girl—all heap ignominy upon the woman who had a lover out of wedlock, but her brother stood with her in adversity.

Another Hufnagel who found fame in the church records was a certain Heinrich Hufnagel who admitted to fathering the child of Katharina Egold, born in November 1826. The child died 6 days later, and surely the priest hoped that the couple would learn from their disgrace. However, a year and a half later, in February 1828, the couple had another child and “Heinrich Hufnagel confessed that he himself was the father of the infant.” This child did not die, nor it seems, did the couple ever marry. Clearly they were ahead of their time in seeing marriage as just a piece of paper.

I’ll conclude with another story of Hufnagel solidarity and serendipity. In 1826, my third-great-aunt Maria Anna Hufnagel had an illegitimate child named Christina, father unnamed. Maria Anna’s brother Lorenz was my third-great-grandfather through my maternal grandmother’s father. The sponsor for the child was Christina Franz, who it just so happens was my third-great grandmother through my maternal grandmother’s mother.

Christina Franz was unaware that her granddaughter would marry her friend’s brother’s grandson in 1888 in Pennsylvania. Neither Anna Maria Hufnagel nor Christina Franz ever saw the sacred book which told the story of a friend supporting the mother of an illegitimate child. However, thanks to the internet, her great-great-great-granddaughter can appreciate her gesture of solidarity with a “ruined girl.”

Write on!

[The Nursery (1770) by Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons].

Love on a Frosty Night: Marriage in 18th Century Germany

By Donna George Storey

The intimate lives of our ancestors in the 1700s and 1800s will always be a mystery to us. However, as this column has shown, the dedicated writer of historical fiction can discover many windows to the past that allow us to enrich our imaginative stories with fascinating facts.

This summer, I decided to take a break from genealogical research at a subscription site. I expected I’d be filling my time with projects other than family history research. How wrong I was!

I happened to check out a free research site called which provides access to digitized records from some Catholic dioceses in Central Europe, especially Germany and Austria. I knew that only a fraction of available records had been scanned, so I had low expectations. To my delight, the records of the parish of Somborn, Germany, home to three of my great-great grandparents, were available dating back as far as the 1670s.

On the face of it, these records, written in Latin by a succession of priests with varying skills in penmanship, mainly provide only the basic facts of my ancestors’ births, marriages, and deaths. But if we read between the lines, we can discover some interesting details about the daily life of all of those Hufnagels, Dornheckers, and Von Rheins in 18th century Germany.

Marriage records are of course the natural focus of a writer of erotic fiction. We can find evidence of honeymoon consummations in the baptismal records, as most couples had a child within the first year after the wedding. I’ve yet to find any obvious “premature” babies among my ancestors, but I found records for illegitimate children, generally from out-of-towners–a topic I will examine next month.

One big surprise was how different marriage customs were from our own day. For example, the most popular months for weddings were January, February, and November. “Das Jubelpaar” [by Hermann Bethke (1825-1895) courtesy of Wikimedia Commons], a painting of a German couple celebrating their golden wedding anniversary, might be set in any of those months, with the snow sparkling in the dim winter light. I assume that when the fields were fallow, the villagers had more time to tend to their own fertility.

In the twenty-first century, the wedding is marketed as a gala event full of unique personal touches where the bride and groom are stars of the show. In 18th-century Germany, the church was open for weddings on weekdays—Tuesday being especially popular. Six to ten couples were married one after the other, rather like City Hall weddings today. I’ve found numerous instances where siblings were married on the same day and shared the same witnesses. Perhaps this indicates some practical economy, as the parents could host a midwinter feast of roast goose, sausages, and new wine for two children for the price of one.

After the celebration, when the couple retired to their marriage bed, they surely had to huddle together to keep warm with all that frost trimming the windows. As erotica writers, we can imagine a sweet union for bride and groom, the first time they could be alone together. A respectable couple living under the watchful eyes of parents and neighbors would have had more pressure to refrain so their children would be registered as “legitimate” in the church registry.

Married life seemed to be agreeable to the villagers in the parish of Somborn. Church records show that widowers of any age were quick to marry after the death of their spouses.

For example, Anton Zwergle married my sixth great-grandmother, Anna Maria Schaffrath, six weeks after his first wife died. Anna Maria waited a year and a half after her husband Melchior Schneider’s sudden death at age 33 to marry Anton in November 1732. She brought three young children into the marriage and had several more with Anton. No doubt before microwaves and washing machines, a wife was missed on long November nights. A husband’s economic support was likely missed just as keenly.

Peter Von Rhein, both my fifth and sixth great grandfathers, had three wives. He married his first wife, Katharina in 1729. Katharina died in 1750 while giving birth to their tenth child. Peter then married Eva Poer on 2 July 1753. Eva died on August 11, just one month later, and Peter went on to marry my ancestor, 31-year-old Elisabeth Peter, on 24 January 1754 at the age of 56. The couple had four more children, the last when Peter was 66.


Two of those Von Rhein daughters, Gertrude and Katharina, married two Hufnagel brothers, Lorenz and Andreas. The great-grandson of Andreas, Peter Hufnagel, ended up marrying the great-great granddaughter of Lorenz, Catharine Hufnagel, in Pennsylvania in 1888. Peter Hufnagel and Catharine Hufnagel were double third cousins—and my great-grandparents, pictured above! (For those of you who have not joined the genealogy craze, this is some serious-fun discovery for a family historian).

Most couples in the 18th and 19th centuries had a baby every other year until the wife was in her forties. Some births were closer, but this usually meant the previous baby hadn’t survived long. In my genealogy research, I assemble a list of births for a family, then check the death registry. I’d guess that over half of the babies born didn’t survive past the age of 3. And yet my ancestors soldiered on, marrying, birthing, and dying generation after generation, through the Thirty Years War and Napoleon’s advances and retreats, until many decided to try their luck in Pennsylvania–which still has the most residents named “Hufnagel” in the country, a fact that surely makes other all other states very jealous!

So, my dear reader and writer, remember that inspiration for our stories lies in many surprising places, including dusty church records that were once meant for the eyes of a few local priests. Armed with hard-won facts, and our vivid imaginations, we can surely celebrate our ancestors’ wedding days and nights once again.

Write on!

Seduced by the Coachman and Other Stories of Love in the Time of Victoria

Welcome to part 2—the juicy part–of my discussion of Francoise Barret-Ducrocq’s Love in the Time of Victoria: Sexuality and Desire Among Working-Class Men and Women in 19th Century London. As I mentioned last month, Barret-Ducrocq revealed the sexual culture of city folk of modest means by studying the application files of the Thomas Coram Foundling Hospital in London from the 1850s through the 1880s.

“Application files” sounds pretty dull, but in fact the mission of the foundling hospital—to raise the illegitimate children of women of “good character” and not prostitutes—meant that they required a detailed history of the love affair that led to the conception of the child. One of the many surprises of the book is that the interviewers at the hospital, as well as employers and families of the women, were not as harsh in their moral judgments as Victorian literature and drama seem to indicate was the norm. For as we know, in Victorian novels and plays, where a character always reaps what she sows, a woman who has sex out of wedlock must die a miserable death in a filthy alley, spurned by all.

Instead, in many ways these stories of girl-meets-boy follow a familiar path, give or take a cell phone. Often the women met their lovers in the course of their duties as maidservants or shop girls.

Here’s how Emma J., a hosiery worker, met the father of her child on a Sunday afternoon while taking a walk with her stepmother, a laundress. “The young man, a butcher’s assistant—and evidently a persuasive talker—accompanied them to their door, entertaining them with jokes, and managed to arrange a further meeting with Emma while her stepmother was present: We walked together on this occasion and these walks were repeated. About Xmas he visited me in the presence of my parents and proposed marriage, saying he should like to settle and go to America.” (Love in the Time of Victoria, 88)

Emma’s charming lover ended up going to America without her, but the majority of the relationships followed the usual ritual: first people were “speaking,” then they were “walking out together,” then later, when mutual attraction was confirmed, they would “keep company.” (Love, 86). The next step was sexual intimacy with marriage expected if the woman got pregnant. The promise of marriage was enough because a man’s word was binding—at least in principle. Barret-Ducrocq reports that more than three quarters of the relationships lasted longer than six months.

However, a portion of the applicants became pregnant as a result of a short-term amorous adventure. Susan W. was seduced by the coachman in the household where she worked as a maid. The other servants reportedly put him up to it because Susan “was too much of a lady” and they wanted to bring her down a peg. (Love, 96).

Nancy S. gave in to temptation wile standing against a wall in alley after a few drinks at a music hall and Sarah M., a kitchen maid, was engaged to the butcher’s boy who brought meat to her employer’s every day. They were intimate in the kitchen where she worked. (Love, 99) Other venues included the home of the woman’s parents when the house was empty, a shop storeroom, the stables, a garden in January, or the passengers’ box of a hired Hansom cab. (Love, 103-105)

Particularly evocative were the love letters that the applicants were asked to submit for the file, now preserved in the archives. These letters functioned as a text does today, to set up a time and place for a rendezvous.

“I begin to think you are right in saying absence makes the heart grow fonder and not as I thought stronger. Indeed I find my heart gets every day fonder and more feeble on your account.”

“All my love to you my own dearest Judy, I remain your true and devoted lover and soon husband…”

“I accept the kisses you sent in your note with pleasure and will return with interests on friday [sic] night althou I would rather had them from your lips than your hands.” (Love, 118-120)

While many working-class couples did marry when the woman became pregnant, the foundling hospital is the repository of love stories with mostly sad endings—the lover ran off to America or Australia or in some cases died. After the Poor Law Reform of 1834, men in Britain were no longer liable for support of their illegitimate children, so the seducer might even be found closer to home, with an existing wife and family. (Love, 177)

Fortunately, some endings were not so bleak. One woman retrieved her child from the foundling hospital after a month because her aunt and uncle discovered the situation and agreed to raise the child. Another persuaded the mother of her lover to raise her grandson. Rather than banish a disgraced housemaid, some employers kept her on through her pregnancy and rehired her after her confinement. And many employers gave the woman high character references in spite of their “misstep,” thus paving the way for the child to be cared for at the foundling hospital. Thus we see that real-life Victorians were much more forgiving than the official morality. This empathy rather than harsh judgment is certainly something to keep in mind for a writer of historical fiction—we needn’t fall into the trap of the Victorian moralists of insisting others do as we say and not as we do!

I’ll let Barret-Ducrocq herself have the final words on love in the time of Victoria:

For the time being, though, we should be content to let the archives speak, and thus contribute to a never-ending task which is a precondition for human progress: the effort to keep the past alive so that later generations can learn from it, and measure themselves against it. It is an ordinary paradox of history that, through a new reversal of values in sexual morality, the young Europeans of the late twentieth century have much more in common with these dropouts from Victorian society—these artisans, these domestics who disappeared abruptly in the aftermath of the First World War—than with the contemporary moralists who slandered them with such total conviction. (Love, 181)

Write on!

(“Two Lovers” by Thomas Bridgeford courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).


“When I First Met the Father…”: Love and Lust in the Time of Victoria

Last month, we learned about the secret erotic portrait Queen Victoria presented to her beloved husband Prince Albert for his twenty-fourth birthday. This month, we’ll leave the hushed grandeur of the royal boudoir and take a stroll through the gritty “drawing room” of the streets to explore the erotic life of the workingmen and woman of Victorian London.

A recurring theme of this column is the difficulty of finding reliable information on the erotic lives of those who lived in centuries past. We must rely on the exaggerations of period pornography, the occasional explicit diary, sociological data about marriages and births, and our own imaginations to read between the lines. Now and then, however, we come upon a treasure that satisfies our desire to know the truth about our ancestor’s intimate experiences.

So if you want inspiration for your tale of Victorian-era lust and love, or are just interested in the history of sexuality, I have just the book for you: Francoise Barret-Ducrocq’s Love in the Time of Victoria: Sexuality and Desire Among Working-Class Men and Women in 19th Century London.

Barret-Ducrocq’s book provides us with a rare treasure–the amorous experiences of nineteenth-century working-class women told in their very own words. Barret-Ducrocq brought the past alive by studying the application files of the Thomas Coram Foundling Hospital in London from the 1850s through the 1880s. While it may at first sound dry and scholarly, the results of her research are fascinating.

The founder of this groundbreaking charitable institution, Thomas Coram (1668-1751), was a wealthy English sea captain who spent some time in colonial America and served as a trustee of the Georgia colony. While doing business in London, he was appalled to see babies left to die on the side of the road. Coram felt this state of affairs was not worthy of a civilized nation like Britain. After seventeen years of effort, he finally received a royal charter to open a hospital to care for children at risk for abandonment and raised funds from many wealthy donors. Children were first admitted to temporary quarters in 1741, and the main hospital was completed in 1745. Famed artist William Hogarth donated the above portrait of Thomas Coram to the hospital and Handel gave performances as fund-raisers in the mid-1700s. An estimated 25,000 children were cared for over a period of 200 years. The hospital closed when the last child was placed in family foster care in 1954.

By the way, Hogarth’s portrait is said to portray Coram’s seafaring endeavors on the left side and an unwed mother and child veiled by a curtain on the right to represent his charitable work. I’m unable to discern the hidden mother and child—so let me know if you see anything. On the other hand, it might be fitting that the figures are indeed invisible to the probing eye!

The Foundling Hospital had a good reputation as place where illegitimate children were well treated and got a decent start in life, but in spite of its name, an unwed mother couldn’t just leave her child on the doorstep. The institution most certainly didn’t want to reward the prostitute’s profession in any way. Rather the hospital directors sought to help women who had been taken against their will or tricked by a false promise of marriage. Accordingly, the unwed mother who sought a place for her child had to undergo a rigorous application process to assess her circumstances and character. The most important element was a detailed, handwritten (or dictated) confession, which always began with the words: “When I first met the Father….”

The woman was then required to:

“… give the exact circumstances of her encounter with the child’s father; bring the smallest memories to life—the intensity of her feelings, how long they lasted, where the act of love was performed; protest her innocence or admit her connivance and, sometimes, her own desire; give the names of relatives, employers, notables, family doctors, parsons, and ask for their corroboration. Finally, she had to produce any material evidence that would help pin down the truth about sex and amorous relations: letters arranging meetings, love letters, farewell letters, letters to and from friends and relatives.” (Love in the Time of Victoria, 42)

There is no doubt this process was invasive and voyeuristic, although the interviewers at the time no doubt saw it as their moral duty to select the deserving poor for their charity.

What their snooping has left for posterity is a wealth of explicit confessions that give us details of how working-class people of the nineteenth century flirted, what sort of man young women found attractive, where couples went to make love, and how their community responded to pregnancy out of wedlock when the man could not or would not marry his lover. (It is estimated that 40% of working-class women were pregnant when they married in 1850). The majority of these confessions are in fact stories of love, at least for a short duration. A very few even have happy endings—the child was collected from the hospital because relatives agreed to raise her, or in one case, the mother married the child’s father five years later and the family reunited. (Love in the Time of Victoria, 164)

The preciousness of such a resource is confirmed by the fact that soon after the archives were opened to scholars like Barret-Ducrocq in the 1970s, the directors decided to close them again in 1980 to protect the privacy of the living descendants. In her book, Barret-Ducrocq wrote that the records she studied would not be available again until 2030. I see that the gatekeepers are apparently less protective today: the Foundling Museum now reports that records over 110 years old are available at the London Metropolitan Archives.

Have I piqued your curiosity about these first-person accounts of ill-fated Victorian lovers? Then join me next month for some highlights from the vault! In the meantime, you can explore poignant stories from more recent former “pupils” on the Foundling Museum website.

Write on!

(Portrait of Thomas Coram by William Hogarth courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

Horse Thief Detectives and Bonnet Bleachers: Making the Past Come Alive with City Directories

As writers of historical fiction, we strive to make the past come alive for our readers. Historical fiction creates a special contract between author and reader. The author is expected not only to create convincing characters, but to have deep knowledge of the culture and daily life of the times.

It’s not an easy task, but I’ve recently discovered a fun way to immerse myself in the world of the nineteenth century: perusing city directories from a century ago. Historical city directories are available in many library reference rooms, but better still are readily accessible online through historical society webpages, Google Books, Family Search, Ancestry, and other websites.

One might ask, “The people listed in this directory have long since passed on to their reward. I can’t even drop in for a chat and a cup of tea. What use are names and addresses from 1856?”

Of course names and addresses in themselves provide useful information for a writer. Which sorts of names were popular in that time and place? There are fewer Mabels and Clementines running around today. Where did one go shopping for certain items? Who lived in private residences, usually marked by “house” or an “h,” and who lived in a boarding house, marked with “bds,” one quick distinction between the higher classes and the lower?

That is just the beginning of the delights within the yellowed pages of a city directory, however. Let’s take a look at The York Gazetteer and Business Directory from 1856. This compendium contains historical sketches, lists of churches, clubs, post offices, schools, and merchants, “together with interesting miscellaneous articles and useful receipts” and, naturally, an abundance of advertisements.

The entries for service providers alone provides an enlightening portrait of commerce in a Pennsylvania town in the 1850s. Starting with “Attorneys,” highlights of the list include:

Coal Dealers
Gentlemen–And as such follow no particular occupation.
Inn Keepers
Livery Stables
Sausage stuffer [only one listed]
Soap and Candle Manufacturers
Whip Manufacturers

(The York Gazetteer and Business Directory, 1856 (York, PA: John Denig, Book Agent, 1856); “U.S., City Directories, 1822-1995,”, p 17-27, image 19-29.)

[The York Gazetteer and Business Directory, 1856, p. 30, image 32.]

My favorite discovery in this directory is the “Horse Thief Detecting Society of York County.” Am I too far gone in historical research to think that would make a good title for a story? In its day, the society served a useful purpose. What else was to prevent an unethical fellow from riding off with your horse one dark night and quickly selling or trading the animal to an unwitting new owner? Founded in 1850 for members who lived within a 12-mile radius of the Borough of York, the society and others in the surrounding area helped members in the recovery of a horse or paid for a new horse from the insurance fund created by the annual dues. Members were required to brand their horses with the society’s brand. As we see from the clipping at the top of this post, the president of the Paradise Horse Thief Detecting Society, a township close to York, placed a notice for a decent reward in the York Gazette. “$25 Reward,” York Gazette, 7 May 1872, p. 3;

By the 1920s, horse thief detection societies were disbanding due to the popularity of automobiles—which required their own more complex form of insurance. The dues that had accrued over the years were divided among the remaining members who owed their windfall to their thrifty ancestors. The 125 members of the Glen Rock society received $15.56 each in 1926, the year my father was born in York City. (“Horse Thief Detecting Society Will Liquidate–$1,945 in treasury,” York Dispatch, 6 Dec 1926, page 16;

Speaking of family addresses, let’s take a peak at the 1881 directory for the thriving industrial city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Note the advertisement for the services of my great-grandfather, Dr. Henry S. George. His office on Penn Avenue—the Park Avenue of Pittsburgh—marked the high point of his flamboyant career. [J.F. Diffenbacher’s Directory of Pittsburgh and Allegheny Cities 1881-1882 (Pittsburgh, PA: Diffenbacher & Thurston, 1881); “U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995,”, p. 304, image 158]

It is amusing to find ancestors listed in old directories, but again, one can also get a real sense of city life in the 1880s. For example, if we turn to the list of businesses, we see that the listings for “Saloons” take up nine pages, from page 894-903, a testament to the thirst of Pittsburgh’s workingmen. In other words, there was a whole lot of boozing going on in Pittsburgh!

For me, leafing through these pages—or the equivalent via computer screen–feels like strolling down the streets of the Steel City in 1881. Do I need my bonnet bleached at George R. Lynch and Bros. on Fourth Street? Or shall I grab a fine stiff felt hat at Wm. Grabowsky’s establishment on tony Penn Avenue, where my great-grandfather likely shopped to show he wore only the best? (Directory of Pittsburgh and Allegheny Cities 1881-1882, p. 863, image 445)

As my imagination wanders apace, I stop in on the sausage stuffer and daguerreotypist and perhaps I encounter a gentleman with no particular occupation but the leisure to make mischief with a lady whose bonnet is impeccably bleached.

Before I know it, the past has come alive before my eyes, full of stories to dazzle and delight, all from the pages of directories of centuries past.

Write on!

Fifty Shades of Erotica: Five Years After

Recently I got an email informing me that there was a new comment on my article entitled “Six Secrets to Writing Your Own Over-50 Shades of Erotica” which appeared on a website for women over 50 called Zest Now. “Thanks, interesting thoughts!” wrote the gentleman. I’ll take all the positive feedback I can get, even if the article had been published five years ago as part of my campaign to promote the ebook release of my novel, Amorous Woman. I only vaguely remembered what I’d written, so I revisited the site. (The link to the article doesn’t always work, so I’ve reprinted the article in its entirety below in case you’re interested in how my advice holds up.)

I stand by all six secrets and was frankly surprised at how economical the writing was—I have a tendency to ramble on when I’m talking about sex. I was also amused to remember that when I wrote that article about being inspired to write your own erotica after reading Fifty Shades of Grey, I myself had not read Fifty Shades of Grey. However, a friend I trusted had told me that reading about the relationship between Ana and Christian was very interesting to her, so I built from there.

In my defense, so much had been written about Fifty Shades, I felt I knew it well enough to use the social phenomenon as a basis for my suggestions. Also, we erotica writers had been urged to take advantage of the Fifty Shades boom to elevate our own personal brands. I wanted to be optimistic and hope that the bestselling trilogy would whet the appetites of new erotica readers who might then seek out the types of anthologies where my work was published. Could the Fifty Shades wave lift us all?

Five years later I have to say that Fifty Shades mostly just fucked the rest of us over.

Now I don’t have data to back me up, but my sense it that publishers are all the more disappointed when erotica anthologies or novels don’t become the next Fifty Shades. It’s rather like the film industry. The period of openness and artistic risk in the 1960s and 1970s that gave us Five Easy Pieces and Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice was destroyed by the blockbuster Jaws, which I recently watched. It hasn’t aged well.

The 1990s marked the advent of the Erotica Revolution, with presses like Cleis and magazines like Yellow Silk and Clean Sheets showing us that “nice” girls and boys could write thoughtful, steamy stories. Again, this might just be me, but the literary quality of Fifty Shades branded all erotica as a mediocre guilty pleasure for mommies. Literary erotica editor friends who’d been getting commissions from mainstream publishers suddenly found the river had run dry.

I still remain optimistic for the future of literary erotica. History shows us that cultural setbacks can be succeeded by leaps forward. In the meantime, I stand by my words of yore: “Whether you’re aiming to publish or please a special audience of one, writing erotica helps you focus on pleasure, which is guaranteed to improve your sensual life–even if it’s already very good indeed.”

Six Secrets to Writing Your Own Over-50 Shades of Erotica
(Zest Now, June 3, 2013)

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James, who will turn 50 this year, has shown that the world loves a sexy story. Reading erotica is a great way to spark your libido, but have you ever thought of writing your own? As a 51-year-old wife and mother who’s been publishing erotica for over 15 years, I can confirm that there’s nothing more sexually empowering than putting your own steamy story down on paper. Whether you’re aiming to publish or please a special audience of one, writing erotica helps you focus on pleasure, which is guaranteed to improve your sensual life–even if it’s already very good indeed.

Here are six secrets for bringing your unique erotic stories to life:

Find A Safe Space. Although our generation came of age during the Sexual Revolution, most of us still hesitate to express our positive sexual desires. Find a safe space, both physical and mental, to create your world of pleasure. Close the door against the voices that urge you to feel shame for feeling good. In this protected place, you are free to get in touch with your fantasies, memories, images and scenes that turn you on. Suddenly everything is possible.

The Pleasures of Research. Erotic writers transform sensual experience into vivid words and images, but it takes practice. First, read some erotic books to learn what you like in style and content. Which stories do you wish you’d written? Which scenes turn you on and why? The assignment gets better. The next time you make love to your partner or yourself pay close attention with all of your senses. Where is his skin the softest? When does the sound of his breathing change? Slow down, enjoy each sensation. Try out a new position you have in mind for your story to get the logistics right. Homework has never felt so good.

Start Slow and Let It Flow. Start slow with a sketch of a sex scene or a list of scenarios that turn you on. Erotic stories can be about real experiences, but they are just as often about fantasies, dreams, forbidden desires. Let the thoughts and images flow. Experiment and discover. You’ll surprise yourself with the magic you create.

The Real Secret to Good Erotica. Dirty words only take you so far. The real secret to a compelling erotic tale is the relationship between the lovers. Critics panned Fifty Shades of Grey, but the characters’ deep feelings for each other enchanted millions. Write about a couple you care about, their desires and conflicts and how they overcome them to be together, and your reader will be right there in bed with you. As older women, we bring a wealth of life experience to the writing process. Use your wisdom!

Share It With Your Lover. I’ve published over 150 stories, but my greatest joy is still that gleam in my husband’s eye after he’s read my latest story. A story is also a great way to suggest a new bedroom activity or introduce a fantasy. Use your judgment as some partners can be uncomfortable. If you think your partner might be open to it, start out gently, with a sketch of what you enjoy doing with him, rather than, for example, a hard-core BDSM scene.

Share It With the World. Today it’s easier than ever to share your work with a wider readership. Post your story on Literotica for appreciation and feedback. Self-publishing on Amazon is another popular option. For more traditional validation by professional editors, check out the Erotica Readers and Writers Association Calls for Submissions. Remember all writers face a lot of rejection, so keep trying!

Midlife brings a flowering of confidence and creativity for women. Writing erotica is a rewarding way to renew your passion as well.

When “Good” Girls Write Dirty Stories: Kate Manne’s “Down Girl” and the Logic of Misogyny

I’ve always been a good student and a “good” girl. Or at least that’s what most people think, if they think of me at all. However, there is another side to me, one you here at ERWA know well, but that would surprise many: a woman who is deeply skeptical of authority and who dares to make my private pleasure public in prose, whether that be the joys of female sexuality or my delight in analyzing American history and culture.

In spite of myself, my “good student” ways led me to soak up the messages our society sends to girls and women. Even if I don’t agree with the values of the patriarchy, I know them and feel them and, I’ll admit, even live my life by some of these rules willingly. Still, sometimes I’m confused. How can men love their mothers, wives and daughters and still support laws and customs that harm women? How can so many men be against contraceptives? Do they want a future where they must either be celibate or have twenty children? Why do women as well as men attack the credibility of victims of sexual assault and harassment and make the assailant into the “true” victim? At times I wonder: If men didn’t need us for heterosexual sex, would they simply do away with all women since they seem to be so angry at them all the time?

I’ve been considering these questions for a lifetime, but just this past week, I actually got some interesting answers, thanks to Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, by Cornell professor Kate Manne. Professor Manne’s book is not a beach read, but it’s accessible and especially relevant in these turbulent times. It clarifies so many things about being a woman in our man’s world and about my own actions as an erotica writer, as well as the nature of what men want from women and why they’re so mad when they don’t get it.

I can’t do justice to Manne’s argument in a blog post, so I’ll try my flawed best with a summary of those points that directly impact my experience of writing and promoting erotica. First, Manne discusses the popular, or “naive,” conception of the misogynist as a man who hates all women irrationally, just because they are women, like the way Hitler hated Jews. By this definition, misogynists would be rare. After all, most men love their mothers, sisters, wives and daughters or some subset thereof. And many women are misogynists, too—could they hate themselves in such a way?

Manne then presents a more satisfying functional definition of misogyny as the means by which a patriarchal society polices and patrols female behavior. Sexism holds that women are naturally subordinate, or more euphemistically complementary, to men. Misogyny attempts to put wayward females back in their designated place by “condescending, mansplaining, moralizing, blaming, punishing, silencing, lampooning, satirizing, sexualizing, belittling, caricaturizing, exploiting, erasing, and evincing pointed indifference.” (Manne, 30)

Misogyny also valorizes women who behave properly. Manne’s framing of proper behavior was particularly enlightening for me, in what she calls a bad gendered historical bargain (from the female perspective, that is):

“Women may not be simply human beings but positioned as human givers when it comes to dominant men who look to them for various kinds of moral support, admiration, attention, and so on. She is not allowed to be in the same ways as he is. She will tend to be in trouble when she does not give enough, or to the right people, in the right way, or in the right spirit. And, if she errs on this score, or asks for something of the same support or attention on her own behalf, there is a risk of misogynistic resentment, punishment, and indignation.”

Thus women owe men of equal or superior social status their good will, what Manne calls “hers to giveor feminine-coded goods and services: attention, affection, admiration, sympathy, sex, and children; also mixed goods such as safe haven, nurture, security, soothing and comfort.

Masculine-coded perks and privileges are “his for the taking”: power, prestige, public recognition, rank, reputation, honor, “face,” respect, money and other forms of wealth, hierarchical status, upward mobility, and the status conferred by having a high-ranking woman’s loyalty, love, devotion. (Manne, 130)

If a woman tries to take what is “his,” she is “bad” and misogyny punishes her by calling her out as selfish, negligent, irresponsible, ungrateful, and unfair to men. (Manne, 87)

Manne compares our reaction to this “unnatural” dynamic of female self-regard to a situation where a waitress refuses to take our order, then asks us to serve her. Who wouldn’t be outraged by this betrayal of expectations? Where’s the service with a smile? (Manne, 50)

As I mentioned earlier, women, too, police the behavior of other women. Consider the female commentators who blame #MeToo victims for wearing the wrong clothes, not being strong or savvy enough to fend off a boss’s advances, and worst of all, destroying a good man’s career because she’s a whiny drama queen who wants attention and lots of money.

I also found Manne’s explanation quite reasonable concerning why some conservatives so vehemently oppose the ACA’s coverage of female contraception but not coverage of Viagra: “…We can now make sense of contraception coverage becoming a common point of contention, too. She is asking to be provided with an antidote to human giving—and in a way that often highlights her human capacities being deployed in self-development or geared toward financial success, that is, his province. The latter also threatens to turn her into a usurper.”

Whether this resentment of women who put their own pleasures first must lead all Americans to have families of twenty children is another matter, of course. But at least the outrage makes more sense.

As I was reading Down Girl, I also had some insights into the relationship between misogyny and my erotica writing.

As long as I can remember, I knew I existed to please others. I was supposed to be a good daughter and student and be as attractive a female as I could manage, given my natural limitations. The stares and catcalls of men on the street that began when I was 13 were a reminder of what movies, TV and magazines preached: I existed to please male eyes and egos. I learned to be careful when flirting because if I gave my attention to one boy, then another, the first would take it personally and punish me. While my actual relationships were not nearly as reductive as the messages bombarding me from the media, I knew that, rightly or wrongly, my chief purpose was to be a loyal girlfriend and wife, an enthusiastic sex partner, and a devoted mother. Public achievements were icing, as long as they didn’t interfere too much. As an empty-nester, I’m doing community service and baking cookies for the holidays to please the palates of my friends. Yes, I have my secret life as a rebel, a scholar, and a feisty truth-teller, but for the most part, I’ve chosen the safe route for a woman in a patriarchal world.

Writing erotica under my own name, of course, is the exception to my conformity. I have felt that I am a “bad” girl—the closest I’d ever come to hanging out in the smoking area in high school–for speaking frankly and positively about the female sexual experience. It has been mostly thrilling, although I have been occasionally attacked and shamed.

Manne’s book made me reconsider just how “bad” I am.

For indeed, am I not still a “good” girl in terms fulfilling my patriarchal purpose of pleasing men? I’d guess most of my readers are women, but I’ve gotten fan mail from a good number of men over the years. Many men read erotica because they are genuinely interested in women’s sexual experiences, and that’s a good thing. Still, as I’ve gathered from our cultural messages, sexuality seems like the only thing about women your “average guy” would be genuinely interested in reading about–with the goal of satisfying his own sexual desires. The type of erotica I generally write affirms the desirability of the heterosexual erotic experience (with some lesbian detours, but men like that, too). My work offers support and solace and might even serve as a surrogate partner. If I wrote instead on female friendship and quilting, I’d probably have zero male readers, no matter how eloquent my prose.

On the other hand, a “bad” female erotica writer would make male readers uncomfortable. Some writers I admire greatly do. While I sometimes challenge traditional sexual values, I tend to do it gently, with humor, and accompanied by a fundamental pleasure in male company. What’s there for a man to hate?

I’m not saying any of this is wrong. I just find it interesting how my way of being in the world has been informed by these time-worn values.

Manne also made me more aware of my internalization of the danger of trying to claim any position of privilege traditionally seen to belong to men.

When I published my novel, Amorous Woman, I found it hard to “toot my own horn” to promote the book. It felt dangerous, selfish, and stuck-up to claim for myself public importance as a Published Novelist. Who did I think I was?

I managed to overcome my reluctance by framing my book as my “child.” I had given birth to her and owed my newborn baby a good start in life. Thus I transformed myself from a selfish, egotistical artist into a self-sacrificing mother. That kept me going through many a cold call or excruciating snub from a “serious” bookstore that didn’t have the time of day for novels like mine. My little girl needed me to be strong!

To be honest, I sincerely do not see my work as a means to show the world how great I am. I see it as a way to connect with others, assure them they are not alone in their feelings and desires. I also felt a duty to present a view of Japan that engages with but also transcends stereotypes as a way of paying back the warmth, humanity, and hospitality of my Japanese friends.

So I just have to face the fact that I’m bad at being the bad girl. I’ve learned my good girl lessons too well: Stay safe in a man’s world by being the pleaser, the giver, the titillating, but reassuring entertainer.

Yet I won’t fall prey to another common misogynistic reflex—that anything a woman does is automatically devalued. Manne agrees that men still want women around because the comforts they give are “truly valuable: they are genuinely good and the lack thereof bad. Consider that, as well as affection, adoration, indulgence, and so on, such feminine-coded goods and services include simple respect, love, acceptance, nurturing, safety, security, and safe haven. There is kindness and compassion, moral attention, care, concern and soothing.” (Manne, 110)

I also happen to know many men who give these wonderful human qualities to me and other women–it’s just that it seems they’re allowed some time off now and then with no harm done. Still I’m proud to value those qualities and offer them freely to my family, my friends, my colleagues and my readers. Thanks to Manne, though, I’ll definitely examine my feelings of safety and danger and “good” and “bad” as I continue on my writer’s journey.

Write on!

The Ultimate Sexual Conquest for the Twenty-First Century

If your sexual partner didn’t have an orgasm, would you want to know?

It probably depends on who you are. If reports from the high school and college heterosexual hook-up scene are any indication, mutual satisfaction is not the focus in most encounters. In Unscrewed: Women, Sex, Power and How to Stop Letting the System Screw Us All, Jaclyn Friedman reports that men are three times more likely to have orgasms than female partners in a casual college hookup (p. 194). She describes a Saturday night liaison where the woman gave the man a blowjob and he reciprocated with one lick of her labia.


Anecdotal evidence suggests that many young men believe a woman feels the same level of pleasure from vaginal intercourse that he does, and given the abysmal state of sex education, the blame is not all on them. But you’d think anyone would realize there’s an imbalance between a blowjob and a single flick of the tongue. Is it ignorance or indifference? Neither speaks well for a man, but then again by the traditional rules of heterosexual male conquest, only his pleasure matters. She has been “conquered” no matter what she feels.

In a long-term relationship, add fear to the reasons for the pleasure imbalance, from fear of wounding the lover’s ego to worse. Friedman tells how her beloved first boyfriend, Andy, “taught me about my clitoris and threatened to rip out my uterus and shove it down my throat if he ever discovered I’d been faking orgasms with him” (p. 50). Friedman loved Andy, but, faced with evisceration, just never get around to telling him that she’d never had an orgasm, not even with herself. Unfortunately for Andy, wherever he may be, he may have known about the clitoris in theory, but his prowess was built on lies.

Women might hesitate to offer the truth even when the threat is less explicit or dire. The first partner I was truly in love with thought my genuine moans of pleasure meant I was climaxing over and over. I wish! I didn’t have the nerve to tell him the truth either. Fortunately I figured out how to have real orgasms with him before the lie by omission became too uncomfortable. The first time with was oral sex, but one fine day, by being on top, it happened during intercourse, too. Ironically, he commented that I came very quietly that time, but I didn’t set the record straight. My joy at achieving the “right kind” of orgasm was mine alone. After we broke up a few months later (officially I broke up with him, but as is often the case, he made it easy by having a fling with another woman), I vowed I would always be honest about my orgasms with my future lovers. And I was. Who says anger can’t have a positive result?

Beyond the hook-up scene, Friedman reports that straight men are almost 50% more likely to have an orgasm with a partner than straight women are (p. 3). Every sex survey I’ve read claims that one-third of women have orgasms every time they have sex, one-third have them sometimes and one-third never do. There may be reasons for the latter situation that are beyond anyone’s control and there may be no easy solution.

But it also might be true that if a man makes a point to ask about what gives his partner pleasure—and is willing to listen to and act upon her/his answer—this will lead to more intimacy and hopefully more pleasure. At least it would cut back on the lies. And again, wouldn’t any responsible, self-respecting adult want to know the truth?

I’d also like to humbly suggest that if you know you’re having orgasms, but it’s unclear if your partner is, it’s on you to do the asking.

Friedman puts it well:

“Those of us who sleep with men pay every time we encounter a man who treats us like interchangeable vending machines that will dispense to him sexual pleasure if he inserts the secret coin. Because these men think they know What Women Want, they pay little attention to the needs and desires and boundaries of the individual woman in front of them, and women’s sex lives suffer for it. And if we have the temerity to refuse to play along with the script in his head, we know we’re risking him reacting with violence or abuse” (p. 51-52).

I wonder how many men are afraid to even ask? Talking about sex, particularly your own “performance,” is scary. We’re too busy admiring the players to recognize such courage publicly. So I’d like to do just that right here and now.

If you ever asked, with sincerity, what you could do to please your partner and listened to the answer, you are awesome! Really awesome!

If you ever had the guts to explain what you need even though everything you ever learned tells you to shut up and do it like they do in the movies, well, I think your courage in communicating honestly and your respect for your partner’s pleasure—because sexual pleasure includes the pleasure of giving pleasure—is equally awesome!

While we’re on the topic, here’s another question for you:

When did you lose your virginity?

Now suppose the official definition of “losing your virginity” changed. You could only claim graduation to the status of the sexually experienced if you were not under the influence of alcohol or drugs in any way and your partner definitely had an orgasm because you could trust him/her to be truthful.

By that definition, does your answer change?

The time difference between the first and second definitions for me is two-and-a-half years.

For those sexually active years, I was pretty excited just to be desired by men, and I was having plenty of orgasms on my own, so don’t feel too sorry for me. However, it does make me sad for all of us that such an amazing aspect of the human experience is silenced, sometimes by directly saying “don’t talk about this, it ruins the mood” and sometimes because we just don’t have the examples, the practice, and the knowledge that it can be different or better if we just express what’s really going on.

We don’t have to reserve sex talk for our lovers. While always keeping a sense of what’s appropriate in any given relationship, I wish we could talk about it honestly with friends of every gender. I’ve had the honor of doing so, although I wish I’d done it more. How much could we all learn if we share our experiences, our joys, and our confusion about sex and listen to what they have to say about theirs? What if we all treated sex as a complex and important part of the human experience, not as a dirty joke or a shameful thing to deny?

I remember as a child giggling with my friends about the meaning of “knowing” in the Biblical sense. Now as an adult, I think reviving the verb “to know” about our sexual encounters is a pretty good idea. In the twenty-first-century sense, everyone would know if their partners are experiencing pleasure, and everyone would know how to express it and receive it on their own terms, not those of the media or anyone else.

For me, this is the ultimate sexual conquest of the twenty-first century: vanquishing our society’s fear and loathing of sexuality by talking honestly and respectfully about this very important part of the human experience. I believe erotica writers are well-positioned to take the lead.

What do you think?

When Ladies Wore Open-Crotch Drawers: Sexy Surprises from Grandmother’s Lingerie Drawer

One of the chief pleasures of writing a historical novel is discovering the details of daily life in the past so we can recreate the texture and flavor of the time. The clothing of the period is, of course, an essential focus of research to put our characters in proper attire. But because erotica writers carefully undress our characters as well, we must also learn exactly the sort of undergarments an impatient lover will encounter for full authenticity.

Most of us know about corsets, petticoats and pantalettes from historical dramas. However, mainstream movies and TV leave out one important aspect of ladies’ drawers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—they had no crotch. Indeed they were almost completely split from end to end, two free-standing leg tubes held together by little more than a waistband as you see below.

Frederick’s of Hollywood doesn’t even dare to go that far.

I first found out about this unspoken feature of female undergarments of the last two centuries when I was assembling a corset-friendly costume for a boudoir photo session a few years ago. I went to a local lace and antique clothing store called Lacis in the hope of finding a pair of old fashioned bloomers. To my delight, I found a pair in exactly my size for a reasonable price pictured in both photographs here. The open crotch was a surprise, but when I put the drawers on, the gap disappeared into a sort of short petticoat. Unless the wearer made an effort to spread the split seam, if you didn’t know, you’d never guess what did–or rather didn’t–lie within.

But of course, the women and men of the 1900s knew. I’ve read in several sources that working-class lovers rarely undressed fully when they had sex in Victorian times. Open-crotch drawers certainly support the logistics of that custom.

In An Intimate Affair: Women, Lingerie, and Sexuality, Jill Fields provides further illumination about the history and sexual politics of open-crotch underpants for women. Until the nineteenth century, women didn’t wear any sort of protective clothing between their legs, although surely there was some provision for menstruation. (In the time period I’m studying, women wore diaper-like pants lined with cotton wool or rags; disposable pads were just coming on the market). Little girls and boys, who were dressed alike in feminine fashion until about the age of five, wore closed pantalettes under shorter dresses. Boys then were “breeched” and wore knee-length britches, then long trousers at puberty. When girls were old enough to put up their hair and lower their skirts—more or less at puberty—they also started wearing open-crotch drawers.

Fields acknowledges that the split crotch made it easier to answer daily necessities for a woman swathed in layers of undergarments and long, heavy skirts. Some experts claimed exposing the female genitals to the air was healthy. However, Fields also emphasizes the symbolic value of the female version of drawers. Women were not supposed to wear trousers—Joan of Arc’s cross-dressing preferences were part of her heresy. If a woman wore closed-crotch garments, she would be veering too close to the appropriation of male privilege, and no real lady would dream of such transgression. Thus, the gap at the crotch symbolized an adult women’s physical difference, her availability to men, and, ironically to our modern sensibility, her feminine modesty.

Around the late 1910s, the world began to change. Skirts shortened. More women were employed outside the home in offices and factories. Women went on “dates” outside the home, danced the tango in public halls and cabarets, and rode bicycles. Modesty in public now required closed-crotch step-ins, more like our tap pants, duly decorated with lace and wider at the leg to distinguish them from men’s drawers. From the end of World War I until the present day, open-crotch panties, once the sign of submissive and respectable femininity, became associated with naughty eroticism instead.

Fields writes: “The sexual access open drawers provided could coexist with woman’s propriety only in the context of an ideology of female passionlessness and social structures of masculine domination. When women publicly asserted their own claims to sexual pleasure, political power, and economic independence, an open crotch was no longer respectable.” (p. 42)

By the 1920s, ladies were now allowed, even required, to experience sexual pleasure in marriage to keep their husbands from straying. While I view this as a positive development, Victorian prudery did allow some women the power to control the number of marital sexual encounters due to their spiritual delicacy, as well as a desire to limit families. Now a woman “owed” her husband regular sex and an enthusiastic response. For the middle-class at least, with their greater access to birth control such as the new latex condoms and diaphragms, intercourse had fewer consequences to fertility than earlier.

Fields even describes a comic novel (1926) and film (1937) called Topper by Thorne Smith where the plot revolves around a prudish wife’s conversion to the modern underpants of a “forward woman,” which improves her sex life with her husband but deprives her of her power as the moral arbiter of the family.

Nonetheless, it would be several decades more before the average woman dared to wear slacks rather than skirts over her closed-crotch undies. At a family reunion last fall, my 96-year-old aunt described the momentous day she wore pants for the first time in her life during an evening stroll with her husband through the neighborhood–with his express permission of course. In the 1950s in the summer, small-town families still gathered on their front porches after dinner to seek relief from the heat. My aunt’s heart was pounding with anxiety as she wondered how the neighbors would react to her brazen outfit. But there were no earthquakes or riots, everyone simply nodded and wished her a good evening as they had the day before.

Some revolutions are quiet, yet significant, like the closing of the crotches on ladies’ drawers.

Hot Chilli Erotica

Hot Chilli Erotica


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