Under the Guidance of a Wise Mother: British Sex Education at the Fin de Sicle Chapter uri icon


  • For most Victorians, sex education denoted training not in bedroom pleasures but in the pitfalls of middle-class marriage.1 As the century progressed, the sexual double standard became increasingly problematic among the educated earnest, who held that it promoted rather than discouraged licence. Social-purity workers and feminists waged war against the masculine type that Peter Cominos (1972) has dubbed Homo Sensualis; fiction by New Women such as Sarah Grand and George Egerton exposed the problems awaiting the bride of an erstwhile rake. As Cominos notes, if in the 1850s most considered feminine sexual navet to be the ideal, by the 1890s absolute innocence looked more and more old-fashioned, dangerous rather than desirable (Cominos, 1972, p. 165). Reformers of both genders saw male lust, insufficiently discriminating and insufficiently disciplined, as the root of evils from racial degeneration to prostitution to failed marriages, and argued that to prohibit women from speaking about sin was to permit men to practise it.

author list (cited authors)

  • Nelson, C.

citation count

  • 3

complete list of authors

  • Nelson, C

editor list (cited editors)

  • Nelson, C., & Holmes, A. S.

Book Title

  • Maternal Instincts: Visions of Motherhood and Sexuality in Britain, 18751925

publication date

  • 1997