There’s an interesting article in salon on kink and sexuality in the Victorian era. I always knew that there was a fair amount of hypocrisy around sex in Victorian times, but didn’t realize it was quite as extreme as the article describes. The huge number of prostitutes in Victorian London is well documented, but I hadn’t realized it was actually legal. Or that there were even gay male brothels.

However, some alarm bells did go off for me when I read this section of the article…

…..these gentlemen who went to private schools like Eton were whipped for punishment as kids. If they did something wrong they would be publicly birched — a collection of birch branches tied together would be used. The boy’s pants would be taken down and he’d be bent over this special block and it would be public. Any schoolboys who wanted to could come and watch. For many of these boys, of course, it was traumatic, but for other boys it’s an erotic experience. It developed into this masochistic eroticism.

This is a common line of reasoning for the origin of kinky desires, and it always strikes me as facile and simplistic. I don’t remember having needles shoved into me on a regular basis as a child. Or being electocuted, or tied up, or screwed in the ass, or suffocated, or whipped, or pissed on. But I enjoy all those things as an adult.

It’s no doubt possible that some Victorian gentlemen were hooked on flagellation from their early experiences. But it seems much more likely to me that they were simply kinky people utilizing one of the common and well understood ways of the era to inflict pain. If you enjoy power exchange and D/s play, you’ll reach out for convenient tools to create the dynamic. In an era before places like the stockroom existed then a collection of birch branches is a natural pervertible. Nobody is going to be playing with an ErosTek unit when Edison and Tesla are still fighting over the correct way to build an electrical grid. And in a time before widespread use of antiseptics, and when Lister’s pioneering work was still considered a fad, sticking needles in someone or cutting them was never going to be a popular style of play.

The psychology of BDSM and kink is both fascinating and complex. I think it does it a disservice to reduce it to a form of very basic imprinting.

Victorian FemdomThe vintage femdom image is taken from this post on the ‘call me Miss’ tumblr site.