The Physician And Sexuality In Victorian America

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In postCivil War America, Victorian men and women turned to physicians for scientifically based impartial advice on personal and moral questions as well as for health matters. Doctors played willing advisors to trusting patients. Making their consultation rooms authoritarian settings, they presumptuously doled out personal advice on all topicsfrom intrafamily communication to proper clothing, exercise, contraception, infidelity, masturbation, and venereal disease.

More than any other professional group, doctors expressed the moral judgment of the middle class and articulated the forces that lay in wait for those of both sexes who squandered their birthrights through unrestrained indulgences. Insecure both socially and economically, the rising middle class gave physicians far more authority than their medical and scientific knowledge warranted.

Although the middle class operated on a double standard, Victorian men faced enormous expectations and restrictions similar to the proscriptive role assigned Victorian women. John S. Haller, Jr., and Robin M. Haller cover the resulting nervous ailments common to Victorians, in addition to marriage and sexual relationships, proper hygiene, prostitution, and drug addiction.

In one of the few sexual studies to deal with both genders, the authors reject the stereotypical view of Victorian sexuality. Discounting the popular dictum of the Victorian period as an aberration in the ascent of women to greater sexual freedom, they posit prudery as a mask behind which women sometimes gained greater freedom of person.

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