Gynaecological doctor William Acton's Functions and Disorders of the Reproductive Organs, in Childhood, Youth, Adult Age, and Advanced Life, Considered in the Physiological, Social, and Moral Relations (1865) is mainly concerned with male sexuality. It is largely known, however, for the extract shown here where Acton claims that 'the majority of women (happily for them) are not very much troubled by sexual feeling of any kind'.
Although Acton's views are not representative of the whole 19th century population, they nevertheless reflect that sex was seen by many - including medical professionals - as something exclusively enjoyed by men while women, in contrast, passively endured it for the purpose of reproduction only.
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Free-spirited and independent, educated and uninterested in marriage and children, the figure of the New Woman threatened conventional ideas about ideal Victorian womanhood. Greg Buzwell explores the place of the New Woman – by turns comical, dangerous and inspirational – in journalism and in fiction by writers such as Thomas Hardy, George Gissing and Sarah Grand.
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From marriage and sexuality to education and rights, Professor Kathryn Hughes looks at attitudes towards gender in 19th-century Britain.