The English Vice

If you’ve recently found yourself fascinated by BDSM, you’re probably pretty excited at the whole new world of kinky sex you’ve just uncovered. We’re in the twenty-first century and we’re having a sexual revolution. It’s time to celebrate! But wait – we’re not the only era in history to have had an interest in kink. The last time being spanked was fashionable was back in Victorian times, and the obsession even managed to acquire a name – The English Vice.

You’d be forgiven for thinking the Victorians were a rather prudish and sexually repressed bunch – but that simply isn’t the case. Whilst they had a low tolerance for crime and a rather impressive one for punishment, they definitely had a sensual side. Whilst their self-restraint and control was legendary, there was a lot of naughtiness that went on behind closed doors.

An Obsession

Whilst society in those days might have seemed rather reserved, the Victorians had ways of letting their hair down. They were obsessed with corporal punishment, pornography, and sadomasochism, which had a strong presence in both the art and literature of the time.

If you were caught gambling at school you could expect to receive four lashes for your crime. If you snuck a pack of playing cards under your desk, the punishment notched up to an incredible ten lashes.

Things got considerably worse as you got older. Public whipping and birching was widespread, and you would be expected to bare your behind or be completely naked to receive your strokes. Pillories and stocks were also a sign of the times, as well as the awful hangman’s noose.

The English Vice

One of the few things that wasn’t illegal in Victorian England was prostitution. They positively embraced brothels all over the country and these were seen as a legitimate evening pastime. Gay brothels, flagellation and spanking brothels, nude theatre… all these and more could be found in the streets of London if you knew the right place to look. Even pole dancing originated from the Victorian era, where teases, burlesque dancers or ding-a-lings would entertain gentlemen from dusk until dawn.

The fascination with ‘The English Vice’ brought about lots of private whipping clubs in both London and Paris, which catered to all tastes, although the aristocracy had a particular fondness for it. Customers to these abodes could either request to spank or whip a prostitute, or be bent over a chair and receive a whipping for themselves. They could also watch the proceedings between others. Tableux Vivants or ‘Living Pictures’ were also popular, in which nude actors posed together to illustrate a popular scene from history or to provide erotic entertainment for the brothel guests. The actors were forbidden to move or speak under English law, but were often theatrically lit for effect.

Victorian Fetish Photography

Almost as soon as the camera was invented its use was turned towards pornography, and common themes were bondage, spanking, and scenes of domestic discipline. Errant schoolgirls posed with their skirts up in order to receive a caning, and well-bred ladies were caught in the act of spanking maids, their misbehaving daughters, or even each other. The French delighted in placing the images on naughty postcards, but these could also be found in London, Berlin and New York.

Penny-arcade erotic shorts would bring Victorian men and women out in their droves to watch saucy little films through tiny, private stereoscopes.

Spanking videos were introduced a little later, towards the turn of the century, with titles such as Love Hurts, The Governess, and The Curse of Sir Fredrick.

Why Was Whipping So Popular?

Was it because Victorian England was such a tightly controlled society that the men of the time wanted to lose themselves in the throes of submission? Perhaps. It may also have had deeper roots. Most young boys were whipped at school, and whilst some found this extremely distressing, others found themselves aroused by the erotic humiliation of the experience and anxious to recreate the scenario.

If you thought the Marquis DeSade was responsible for most of our ideas on BDSM, you’d be completely wrong. It was almost certainly the Victorians with their dungeons, leather, brothels, canes, whips, boot-worship, pony-play and spankings. They certainly knew how to have fun, didn’t they?


-Christina Mandara

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