I have been pretty quiet lately on Twitter and whatnot because I have been busy editing. So, so busy. In the natural course of editing I of course suddenly needed to do some research. I am working on a historical romance with some BDSM elements in it.

Here’s the thing, BDSM as we know it didn’t exist in the Victorian era.

But, by all accounts BDSM has strong roots in the Victorian period. From what I read, it is in large part due to the repression of all things sexual. Women were not expected to find satisfaction let alone pleasure from sex. The only acceptable reason to have sex was for procreation by married people. Of course men were not permitted to masturbate either, so in the overall ranking of sin it was less sinful to have sex with a prostitute than to take things into one’s own hands.

As a result of all this repression, certain practices surfaced in the underground

Flagellation scene, illustration to Fanny Hill by Édouard-Henri Avril.

world of sex and ultimately developed into the more defined practices of BDSM. Keeping in mind that I am glossing over a huge amount of information, there are texts that mention various practices that have become part of BDSM: the Kama Sutra, the writings of the Marquise de Sade, and those of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch.

Needless to say, by Victorian times some of the practices mentioned in these writings were being practiced. As well as other new ideas that were being tried out. Now,  I will point out that the idea of safe, sane, and consensual was not part of the conversation going on. What was part of the conversation was flogging, birching, figging, restraints, and even domination/submission (though not exactly with those labels).

There is evidence that brothels engaged in servicing their customers in terms of flogging and birching. Considering that many of the customers would be high ranking officials and Lords of the Realm, there was a natural domination/submission conversation that accompanied these practices. In addition, “dungeons” could be found where there were implements used for restraining those that were to be whipped. One article describes:

Mary Jeffries ran the most exclusive brothel in the “Victorian Era.”  Her chief assistant was a Mrs. Travers. She kidnapped children by offering to watch them while the parents went to gather luggage or buy tickets. Jeifries catered to nobility. “There was no form of sexual vice for which this murderess did not cater” (Terrot, 1960, p.91). Stead (Tenot, 1960, p.54), writing for the Pall Mall Gazette, described one of her houses,


“Flogging or birching goes on in brothels to a much greater degree than is generally believed. One of Mrs. Jeffrles’ rooms was fitted up like a torture chamber… There were rings in the ceiling for hanging women and children up by the wrists, ladders for strapping them down at any angle, as well as the ordinary stretcher to which the victim is fastened so as to be unable to move. The instruments of flagellation included the ordinary birch, whips, holly branches and wire-thonged cat-o’-nine-tails.”

Terrot, C. (1960), Traffic in Innocents: The Shocking story of white slavery in England, New York E. P. Dutton & Co,. Inc taken from Bestslavetraining.com

In addition to all of this, there is a practice called figging that dates back to the Victorians. Essentially you carve a finger of ginger into a butt plug and insert it in the rectum. It is supposed to burn for a while. Google will provide you all kinds of information. I promise. *grins*

So, as you can see what I discovered was quite helpful in fine tuning my edits and answering some of my own questions about the accuracy of what I wrote. I will include some links at the bottom here for the more curious.

Links:
The Psychology of BDSM: http://www.scribd.com/doc/26957509/BDSM-Definition-and-History
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BDSM
BestSlaveTraining.com: http://bestslavetraining.com/BDSMbrothels.htm