I found something to add to the costume drama of our minds, and it's really salty. All I can say is that I ended up in a dark alley with Wikipedia, and you know I started out just chatting in a well-lit living room where there was a Wikipedia family portrait on the wall. Anyway, it was in this dark alley that Wikipedia started telling me about masturbation clubs of the 1700s. And then I read one of the clubs' records, as you can too. (There is also a book about it.)
So, The Most Ancient and Most Puissant Order of the Beggar’s Benison and Merryland, Anstruther, Scotland. A "gentleman's club" celebrating "the convivial celebration of male sexuality." I don't know where to start. OK, I do. They had a snuffbox full of King George's courtesan's pubic hairs. And that was after they had a wig made from King Charles' courtesan's pubic hairs, which got lost, as can happen. And they liked to jerk off together on a silver platter, and then measure it. Also, they knocked dicks in greeting on that same platter.
And they liked to read aloud the dirty parts of the Bible. They called masturbation "frigging," and swore to each other that the ideal penis size was 5-6 inches. If we were all grand ladies in Scotland and England in the mid 1700s, perhaps having a slumber party where we powdered our wigs and talked about our monthlies and how sex was nothing like our lady's maid described, these guys would be at the estate across the park, reading the gentleman's equivalent of 18th-century Judy Blume for boys, getting drunk, and asking about the menstrual cycle of skate.
I wanted to start all this out as a guide to masturbation clubs of the 1700s, but then the Beggars showed up, and, well, they kind of stole the sleepover. The Enlightenment apparently made the upper classes lusty, ready to challenge that sex was for more than procreation, and so it was de rigeur to meet up and jerk off. After awhile, these clubs got a bad reputation, as most wanking clubs do, and sought a more covert location than London, and so the Beggars showed up in a fishing village in Scotland, where they met twice a year, and adored their pubic hair collection.
More gossip about the Beggars:
-Their Bible had a lock on it in the shape of a vulva.
-They blamed infertility on "worn-out or indiscreet" men, not the women, because men were the "active agent" of reproduction. I'm also guessing this might be code for bringing syphilis back home to wife?
-They were very much for birth control, and only partly because they didn't want bastards: "First:—That no married people should have more children than they wish to have, and can maintain and bring up with ease. Second:—That no unhealthy or delicate women should produce children at all. Third:—That there should be no Bastards. Fourth: That sexual commerce should be independent of the dread of a conception which blasts the prospects of the female. Nine-tenths, at least, of the misery and ruin which are caused by seduction result from cases of pregnancy."
-But they thought condoms were risky, as they could "burst with the act of copulation," and that sponges hurt their junk. So they mostly recommended withdrawal, calling it the "act of loving-kindness which in point of justice and honour we owe to her whose charms we obtain."
-They very much believed in women's desire, sexual appetite, and female frigging, but they really weren't sure what lubrication was: "That a mucous fluid is poured out then by hot women is undoubted; but the female has no seminal vessels like the male. Yet there is a stimulating something which produces the same desires and the same pleasures."
And we have to talk about the Posture Girls. These were local girls from the village, paid to show their localgirlparts (you can't really say lady parts when you're talking 18th century and ladies were Ladies). They were told to strip, then were allowed to come out with their face half-covered, and "None was permitted to speak to or touch her. She spread wide upon a Seat, first before and then behind: every Knight passed in turn and surveyed the Secrets of Nature." The Secrets of Nature! How ridiculous! How true! How complicated! The posture girls are definitely the ghosts of the Beggar's records, wandering around, their face half-covered (which means you can really see everything, right?), and someone named as Betty Wilson is my favorite. She gets written up as being "a bad model and unpleasant." And apparently, in such a small town, everybody knew who the posture girls were. One woman got called out as being one on her wedding day, but it was after the vows, so ha.
The Beggars were super interested in frigging, but also in the science of frigging. They had lectures about everything going on down there. Even if it was about the gender of earthworms, the fertility of fish, or what was the best kind of penis to deflower a virgin with.
The frigging platter is locked up at St. Andrews, along with the snuffbox and some other knickknacks (like prick glasses!).
Back at our party, we have to make do with reading novels and ladies' magazines, because while apparently some Ladies were let into the sex clubs of the time, they were never let into the Beggars.' They were busy with their aristocratic sausage-gazing, and we, across the park, we were all like, I love that corset, have you ever noticed that horseback riding can sometimes feel really good? Then we probably moved on trying to figure out who gave us the clap, and why men never seem to pull out in time, even though they say they will.
Danielle Roderick would like to start a band called The Posture Girls, and writes over at Millicent and Carla Fran.
Photo via Flickr