Category Archives: Sexuality

1598: Cheese shortens your “gear”, says adulterous wife

In 1598 a Hounsditch woman, Margaret Browne, appeared at Bridewell Court to give evidence against her neighbour. Browne and her husband lived next door to John Underhill, a local bookbinder, and his wife Clement.

According to Browne’s testimony, Mr Underhill left town on business on May 13th. Around lunchtime, Clement Underhill received a male caller, a man named Michael Fludd. Mrs Browne, apparently a pioneer of the Neighbourhood Watch movement, followed events through windows and gaps in the walls. She saw and overheard a salacious exchange in the Underhills’ kitchen:

“As they were eating their victuals, Underhill’s wife said unto Fludd these words: “Eat no more cheese, for that it will make your gear short, and I mean to have a good turn of you soon.”

After lunch, Fludd retired upstairs to the Underhills’ bedroom, where he remained while Mrs Underhill attended their store. At six o’clock she joined him in the bedchamber, where Fludd:

“…took her in his arms and brought her to the bed’s foot and took up her clothes… She put her hand into his hose and he kissed her and pulled her upon him… He plucked up her clothes to her thighs, she plucked them up higher, whereby [Mrs Browne] saw not only her hose, being seawater green colour, and also her bare thighs.”

After nature had taken its course, Fludd “wiped his yard on her smock”, then Underhill “departed from him to fetch a pot of beer”. They then shared some bread and drink, with Mrs Underhill reportedly toasting Fludd’s performance in bed. Browne’s husband, who arrived home in time to witness the fornication next door, supported his wife’s testimony.

Confronted with this evidence, Fludd confessed to having “carnal knowledge of the body of the said Clement Underhill”. Despite the graphic nature of Mrs Browne’s testimony, Fludd was treated leniently: he was ordered to pay 20 shillings to the Bridewell hospital. Mrs Underhill was not arraigned and escaped without penalty from the court, though she did not escape public humiliation.

Source: Bridewell Court Minute Book 1598-1604, May 1598, f.23. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1758: Man dies from Spanish fly and “furious lust”

spanish fly
The Spanish fly – not really a fly and not specifically Spanish either

In the days before Viagra, medieval and early modern Europeans relied on a number of natural sexual stimulants. One of the most effective – but also most notorious – was ‘Spanish fly’, a substance produced by crushing green blister beetles into a powder.

The active chemical compound in ‘Spanish fly’ is cantharidin, which is produced by the beetles as a defence mechanism. If ingested by humans it causes itching and irritation around the body but particularly in the genitalia and urinary tract of men.

Scores of European doctors prescribed cantharidin for sexual dysfunction and a range of health issues, without fully understanding its workings or dangers. There are several historical cases of cantharide medicines producing satyriasis (excessive sexual lust) or priapism (permanent erection). One case from the mid 18th century apparently proved fatal:

“A doctor in Orange named Chauvel was called to Caderousse, a small town near his home, in 1758. There he saw a man suffering from a similar disease. At the doorway of the house, he found the sick man’s wife, who complained to him about the furious lust of her husband, who had ridden her 40 times in one night, and whose private parts were always swollen.”

Dr Chauvel’s investigations subsequently revealed that the overly excited man from Caderousse was dosed up on a cantharide potion:

“The husband’s evil lusts came from a beverage similar to one given him by a woman at the hospital, to cure the intense fever that had afflicted him. But he fell into such a frenzy that others had to tie him up, as if he were possessed by the Devil… While Dr Chauvel was still present a local priest came to exorcise him, while the patient begged to be left to die. The women wrapped him in a sheet damp with water and vinegar until the following day…”

On their return the following day the patient’s “furious lust” had abated – but only because he was dead. From Chauvel’s description it is unclear whether he was murdered, mutilated after death – or perhaps died during a bizarre act of auto-fellatio:

“…He was dead, as stiff as a corpse. In his gaping mouth, with teeth bared, they found his gangrenous penis.”

Source: Pabrol, Observations Anatomiques, 1762. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1899: Piano playing a “deadly habit” for young girls

In 1899, German physician Dr F. Waetzold published a short essay claiming that playing the piano was contributing to an increase in mental disorders among teenage girls and young women.

According to Waetzold, his research had uncovered some alarming links between piano-playing and neurotic disorders. One condition prominent among young pianists was chlorosis or ‘green sickness’, an anaemic fatigue thought by many Victorian physicians to be a product of unfulfilled sexual excitement. Girls who studied the piano before the age of 12, wrote Waetzold, were six times more likely to contract chlorosis or neuroses than those who did not. His solution was simple:

“It is necessary to abandon the deadly habit of compelling young girls to hammer on the keyboard before they are 15 or 16… Even at this age, the exercise should be permitted only to those who are really talented and possessed of a robust temperament.”

Choosing another instrument was not necessarily an option, according to Waetzold, because “studying the violin appears to produce even more disastrous results”. It seems that Dr Waetzold was not a music fan – or perhaps he lived within earshot of some decidedly untalented young musicians.

Source: Dr F. Waetzold, “Le piano et névroses” in Journal d’Hygiene, January 5th 1899. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1886: Henri Blot, Paris’ sleepy necrophiliac

By day, Henri Blot was a young waiter in a Paris cafe; by night he was a sleepy necrophiliac with a taste for young dancers. Blot’s 1886 arrest and trial shocked the French capital.

Prominent court reporter and Le Figaro columnist Albert Bataille described Blot as “something of a pretty boy, 26 years of age, though he has a livid complexion and a feline quality in his physique”. According to Bataille’s account, in March 1886 Blot entered a small cemetery in Saint-Ouen shortly before midnight and:

“…went to a mass grave, to a cross marking the coffin of a young woman of 18, Femando Méry, a theatrical dancer buried the day before. He removed the soil and lifted the body of the girl onto an embankment. Setting the bouquets aside and kneeling on white paper, he practised his sordid work on the corpse. He then fell asleep, waking with scarcely enough time to leave the cemetery unseen, though not enough time to replace the body.”

An insane man was wrongly arrested for this crime, which allowed Blot to strike again. On June 12th, he broke into the grave of another young woman, a ballerina (Blot apparently had a thing for dancers). Again, he violated the corpse and again, he fell asleep next to it. This time, however, the snoozing Blot was discovered by the cemetery caretaker. He was quickly arrested and committed to stand trial for gross indecency and interfering with graves.

When interrogated by the judge about his motives, Blot’s reply was simple: “Everyone has their tastes; mine is corpses”. Blot was sentenced to two years’ in prison; his fate after this is unknown.

Source: Albert Bataille, Les Causes Criminelles et Mondaines, 1886. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1940: Florida man’s seven year affair with a corpse

Maria Elena de Hoyos, as she appeared when found in 1940

Karl Tanzler (1877-1952) was born in Germany and spent years travelling through India, Australia and the Pacific before emigrating to the United States. Tanzler arrived in Key West, Florida in 1927 and took a job as a radiologist at a local military hospital.

In April 1930, Tanzler met 19-year-old Maria Elena de Hoyos, a Cuban-American beauty queen receiving treatment for severe tuberculosis. He became infatuated and spent the next 18 months caring for the ailing de Hoyos, showering her with gifts and attempting to gain her affections.

When she died in October 1931, Tanzler funded the construction of an ornate mausoleum, where he reportedly spent several hours every day. In April 1933, a year and a half after de Hoyos’ death, Tanzler kidnapped her body from the mausoleum, hauled it to his house in a child’s wagon and laid it out in his own room.

Tanzler would spend the next seven years trying to prevent the corpse from decomposing – a difficult proposition in the heat and humidity of southern Florida. When de Hoyos’ sister discovered the corpse in October 1940, it was encased in plaster and wax and fitted out with a wig and glass eyes. She immediately informed police and Tanzler was arrested:

“Deputies Bernard Waite and Ray Elwood said the body, well preserved with the aid of wax, was in a bedroom of the isolated home of [Tanzler]…

‘One day’, Tanzler told officers, ‘I opened her coffin and found that the body was decaying. I did not want one so beautiful to go to dust. I stole the body about two years after she died and have had it with me ever since.’

The body, wrapped in a silken robe, lay on one of the two twin beds in the room. On the wrists were gold bracelets and in the hair was an artificial rose.”

The corpse of Maria Elena de Hoyos

Two doctors present at the examination of de Hoyos’ remains later claimed to have seen evidence of sexual interference, including the insertion of a paper cylinder to serve as a makeshift vagina. This information was not officially recorded or publicly released, however.

Tanzler was psychologically examined and found fit to stand trial for disturbing a corpse but the charges against him were eventually dropped. Tanzler escaped the spotlight by moving to mainland Florida. He was given a death mask taken from de Hoyos’ face, which he lived with until his own death in 1952.

Source: The Palm Beach Post, October 6th 1940. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1894: Kansas asylum de-sexes chronic masturbators

In 1894, the activities of Dr F. Hoyt Pilcher, superintendent of the Kansas Asylum for Idiots and Imbecile Youth in Winfield, came to light in the press. According to outraged reports, Pilcher had personally castrated any inmate found to be a “confirmed masturbator”. A total of 11 teenaged boys had so far been deprived of their testicles.

Dr Pilcher was accused of “diabolism” and treating his patients no better than “the farmer treats his hogs”. The Kansas Medical Journal, however, laughed off the press and hailed Pilcher as a hero:

“This abuse weakened the already imbecile mind and destroyed the body. The practice is loathsome, disgusting, humiliating and destructive of all self-respect and decency, and had a bad moral effect on the whole school… Dr Pilcher, like a brave and capable man, sought something better… He could give back a restored mind and robust health, a bestial function destroyed, and he did it.”

Newspaper investigations into Pilcher and his activities continued undaunted. One paper reported that Pilcher was unqualified for the position he held and that he was addicted to drink. There were also claims, apparently corroborated, that Pilcher had raped several young females in his care:

“Mrs Murray, who had been employed by Dr Pilcher in some capacity about the institution, testified that two of the girls, Alice and Nora, came to her crying and testified that Dr Pilcher had taken them into his private office and locked the door and taken liberties with their persons. These stories were further substantiated by Miss Johnson, who was a teacher in the school.”

Pilcher denied any allegation of sexual impropriety, though he reportedly admitted to stripping the girls in his office for an ‘inspection’. Despite these claims, Pilcher kept his job and the Asylum continued to neuter its patients, eventually performing as many as 150 male and female sterilisations. Pilcher retired in 1899 but the Asylum remained very popular among eugenics-driven doctors and parents alike, tripling in size by the outbreak of World War I.

Source: Kansas Medical Journal, vol. 6, September 1894; The Iola Register, Kansas, August 31st 1894. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1872: Son-in-law testicle inspection a must, says Bertillon

After qualifying as a doctor, Jacques Bertillon (1851-1922) chose not to practice medicine, going instead into statistical analysis and demographic research. Bertillon was also an active writer, contributing articles to medical and sociological journals.

In 1872, a French medical guide published an essay on marriage written by Bertillon. Despite his inexperience (the author was still shy of his 21st birthday), Bertillon preached instructions and advice for newlyweds and their families.

The fathers of young ladies, urged Bertillon, should carefully but discretely evaluate the manhood of any prospective son-in-law. If a suitor showed any “doubtful traits of virility” – such as “a voice that is pitched high or often breaks”, “a thin, patchy or wispy beard” or any feminine traits – then the future father-in-law, as a condition of marriage, should drag him off to a doctor:

“…Have the physician inspect the testicular sac, to affirm the presence of testicles, whether there be two or one… and whether one or both be shrunken and flaccid… The so-called man who seeks a wife may be capable of erection or carnal lust, but may not possess true virility or fertile embraces. He is a being who, if he possesses any sense or tact… should remain a stranger to the matrimonial state.”

Source: Jacques Bertillon, “Mariage” in Dictionnaire Encyclopedique des Sciences Medicales, v.5 n.67, 1872. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1654: Four men hold masturbation contest on Long Island

In June 1654, four men from East Hampton on Long Island were hauled before town leaders, charged with staging a masturbation contest. Accused of public self-pleasuring were two married men, Daniel Fairfield and Fulke Davis, Fulke’s young son John Davis and another teenager, John Hand Jnr.

It is not known whether they were caught ‘in the act’ or informed upon after the event. The nature of their contest is also unrecorded, as is the winner, if there was one. Whatever the details, the incident caused considerable public outrage in staid East Hampton.

The punishments, however, were light – at least in comparison to what they might have been. Fulke Davis, as the oldest and supposedly wisest of the quartet, received the harshest penalty. John Hand Jnr. was not punished at all, perhaps on account of his age:

“After extended examination and serious debate and consultation with their Saybrook neighbours, the townsmen , not deeming the offence worthy of the loss of life or limb, determine that Fulke Davis shall be placed in the pillar and receive corporal punishment; and John Davis and Daniel Fairfield shall be publicly whipped, which was done and witnessed…”

According to genealogical records, Fulke Davis had a history of rubbing his neighbours up the wrong way. His name appears in at least three different legal and property disputes. In the 1660s Fulke and his wife were chased out of East Hampton, allegedly for “molesting men” and “practising witchcraft” respectively. Fulke died in Jamaica, New York, around 1687.

Source: Records of the town of East Hampton, Suffolk County, New York, vol.1, 1639-1680. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1661: London prostitute gets rich from novelty coin act

The site of Priss’ “Chuck Shop” even has its own blue plaque.

Priscilla ‘Priss’ Fotheringham was one of 17th century London’s more colourful prostitutes and brothel madams. Born in Scotland around 1615, the young Priss was reportedly a “cat-eyed gypsy, pleasing to the eye”. By her early 30s, however, Priss’ looks had faded, thanks to a bout of smallpox and years of swilling gin.

In 1652, Priss made the first of several court appearances when she was charged with running a house of ill repute, after being discovered:

“…sitting between two Dutchmen with her breasts naked to the waist and without stockings, drinking and singing in a very uncivil manner.”

She did a stint in Newgate for this and other offences but was back on the streets before 1656. Sometime around then she met her future husband, Edmund Fotheringham, himself the son of a bawd (his mother Anne ran a busy but seedy brothel on Cow Lane, Finsbury).

In the late 1650s, Priss took up residence in a tavern on the corner of Whitecross and Old Street. Now in her 40s, her youthful looks all but gone, Priss searched for another method of luring customers.

Her solution was a long-forgotten novelty act known as “chucking”. Supported by two male volunteers, Priss would balance on her head, stark naked with her legs akimbo, while patrons took turns inserting half-crown coins into her “commodity”. The act was described in The Wand’ring Whore, a 1661 guide to London’s prostitutes:

“Whereupon the sight thereof [of] French dollars, Spanish pistols, English half-crowns are plentifully poured in… as she was showing tricks upon her head with naked buttocks and spread legs in a round ring, like those at wrestling…”

According to legend, Priss Fotheringham’s “commodity” could fit 16 half-crowns, the princely sum of 40 shillings. Reports suggest that she performed this act several times daily, making it quite an earner. “Priss Fotheringham’s Chuck Shop” became one of the most popular haunts in London, making Priss enough cash to set up and staff her own brothel.

Fotheringham’s husband died in 1663 and Priss followed him five years later, both most likely from advanced syphilis.

Source: John Garfield (attrib.), The Wand’ring Whore, London, 1661. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1888: Smelly feet, a sign of teenage masturbation

Miss Priscilla Barker was a late 19th-century social purist. In 1888 she published The Secret Book, a guide for girls and their parents containing information about dress, cosmetics, deportment and medical matters. It also contained information and advice about sexual behaviour, which Barker considered a matter “extreme delicacy… too vulgar for discussion” but included out of “a sense of duty”.

Among her advice was a curt warning to teenage girls about the intentions of their boyfriends:

“Beware of men who will come to you with the appearance of honour, integrity and love, but who in the secret of their hearts only hunt for women as the huntsman hunts for game. That gilded hero, that demigod of yours, that ideal man, is a sensual and heartless destroyer of female virtue for his own bestial self-gratification.”

Like others of her ilk, Barker was obsessed with masturbation – or more specifically the prevention of it. The main cause of self-abuse, she believed, was reading romantic novels, which excited “premature feelings” in young women. Once provoked these “inroads of self-abuse… leave the citadel of womanhood unprotected and at the mercy of the enemy”.

Barker told concerned parents that if their daughters started masturbating, “the terrible demon of lust” would “brand his bestial mark” on their appearance:

“The face loses its colour and the eyes grow dull, heavy and weak; the hands feel soft and clammy; and often the smell of the feet is unbearable… Another victim came to into my notice [with a] mouth full of saliva… The first moment I looked at her I felt that I had before me a fearful victim of self-abuse.”

Source: Priscilla Barker, The Secret Book containing Private Information and Instruction for Women and Young Girls, 1888. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.