History is so full of sex, drugs, more sex, and then some sex that it is amazing they managed to find enough other information to teach us in school. If you believe your teachers, the Georgian era in England was a boring period full of polite country dances where the most exciting thing that happened was that George III went mad (imagine a fusion of Crispin Glover and Charles Manson). But the truth is, after they lost the colonies, the English went on a bit of a bender. In fact, the period between the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 may very well have been the most debauched time in history. Here's why.
5Sex and Marriage
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If the movie versions of Jane Austen novels have taught you anything, it is that relationships in the early 1800s involved snappy dialogue, lots of misunderstandings, and like 50 balls a week. But Austen was a sexually repressed spinster who almost never left her hometown, so what did she know. In reality, most people during the Regency were having a ton of sex, and a whole lot of that was before marriage.
Right after the artist was finished, this thing went full-on orgy.
Divorce basically didn't exist in England until the 1850s, and even then only for wealthy men. So for people during the Georgian period, once you got married to someone you were pretty much stuck with them until one of you died of syphilis. But just like today, people wanted to make sure they were sexually compatible before marriage. This and the fact that birth control was basically nonexistent meant that by 1800 almost 40 percent of supposedly virginal brides were knocked up at their wedding. Almost 25 percent of first-born children were born out of wedlock completely.
This wasn't some secret that families tried to hide because of the shame. Everyone knew what was going on in every level of society, and no one cared. If anyone in the country was responsible for half the bastards running around, it was the royal family. At one point, only one of Mad King George's 13 children was legally married, yet he had at least 19 and possibly as many as 56 illegitimate grandchildren. And it wasn't like these kids were hidden away; his sons openly lived with (some of) the mothers of their illegitimate children, and it was common knowledge and reported in the press.
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If you didn't want that level of commitment, there were always the brothels. Prostitution was not only completely legal, guides were published every year informing men of where to find them, and what sort of things they were willing to do, like a Michelin Guide for ass. By one historian's estimate, in London alone prostitution was the equivalent of a $2 billion a year business.
If it turned out you couldn't stand your partner after you married them, no problem; affairs were unbelievably common as well, especially among the upper classes. Spouses just turned a blind eye to the other's philandering. The Duke of Devonshire even moved his mistress into his home and lived openly with both her and his wife for 25 years, and everyone in the country knew about it. But women gave as good as they got, and the Duchess gave birth to a daughter she conceived during one of her affairs with the future Prime Minister Charles Grey. That would be like if Angelina Jolie cheated on Brad Pitt and had Barack Obama's baby AND NO ONE GAVE A SHIT.
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During the Georgian period, it was considered totally normal for the detailed outline of a man's genitals to be completely visible through his trousers.
You can juuust about see what I'm talking about in this example.
It goes back to the Ancient Greeks. In their sculptures, women tend to be wearing clothes, or at least have the bottom half of their bodies covered. But the men are letting it all hang out. And since the Western world thought that everything the Greeks did was awesome, that meant men shouldn't be ashamed of showing off their junk in public. In fact, they should be proud of it, and that lead to Georgian men wearing fitted, light-colored tights or pants that were made to let everyone see just how proud they were at any given moment.
His hand is there so you'll notice his ... let's say patriotism?
Women, on the other hand, went from drowning in fabric to wearing light dresses that would have been lingerie only a few years before. But at some point somebody thought that, while walking around in one's underwear was all well and good, they still weren't really naked enough. During the late 1700s and early 1800s, the cloth women used to make their dresses became sheerer and sheerer to the point that they were actually see-through. On top of that, many ladies stopped wearing undergarments or wore a pink body suit to emphasis their nakedity. The coolest, most fashionable women in Paris, called the Merveilleuse, were mocked by caricaturists for basically going out in public half-naked, and the women in England followed their lead.
Yeah, a guy in dick-sculpting pants made fun of them.
But still it wasn't enough for the exhibitionists. Soon women were wetting down their dresses so that the fabric was even sheerer and clingier. This led to an outbreak of sickness, especially since wet dresses were just as fashionable in the winter as they were in the summer. But even when doctors warned that their outfits were literally killing them, the ladies wouldn't stop participating in their version of a 24-hour wet T-shirt contest.