100-Year-Old Wedding Night Advice for Newlyweds

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Imagine yourself as a young person during an era when there was no sex ed in high school. Sure, pornography exists, but you're more likely to get your hands on the smallpox virus than a properly illicit "French Postcard." The only depictions of sexuality you'll regularly encounter in your young life are the disturbing interactions of farm animals. And yet your wedding night approaches. How do you prepare yourself?

Well, you'll read any number of delicately worded advice books, written by people of apparent high moral standing and (usually vague) medical credentials. Here's a sampling.

What a girl should know

First, the most important thing, as imparted to us by Emma Frances Angell Drake in 1902's What a Young Wife Ought to Know: "From the wedding day, the young matron should shape her life to the probable and desired contingency of conception and maternity. Otherwise she has no right or title to wifehood."

Now that your purpose as a woman has been made clear, how do you achieve it? It was assumed that all men approaching marriage had a rudimentary understanding of what was going to happen. But women of quality would not have been so exposed to rude talk, rumors, and basic knowledge of their own body. She might not even know the names and function of her own reproductive organs. This ignorance, says Walter Gallichan in 1918's The Psychology of Marriage, can be fatal:

It is necessary that the virgin should not enter the married state without even theoretical knowledge of sex. Those who counsel such unenlightenment are unconsciously guilty of cruelty. Many young wives have considered themselves the subjects of outrage on the bridal night. There have been cases of sudden disappearance and flight on the eve of wedding. Now and then one reads a painful report of suicide at this crisis in a girl's life. [The Psychology of Marriage]

But how much should a girl know to keep her from running screaming into the night or driving her to suicide? It depends on which expert you ask, but according to Maurice Bigelow in 1916's Sex-education: A Series of Lectures Concerning Knowledge of Sex in Its Relation to Human Life, not so much as to make her too curious:

She should know the scientific names of her organs, not because there are many vulgar names as in the case of boys, but because dignified names help attitude. Ovaries, uterus (womb), vagina, Fallopian tubes, and vulva will be sufficient. Detailed description of the external organs (vulva) might arouse curiosity that leads to exploration and irritation. [Sex-education: A Series of Lectures Concerning Knowledge of Sex in Its Relation to Human Life]

Bigelow asserts that a girl should only be taught that she has a vulva, not the parts that make up a vulva, lest she want to see or touch those parts of herself. Curiosity can lead to exploration, which can lead to…irritation.

Also, knowing too much is unbecoming in a bride. Men adore the fact you're ashamed of yourself, as Karl Heinzen explains in 1891'sThe Rights of Women and Their Sexual Relations:

There is, indeed, another kind of shame. It is that delicate shyness which the virgin feels when she is to step beyond the boundary of virginity, as well as that feminine reserve which strives to hide or to guard her charms. This "shame" is…a natural consequence of an emotional affection upon entering a new life…it has nothing to do with the consciousness or the fear of seeing something improper disclosed, is an ornament to every woman, and its absence is a proof of dullness and coarseness. [The Rights of Women and Their Sexual Relations]

It's so adorable that you feel icky and confused, darling.

Make sure he knows you're going to want to maintain your human rights beforehand.

Bernarr Macfadden was not afraid to take on the controversial new idea that women have rights over their own bodies in his 1918 Womanhood and Marriage. He's willing to allow that women might be embracing this new fad. But it is of greatest importance that she tells her husband she feels this way before a wedding date is set:

With the development of the idea of personal freedom has come the feeling, on the part of many women, that they should have the right of ownership of their own bodies — in other words, that they should have the privilege of choosing whether or not they will acquiesce in their husband's desire for entering into the physical relationship of marriage.

Since, however, it has been for so long a time an accepted idea that the husband's right over the wife's body was inherent, it is advisable for any young woman who takes the other point of view to make her attitude thoroughly understood by her future husband before she definitely takes upon herself the obligations of the marriage state. [Womanhood and Marriage]

The fact that a cow is a temperamental milker is not the sort of thing you spring on a poor guy after he's already bought her. Full disclosure makes for good business.

The consummation

Before the actual consummation occurs, a few things should be considered. First, there is the physical condition of virginity. Nearly all 19th-century marital advice shuns the Biblical idea of blood proof of virginity. One Dr. Napheys says to know if your wife is truly a virgin, pay attention to her outer purity, not her inner membranes:

The presence or absence of the hymen is no test. There is, in fact, no sign whatever which allows even an expert positively to say that a woman has or has not suffered the approaches of one of the opposite sex. The one true and only test which any man should look for is modesty in demeanor before marriage, absence of both assumed ignorance and a disagreeable familiarity, and a pure and religious frame of mind. When these are present, he need not doubt that he has a faithful and chaste wife.

But if such a membrane is present, tender care should be taken. William Josephus Robinson, author of 1920's Sex Knowledge for Men, says that a truly loving husband will proceed with the deflowering of his wife very slowly, sometimes taking up to a week of gentle introductions before a full connection is made.

Sylvanus Stall, who writes in 1899's What a Young Husband Ought to Know, is not as generous in his timeline, but insists that if a wife is still hurting weeks after the wedding night, she should probably see a doctor:

It is important for young husbands to know that when a serious inconvenience is experienced in the consummation of marriage, if the hymen is not easily removed by care and consideration, but remains an impediment or a pain for a period of days, or a couple of weeks, medical advice and assistance should by all means be sought. [What a Young Husband Ought to Know]

Don't be in such a hurry to consummate, anyway. That fruit is going to taste pretty bland once it's no longer forbidden, according to Mrs. E.B. Duffey in her book The Relations of the Sexes: "Do not be in too great haste to brush the bloom from the fruit you covet. It will lose half its attractions at once."

No sex or bad sex makes women crazy

Robinson gets straight to the point when he says, "The bridal night is the most important turning point in a woman's entire life." Not just because this night will determine the success of the entire marriage (more on that later), but because, according to Gallichan, married sex is the only way a woman can keep her health. It's the only way to channel her anabolic energy:

Every intelligent physician knows that conjugal life is the salvation of many women. Every specialist in the nervous and psychic disorders of women is aware that a healthy vita sexualis is the remedy for many troubles of the brain. Many women have conflicts and longings which they attribute to any other source than enforced single life, disharmonious marriage, or unfulfilled maternal processes. The anabolic energy of woman may be said to desire avidly the catabolic force of man as the completion of being. No argument, no evasion, can destroy this fact of human life. [Sex Knowledge for Men]

Any woman who does not enjoy her sex life is at risk for insanity and illness—an interesting proposition that might still find a good many female supporters today.

Husband or beast?

Now let us revisit the subject of a husband coveting the forbidden fruit of his bride's love bud. New husbands are often driven mad by their desire to obtain this treasure. But be warned, one night of binging can wreck an entire life, says Mrs. Duffey:

This bud of passion cannot be forced rudely open. Its development must be the work of time. If the young wife is met with violence, if she finds that her husband regards the gratification of his own desires more than her feelings — and if she be worn and wearied with excesses in the early days of her married life, the bud will be blighted. The husband will have only himself to blame if he is bound all his life to an apathetic, irresponsive wife. It is easy to imagine the unsatisfactory conjugal relations which are brought about in punishment of the husband's early impetuosity and ignorance. He finds an unreciprocal wife, doubts her affection for him, because, with his masculine nature, he cannot conceive of a love unblended with passion. [The Relations of the Sexes]

Stall describes how an over-ambitious husband will ruin both his and his wife's life:

Many otherwise kind men have become possessed with the thought that every right is theirs immediately; and in their inconsiderate, rapacious passion, in the speedy consummation of marriage, at whatever cost of pain or wounded feeling on the part of her whom they have taken to love and honor, they well-nigh wreck the after happiness of both in the first days of their united lives.

Husband beware of the wrong of committing a veritable outrage upon the person of her whom God has given you as your companion, and suffering ever after the stings of remorse, that she never again can feel the same respect and love for you that she could, had you been more considerate of her feelings and desires.

It will be difficult for her to be persuaded that the animal nature does not control and dominate your love for her, rather than the higher instincts of the soul. [What a Young Husband Ought to Know]

For all your innocent bride knows, you made up this weird thing you want to do to her. A certain amount of patience will show her that you care more about her person than her privates. Forget this, and you have personally created a woman who will hate you the rest of her life.

But then again, if a woman does not enjoy sex, her husband will begin to hate her:

The woman who turns with aversion from a perfunctory performance of "conjugal duty" inspires an ardent and affectionate husband with the deepest suspicion of her love. His devotion must be strong indeed if he can preserve love and esteem for his wife after repeated suggestion of apathy, or manifestations of open repugnance or shameful compliance. [What a Young Husband Ought to Know]

The importance of restraint

Even if you are a gentle husband and lover, and even if your wife is enjoying herself, restraint is imperative. Says Robinson:

It will be seen that the husband who wishes to keep and retain the regard, affection, and gratitude of his wife, will be moderate and circumspect during the first few weeks of married life. Unless, of course, the wife herself is of a passionate nature and demands frequent satisfaction. In such cases the husband will comply with his wife's wishes as far as he can without injuring his health. [Sex Knowledge for Men]

Yes, the husband's health is at risk from over-indulgence. Even if a new wife is fond of the conjugal act, she must learn to restrain herself for her husband's sake, lest she drain him of his vital fluids. Macfadden explains:

Wives must understand that the life-giving fluid called the semen, which is produced in the creative organs of the man, is of great value in the upbuilding of his own body. It is only within comparatively recent times that the marvelous power of this creative fluid in building up and making over the body of the individual has been thoroughly understood. [Womanhood and Marriage]

Furthermore, it is of the utmost importance that if a couple is to have copious amounts of sex, that the woman be joyful and satisfied in the act. Otherwise, magnetic energy is not exchanged and you end up draining him like a sexual vampire:

In sexual intimacies, there is a discharge of this creative fluid from the body of the man, but where there is a full response on the part of the wife, there seems to be an exchange of magnetism or energy which makes up for the loss. If, however, his desire alone is active and she is simply fulfilling a supposed wifely duty, she gives nothing to him, and he, therefore, suffers a definite loss in vitality. It is claimed by some that such one-sided intimacies are almost as harmful to the man as masturbation. [Womanhood and Marriage]

As quaint as they seem to us, and as misinformed as they are, these books were trying to help. They were lights, however dim, in the fog of Victorian sexual confusion. They encouraged people to replace ignorance with education, selfishness with compassion. They didn't have the knowledge or values we have now, but the core ethic of trying to clear up rumor and confusion was still there, and is still admirable.

The Christmas Book Flood: Iceland’s Literature-Loving Holiday Tradition

iStock.com/Viktor_Gladkov
iStock.com/Viktor_Gladkov

In Iceland, the most popular Christmas gifts aren't the latest iProducts or kitchen gadgets. They're books. Each year, Iceland celebrates what’s known as “Jólabókaflóðið:” the annual Yule Book Flood.

The holiday season is the Black Friday of the Icelandic publishing world—but it’s not just about one day. According to Reader’s Digest, at the beginning of November, each household in Iceland gets a copy of the Bokatidindi, the Iceland Publishers Association’s catalog of all the books that will be published that year, giving residents a chance to pick out holiday books for their friends and family. September to November marks Icelandic publishers’ biggest season, and many sell the majority of their yearly stock leading up to Christmas. Even grocery stores become major booksellers during the Book Flood season.

The Jólabókaflóðið (pronounced YO-la-bok-a-flothe) tradition dates back to post-World War II economic policies. Iceland separated from Denmark in 1918, and didn’t become a fully autonomous republic until 1944. During the Great Depression, the country created a rigid, intricate system of import restrictions, and its protectionist policies continued after the war. High inflation and strict rations on imported goods made it difficult for Icelanders to get their hands on many products. The one imported product that was relatively easy to get? Paper. As a result, books became the nation’s default gift purchase, and they still are, more than half a century later.

The "flood" in Christmas Book Flood has more to do with the deluge of books hitting bookstores than it does a flood of books flowing onto individual bookshelves. To take advantage of the tradition, most hardback books published in Iceland come out in the months leading up to Christmas, when Icelanders will be purchasing them for friends and family. (Cheaper paperbacks often come out a few months later, since people are more apt to buy those for themselves rather than their loved ones, according to The Reykjavik Grapevine’s Hildur Knútsdóttir.)

While family traditions vary from household to household, most Icelanders unwrap a book on December 24, according to Reader’s Digest. Some people get a book for every member of their family, while others do a swap exchange where everyone brings one title and everyone gets to pick one from the pile. After the exchange, many people cozy up with their new volume and get reading, preferably in bed, with chocolate.

As Icelandic writer Alda Sigmundsdóttir explained in a blog post in 2008, people in Iceland “will typically describe the pinnacle of enjoyment as lying in bed eating konfekt [filled chocolates] and reading one of the books they received under the tree. Later, at the slew of Christmas parties that inevitably follow, the Christmas books will be a prominent topic of conversation, and post-Yule the newspapers are filled with evaluations of which books had the best and worst titles, best and worst covers, etc.” Sounds like a pretty good tradition to us.

It’s not surprising that Iceland places such high importance on giving and receiving books. The country reads and publishes more books per capita than any other nation in the world, and one in 10 Icelanders have published a book themselves. (There’s an Icelandic adage, “ad ganga med bok I maganum,” that means “everyone gives birth to a book.” Well, technically it means “everyone has a book in their stomach,” but same idea.)

But the glut of books that flood the Icelandic market during the latter months of the year may not be as completely joyful as it sounds, some critics warn—at least not when it comes to the stability of the publishing market. Iceland is a nation of just 338,000 people, and there are more books than there are people to buy them. Some publishers, faced with a lack of space to store the unsold books, have had to resort to destroying unpurchased stock at the end of the holiday season. But marketing books outside of Yuletime is a relatively budding practice, one that Icelandic presses are still adapting to. It’s hard to beat the prospect of curling up after Christmas dinner with a freshly opened book and a bunch of chocolates, after all.

11 Facts About Robert the Bruce, King of Scots

Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn
Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn
Edmund LeightonCassell and Company, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The subject of a recent Netflix original movie called Outlaw King, Robert the Bruce is one of Scotland’s great national heroes. Get to know King Bob a little better.

1. Robert the Bruce was a polyglot who loved telling stories.

He likely spoke Scots, Gaelic, Latin, and Norman French, and was an avid reader who loved studying the lives of previous monarchs. According to a parliamentary brief from around 1364, Robert the Bruce "used continually to read, or have read in his presence, the histories of ancient kings and princes, and how they conducted themselves in their times, both in wartime and in peacetime.” In his free time, he would recite tales about Charlemagne and Hannibal from memory.

2. Despite his reputation as Scotland’s savior, he spent years siding with England.

The Bruce family spent the 1290s complaining that they had been robbed of the Scottish Crown. That’s because, after the deaths of King Alexander III and his granddaughter Margaret, it was unclear who Scotland's next monarch should be. Debates raged until John Balliol was declared King in 1292. The Bruces, who had closer blood ties to the previous royal family (but not closer paternal ties) considered Balliol an usurper. So when tensions later flared between Balliol and Edward I of England, the resentful Bruces took England’s side.

3. He murdered his biggest political rival.

John Comyn is killed by Robert Bruce and Roger de Kirkpatrick before the high altar of the Greyfriars Church in Dumfries, 10 February 1306
Henri Félix Emmanuel Philippoteaux, Cassell, Petter & Galpin, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

One of the leading figures standing in the way of Robert the Bruce’s path to Scotland’s throne was Balliol's nephew, John III Comyn, Lord of Badenoch. In 1306, Robert arranged a meeting with Comyn in the Chapel of Greyfriars in Dumfries, Scotland. There, Robert accused Comyn of treachery and stabbed him. (And when word spread that Comyn had somehow survived, two of Robert’s cronies returned to the church and finished the deed, spilling Comyn’s blood on the steps of the altar.) Shortly after, Robert declared himself King of Scotland and started to plot an uprising against England.

4. He lived in a cave and was inspired by a very persistent spider.

The uprising did not go exactly according to plan. After Robert the Bruce killed Comyn in a church, Pope Clement V excommunicated him. To add salt to his wounds, Robert's ensuing attempts to battle England became a total failure. In the winter of 1306, he was forced to flee Scotland and was exiled to a cave on Rathlin Island in Northern Ireland.

Legend has it that as Robert took shelter in the cave, he saw a spider trying—and failing—to spin a web. The creature kept attempting to swing toward a nearby rock and refused to give up. Bruce was so inspired by the spider’s tenacity that he vowed to return to Scotland and fight. Within three years, he was holding his first session of parliament.

5. He went to battle with a legion of ponies.

For battle, Robert the Bruce preferred to employ a light cavalry of ponies (called hobbies) and small horses (called palfreys) in a tactic known as hobelar warfare. In one famous story, a young English knight named Sir Henry de Bohun sat atop a large warhorse and saw Robert the Bruce mounted upon a palfrey. Bohun decided to charge. Robert saw his oncoming attacker and stood in his stirrups—putting him at the perfect height to swing a battleaxe at the oncoming horseman’s head. After slaying his opponent, the king reportedly complained, “I have broken my good axe.”

6. He loved to eat eels.

Robert the Bruce
iStock.com/fotoVoyager

Robert the Bruce’s physician, Maino de Maineri, criticized the king’s penchant for devouring eels. “I am certain that this fish should not be eaten because I have seen it during the time I was with the king of the Scots, Robert Bruce, who risked many dangers by eating [moray eels], which are by nature like lampreys," de Maineri wrote. "It is true that these [morays] were caught in muddy and corrupt waters.” (Notably, overeating eels was considered the cause of King Henry I England’s death.)

7. His underdog victory at Bannockburn proved that quality could defeat quantity.

In 1314, Robert the Bruce defeated King Edward II’s army at Bannockburn, sending England (as the popular anthem Flower of Scotland goes) “homeward tae think again.” It was a surprising victory; the English had about 2000 armored horsemen and 15,000 foot soldiers, compared to the Scots's 500 horsemen and 7000 foot soldiers. But Robert the Bruce used geography to his advantage, forcing the English to attempt crossing two large and boggy streams. The victory was a huge turning point in the Scottish War of Independence and would help secure Scotland's freedom.

8. He’s firmly intertwined with the Knights Templar mythology.

Treasure hunters speculate that in the 14th century, the Knights Templar fled to Scotland with a trove of valuables because they received support and protection from King Robert the Bruce. Thanks to his help, they say, the Knights were able to hide gold and holy relics—from ancient Gospel scrolls to the Holy Grail—in secret spots across the country (including in Rosslyn Chapel, of The Da Vinci Code fame). But there is little evidence to support these colorful myths. Templar scholar and medieval historian Helen Nicholson said that any remaining Knights Templar were likely hanging out in the balmy climes of Cyprus.

9. He’s still donating money to a Scottish church.

Robert the Bruce and Elizabeth de Burgh
Henri Félix Emmanuel Philippoteaux, Cassell, Petter & Galpin, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

After the death of his second wife, Elizabeth de Burgh, Robert the Bruce decreed to give the Auld Kirk in Cullen, Scotland—now the Cullen and Deskford Parish—a total of five Scots pounds every year. That's because, in 1327, Elizabeth had died after falling off a horse, and the local congregation generously took care of her remains. Robert was so touched by the gesture that he promised to donate money “for all eternity.” To this day, his bequest is still being paid.

10. Parts of his body are buried in multiple places.

Robert the Bruce died on June 7, 1329, just a month before his 55th birthday. The cause of his death has been a source of much discussion, and disagreement, but most modern scholars believe that he succumbed to leprosy. His funeral was a rather elaborate affair that required nearly 7000 pounds of candle wax just for the funerary candles. Following the fashion for royalty, he was buried in multiple places. His chest was sawed open and his heart and internal organs removed: The guts were buried near his death-place at the Manor of Cardross, near Dumbarton; his corpse interred in Dunfermline Abbey; and his heart placed inside a metal urn to be worn around the neck of Sir James Douglas, who promised to take it to the Holy Lord.

11. His heart was the original “Brave Heart.”

Unfortunately, Sir Douglas never made it to the Holy Land: He got sidetracked and took a detour to fight the Moors in Spain, where he was killed. Before his attackers reached him, Douglas reportedly threw the urn containing the king’s heart and yelled, “Lead on brave heart, I’ll follow thee.” The heart was soon returned to Scotland, where its location was forgotten until a team of archaeologists discovered it in 1921. It’s now interred in Melrose Abbey.

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