Queen Victoria loved it. The morning after her wedding night she wrote ecstatically in her diary that sex was ''a foretaste of heaven''. Unfortunately she did not enjoy what came after the nights of bliss with her beloved Albert as one pregnancy followed another. (Nineteenth century birth control was rudimentary and consisted of: abstinence, withdrawal, sheaths made of animal intestines - the advice was to wash them out between use, the introduction of a piece of sponge into the vagina to guard the mouth of the womb, or by squirting tepid water into the vagina after sex.)
Given these options, it is hardly surprising that Queen Victoria proceeded to give birth consecutively to nine children. Even if she had not enjoyed the procreative aspect, she'd have little say in the matter. After marriage, a woman's possessions, and this included her body, became her husband's. If he wanted sex, it was her duty to fulfil his needs.
Many well-brought up Victorian girls married with only the remotest idea of what awaited them sexually. The story in Diamonds & Dust of Lady Caroline Hartington, who ''tried to run away after the unspeakableness of the wedding night'' is actually based on a real event - my maternal grandmother, married at 16 to a much older man, supposedly ran back to her parents the day after the wedding. And was returned forthwith.
The same notion that girls arrived at their wedding night pure, sexless and ignorant, to be awakened (or not) by her husband can be seen in the forlorn comment of Mary Sidgewick, married in 1859 at the age of 18 to a much older man. She later wrote in her diary: ' how I cried at Paris....the nights!'
It wasn't just young women who were in for a shock: John Ruskin allegedly was unable to consummate his marriage when he discovered on the wedding night that his bride had pubic hair. His idea of female beauty was derived from the classical Greek statues he'd seen on his travels and in the British Museum. His reaction and expectations differ little from many young men nowadays, who expect girls to be entirely hairless in all areas, as this is what they have seen on porn sites.
Of course, like their 21st century counterparts, men could always find their pleasure before or beyond the marital bed: ''London in 1860 is notorious for filth and obscenity. There are, as nearly as can be ascertained,five hundred and nine prostitutes, if you believe the Return of the Number of Brothels and Prostitutes within the Metropolitan Police Area.'' Diamonds & Dust. Sadly the same was not true for women, who were expected to remain pure and unsullied until their wedding. Or at least, not get caught....
The age of consent in 1860 was 12 and had been since the sixteenth century. Sex with a girl under 10 was a felony; with a girl between 10 and 12 was a misdemeanour. The age of consent was raised to 13 in 1875 and to 16 in 1885. There were however places where men could go for sex with very young children, who were known colloquially as ''green fruit''. The poor unfortunate victim would be taken to a room with well-padded walls, where nobody would hear the screams as they were raped. Sadly, little changes but technology: now such an event would be filmed, and shared on numerous websites. In the book, George Osborne also refers to the fictitious 'Mrs Frost's' where young girls who were virgins could be had.
We get the impression that the Victorians were all prudes and sexually repressed. Nothing could be further from the truth! This was the start of the ''info'' era, and there were manuals, pamphlets, and advice books aplenty, if you knew where to buy them. Not to mention saucy photographs. And if you were a well-brought up young person living in London in 1860, whose parents declined to tell you the facts of life, a quick stroll down Holywell Street off the Strand, the centre of the erotic and pornographic book trade couldn't fail to bring enlightenment - and a blush to your maidenly cheek.
If you would like to read a free sample of my new novel Diamonds & Dust, A Victorian Murder Mystery, you can do so here . US readers can do so here