I found this story on an episode of QI (series M, episode “Middle Muddle”).
Here’s a couple of quick tales about people who were RRREAL uncomfortable with sex.
The first is about Lady Jane Stanley, daughter of the 11th Earl of Derby. Lady Jane, who lived in the town of Knutsford, Cheshire, believed that people of different genders walking next to each other was lewd, since it could lead to touching, which could lead to sexual activity.
She therefore ordered that all of the sidewalks in Knutsford be made so narrow that people could only walk on them single-file. I believe the town currently has plans to change this, if they haven’t done already.
She died unmarried. Her epitaph, which she wrote herself, reads, “A maid I lived and a maid I died. I never was asked and never denied,” which might be the single most depressing epitaph I’ve ever heard.
The second story today is about Anthony Comstock, who single-handedly ruined porn in the USA for several decades.
In the 1870s, he founded a league against lewdness. He had fought in the American Civil War (not the best place to avoid swearing and drinking and talk of sex) and was disgusted by the behavior he saw there.
Allegedly, in 1873, one of Comstock’s close friends got ‘addicted’ to pornography and died soon thereafter. It was Comstock’s belief that his friend had masturbated himself to death. This was one of the factors in Comstock’s foundation of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. The society actually did very well throughout the 1870s and 1880s, making over 700 arrests, resulting in 333 prison sentences, raking in fines totaling $65,000, and seizing the equivalent 65,000 ‘lewd articles’, including items like condoms.
You might be familiar with his name in the context of the Comstock Law, which made it a federal offense to send ‘obscene matter’ through the post. This meant you could mail nothing that counted as pornography, a contraceptive, an abortificant, a sex toy, or even any INFORMATION regarding one of those things. This was still going strong well into the 20th century.
I would also like you to appreciate that in 1895, one of the items that was banned from being sent through the mail was a postcard from a preacher. The postcard had only two things written on it: two quotations from the Bible. The quotations were deemed ‘obscene’, preacher in question was arrested, and he was fined $50.