The Victorian era (1837-1901) was a period of great prudishness and even greater horniness. While huge amounts of pressure were put on courtship, a young, unmarried couple was never allowed alone without a chaperone. These virile youths were frustrated and dying for a premarital fumble. Enter their solution on eight wheels: a pair of roller skates.
With James Leonard Plimpton’s invention of a roller skate that allowed wearers to turn in circles, rollerskating became an increasingly popular activity in the late 19th century—especially with young people going on dates.
In “The Victorian Craze That Sparked a Mini-Sexual Revolution,” the BBC's Justin Parkinson writes:
“The skating rink is the neutral ground on which the sexes may meet,” reported Australia’s Port Macquarie News of goings-on in London and elsewhere, “without all the pomp and circumstances of society. The rink knows no Mother Grundy, with her eagle eye and sharp tongue, for Mother Grundy dare not trust herself on skates, and so the rinker is happier than the horseman of whom Horace sang.”
Holding hands and whispering sweet nothings became easier without Mother Grundy - a contemporary term for a stern matriarch - and her ilk tagging along. Prolonged eye contact with one’s intended replaced stolen glances.
On the rink, chaperones were left behind, clothes got shorter and more fitted (to allow for easier skating movement) and it was far easier to grab your date's hand (or whatever else) without scrutiny. Young people—and newspapers—went crazy for it.
The Port Macquarie News also reported:
"If a youth possesseth good parts do they not shine to greater advantage in the whirring arena of wheels; if a maiden be graceful, doth not her grace become still more charmingly enhanced by the very poetry of motion?
"Above all, does not roller skating recommend itself beyond all other pastimes, insomuch as even the first crude effort to strike a balance, not to say an attitude, is aided in the case of the fair sex by the gentle and respectful, yet firm and sufficient, support of some skilled cavalier, whose well-timed assistance and experienced counsels, smooth the rugged - no, that won't do - render less glacial the slippery path."
By the end of the 1800s, rollerskating's popularity had faded and many rinks closed. But they didn't disappear forever. The 1970s were a big decade for the roller rink where, once again, young people would come to socialize and flirt, usually away from the prying eyes of their parents. What is it about skates and sexual freedom?
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