Sexual Teachings of Theodoor Hendrik Van de Velde

About the author of Ideal Marriage Theodoor Hendrik Van de Velde, biography and history of his sexual teachings.


THEODOOR HENDRIK VAN DE VELDE (1873-1937), The Netherlands

At the age of 36, after 10 years of suffering through a childless, stultifying marriage, Theodoor van de Velde, a prosperous Dutch gynecologist, ran off with a patient, Martha Breitenstein-Hooglandt, a social butterfly who unfortunately was also married. It was a shocking thing for a man of Van de Velde's background to do; he had been raised in a stuffy family of burghers, the son of a respectable, upstanding military man, and he himself had achieved the directorship of the Haarlem Gynecological Clinic. In the resulting scandal, he fell into disgrace and lost his practice. He and Martha began a long exile, wandering through Europe until his wife finally granted him a divorce in 1913. Then the two lovers were free to marry. They moved to Switzerland, where they lived happily right up to Theodoor's death at the age of 64.

Ideal Marriage, his marriage manual, was dedicated to Martha. Since its publication in 1926, it has sold more than a million copies in English alone. It was written, he said, for his patients, who were abysmally ignorant about sex. Today it is considered unsensational and oversentimental, but in its time it was judged to be risque. The Catholic Church placed it on its Index of forbidden books.


Ideal Marriage focuses particular attention on the groom dealing with an inexperienced bride and on the married couple trying to keep their sex life alive. It stresses the mutuality of sexual experience.

Van de Velde describes normal sexual intercourse as "that intercourse which takes place between two sexually mature individuals of opposite sexes; which excludes cruelty and the use of artificial means of producing voluptuous sensations; which aims directly or indirectly at the consummation of sexual satisfaction, and which, having achieved a certain degree of stimulation, concludes with the ejaculation--or emission--of the semen into the vagina, at the nearly simultaneous culmination of sensation--or orgasm--of both partners."

In spite of that cautious description, Van de Velde advocated a few acts daring in that time; he believed, for instance, that oral sex was an acceptable form of foreplay. In suggesting cunnilingus, he said, "the husband must exercise the greatest gentleness, the most delicate reverence"; he also cautioned that the wife should not indulge in fellatio too early in the marriage. In addition, he recognized that women have multiple orgasms and suggested that unsatisfied wives masturbate after intercourse. His Sex Efficiency: Exercises for Women gave women sets of pelvic-muscle exercises intended to increase both their sensual enjoyment and that of their husbands.

Ideal Marriage contains some erroneous information--the distinction between the vaginal and clitoral orgasm, a belief that the penis could lock inside the vagina, and the idea that the vagina could be torn by overvigorous thrusts by the male in normal intercourse.

Van de Velde's information came from what his patients told him (he asked for separate reports from husbands and wives) and his observation of the female organs as patients masturbated to orgasm.

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