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Seminar 9: The Sexual Revolution?


This week we explore birth control and family regulation, which for much of the twentieth century related to limiting the number of children born in families. The 1960s was purported to have changed all of that – with its ‘permissive society’ and the Pill – bringing sexual liberation to a new generation of single people. We will explore changes in sexual behaviour throughout the century, the issue of who took responsiblity for contraception and ongoing concerns with the dangers of venereal disease and the impact of inappropriate sexual behaviour.

1. How were attitudes towards sexually transmitted disease influenced by gender?
2. Who controlled family size: women, men or both?
3. Were the 1960s really swinging with regards to sexual behaviour?
4. How important was the pill in changing women’s lives?


Seminar Reading:

Lucy Bland and Frank Mort, ‘Look Out for the “Good Time” Girl: Dangerous Sexualities as a Threat to National Health’, in Formations of Nation and People (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984), 131-51. scanned article

C. Davey, ‘Birth Control in Britain during the Interwar Years: Evidence from the Stopes Correspondence’, Journal of Family History, 13 (1988), 329-45. e-resource EBSCO/SAGE

Kate Fisher, ‘“She was quite satisfied with the arrangements I made”: Gender and Birth Control in Britain 1920-1950’, Past and Present, 169 (2000), 161-93. e-resource JSTOR/Oxford journals

Hera Cook, The Long Sexual Revolution: English Women, Sex, and Contraception 1800-1975 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), esp. ch. 13 ‘“Truly it Felt Like Year One”: The English Sexual Revolution’. e-book

Primary Sources

Lynne Reid Banks, The L-Shaped Room (1962; c.1980) (DVD available in library).

Margaret Foster, Gregory's Girl (1965; 1978) (DVD available in library).

Or you can read the novels.

Additional Reading:

L. McCray Beier, ‘‘We were Green as Grass’: Learning about Sex and Reproduction in Three Working-Class Lancashire Communities, 1900-1970’, Social History of Medicine, 16 (2003), 461-80. e-resource Oxford journals

Lucinda McCray Beier, For Their Own Good: The Transformation of English Working-Class Health Culture, 1880–1970 (Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 2008), ch. 5 ‘“They never told us anything”: Sex and Family Limitation’.

Virginia Berridge and Philip Strong (eds), AIDS and Contemporary History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

Lucy Bland, ‘Marriage Laid Bare: Middle-Class Women and Marital Sex c.1880-1914’, in Jane Lewis (ed.), Labour & Love: Women’s Experience of Home and Family 1850-1940 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986), 123-46.

Lucy Bland, Banishing the Beast: English Feminism and Sexual Morality, 1885-1914 (London: Penguin, 1995).

Lucy Bland, ‘“Cleansing the Portals of Life”: The Venereal Disease Campaign in the Early Twentieth Century’, in M. Langan and B. Schwartz (eds), Crises in the British State 1880-1930 (London: Hutchinson, 1985), 192-208.

Barbara Brookes, ‘Women and Reproduction c.1860-1919’, in Jane Lewis (ed.), Labour & Love: Women’s Experience of Home and Family 1850-1940 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986), 149-71.

D.A. Cohen, ‘Private Lives in Public Spaces: Marie Stopes, The Mothers’ Clinics and the Practice of Contraception’, History Workshop Journal, 35 (1993) 96-116.

Hera Cook, ‘Emotion, Bodies, Sexuality, and Sex Education in Edwardian England', Historical Journal, 55 (2012), 475-95. e-resource Cambridge journals

Hera Cook, ‘Getting “foolishly hot and bothered”? Parents and Teachers and Sex Education in the 1940s’, Sex Education, 12 (2012), 555-67. e-resource Education Research Complete

Hera Cook, ‘Sexuality and Contraception in Modern England: Doing the History of Reproductive Sexuality', Journal of Social History, 40 (2007), 915-32. e-resource Oxford journals/JSTOR

Hera Cook, The Long Sexual Revolution: English Women, Sex, and Contraception 1800-1975 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

Hera Cook, ‘The English Sexual Revolution: Technology and Social Change’, History Workshop Journal, 59 (2005), 109-28. e-resource JISC

R. Davidson and L.A. Hall (eds), Sex, Sin and Suffering Venereal Disease and European Society since 1870 (London: Routledge, 2001).

Angela Davis, ‘“Oh no, nothing, we didn’t learn anything”: Sex Education and the Preparation of Girls for Motherhood, c.1930-1970’, History of Education, 37 (2008), 661-77. e-resource Taylor & Francis

Gayle Davis, ‘Health and Sexuality’, in Mark Jackson (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of the History of Medicine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 503-23. e-book

D. Evans, ‘Tackling the “Hideous Scourge”: The Creation of Venereal Disease Treatment Centres in Early Twentieth-century Britain’, Social History of Medicine, 5 (1992), 413-33. e-resource Oxford journals

Kate Fisher, ‘“Teach the Miners Birth Control”: The Delivery of Contraceptive Advice in South Wales, 1918-1950’, in Pamela Michael and Charles Webster (eds), Health and Society in Twentieth-Century Wales (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2006), 143-64.

Kate Fisher, ‘Contrasting Cultures of Contraception: Birth Control Clinics and the Working-Classes in Britain between the Wars’, in M. Gijswijt-Hofstra, G.M. van Heteren and E.M. Tansey (eds), Biographies of Remedies: Drugs, Medicines and Contracptives in Dutch and Anglo-American Healing Cultures (Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2002), 141-57.

Kate Fisher, Birth Control, Sex and Marriage in Britain, 1918-1960 (Oxford: Oxford University Press). e-book

Kate Fisher and Simon Szreter, ‘“They Prefer Withdrawal’: The Choice of Birth Control in Britain, 1918-1950’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 34 (2003), 263-91. e-resource JSTOR/Project Muse

Kate Fisher and Simon Szreter, Sex before the Sexual Revolution: Intimate Life in England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010). e-book

Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley (London: Penguin, 1990).

A.C.T. Geppert, ‘Divine Sex, Happy Marriage, Regenerated Nation: Marie Stopes’s Marital Manual Married Love and the Making of a Best-Seller, 1918-1955’, Journal of the History of Sexuality, 8 (1998), 389-433. e-resource JSTOR

Diana Gittins, Fair Sex: Family Size and Structure, 1900-1939 (London: Hutchinson, 1982).

Lesley Hall, Sex, Gender and Social Change in Britain since 1880 (Houndmills: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2000).

Lesley Hall (ed.), Outspoken Women: An Anthology of Women’s Writing on Sex, 1870-1969 (London and New York: Routledge, 2005).

R. Hall (ed.), Dear Dr. Stopes: Sex in the 1920s (London: Deutsch, 1978).

Lesley Hall, Hidden Anxieties: Male Sexuality, 1900-1950 (Cambridge: Polity, 1991).

Lesley Hall, ‘“The English Have Hot-Water Bottles”: The Morganatic Marriage between Sexology and Medicine in Britain since William Acton’, in Roy Porter and Mikulas Teich (eds), Sexual Knowledge, Sexual Science: The History of Attitudes to Sexuality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 350-66.

L.A. Hall, ‘Venereal Diseases and Society and Britain, from the Contagious Diseases Acts to the National Health Service’, in R. Davidson and L.A. Hall (eds), Sex, Sin and Suffering Venereal Disease and European Society since 1870 (London: Routledge, 2001), 120-36.

Steve Humphries, A Secret World of Sex: Forbidden Fruit: The British Experience 1900-1950 (London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1988).

Phillipa Levine, Prostitution, Race and Politics: Policing Venereal Disease in the British Empire (London: Routledge, 2003).

Jane Lewis, Women in England 1870-1950 (Brighton: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1984), ch. 2.

J. Lewis, H. Land and K.E. Kiernan, Lone Motherhood in Twentieth-Century Britain (Oxford: Clarendon, 1998).

Steven Marcus, The Other Victorians: A Study of Sexuality and Pornography in Mid-Nineteenth-Century England (London: Basic Books, 1966).

Angus McLaren, Twentieth Century Sexuality: A History (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 1999).

Angus McLaren, Birth Control in Nineteenth-Century England (London: Croom Helm, 1978).

Lara V. Marks, Sexual Chemistry: A History of the Contraceptive Pill (New Haven, NJ: Yale University Press, 2001).

Arthur Marwick, The Sixties: Cultural Revolution in Britain, France and the United States, c.1958-1974 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998).

Arthur Marwick, ‘The Cultural Revolution of the Long Sixties’, International History Review, 27 (2005), 780-806.e-resource Taylor & Francis

Frank Mort, Dangerous Sexualities: Medico-Moral Politics in England since 1830 (London: Routledge, 2000).

Roy Porter and Lesley Hall, The Facts of Life: The Creation of Sexual Knowledge in Britain, 1650-1950 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995).

Elizabeth Roberts, A Woman’s Place: An Oral History of Working-Class Women 1890-1940 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984), ch. 3.

W. Secombe, ‘Starting to Stop: Working Class Fertility Decline in Britain’, Past and Present, 126 (1990), 151-88. e-resource JSTOR/Oxford journals

Mary Spongberg, Feminizing Venereal Disease: The Body of the Prostitute in Nineteenth-Century Medical Discourse (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1997).

Liz Stanley, Sex Surveyed, 1949-1994: From Mass Observation’s Little Kinsey to the National Survey and the Hite Report (London: Taylor & Francis, 1995).

Simon Szretzer, Fertility, Class and Gender in Britain 1860-1940 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996, 2000).

J. Weeks, Sex Politics and Society: The Regulation of Sexuality since 1800 (London: Longman, 1989).

J. Weeks et al. (eds), Sexualities and Society - A Reader (Cambridge: Polity, 2003).

Essay Questions

What sexualities were considered 'deviant' in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Britain and why?

How and why did attitudes towards female sexuality change in the twentieth century?

Who controlled contraception during the twentieth century - men or women?

Were the 1960s really swinging in regards to sexual behaviour?