Almost half of the interviewees reported the use of abstinence in order to avoid conceptions during at least a part of their marriages. Simon Szreter's first book, Fertility, Class and Gender in Britain , published in , had offered a revisionist interpretation of the fertility decline in England and Wales, which included the thesis that abstinence had played a much larger role as a method of birth control than had previously been considered. Sex Before the Sexual Revolution Simon Szreter , Kate Fisher Tweet During the last two decades a good deal has been published by historians and sociologists on the history of sexualities in twentieth-century Britain, though very little of this has presented evidence on sex in marriage before the s, while complementary studies of marriage have offered little first hand evidence on sex before the s. These outcomes fulfil much of the original motivation for the research project on which this book is based. Quite unlike today, among the working classes contraception was entirely assumed to be a male responsibility, whereas a majority of middle-class respondents recalled joint discussion and choices being made by both partners together at the outset of marriage. In our book the abstinence thesis has received not only substantial confirmation but significant elaboration. Consequently the history of sex in marriage during the twentieth century has come to suffer from a profound and condescending Whig tendency to portray it in rather triumphalist terms as a story of the progressive elements within the educated middle classes leading a benighted people from the darkness of Victorian ignorance, brutal patriarchy and orgasm-starved, dutiful wives to a world of sexual enlightenment and knowledge, companionate equality, and expressive, mutually orgasmic sexual intimacy. Women met each other at universities or in prisons, but living openly as a couple was difficult and isolating. The oral history approach has thus provided us with a substantial body of rich and nuanced first-hand evidence, previously absent, on the relationship between heterosexual attitudes and behaviour, marriage, birth control and the fertility decline in England and Wales in the early and mid-twentieth centuries.
Sex Before the Sexual Revolution Simon Szreter , Kate Fisher Tweet During the last two decades a good deal has been published by historians and sociologists on the history of sexualities in twentieth-century Britain, though very little of this has presented evidence on sex in marriage before the s, while complementary studies of marriage have offered little first hand evidence on sex before the s. It was about expressing love and caring for a permanent partner, not achieving self-gratification with a potential range of partners. The idea that 'female education is the best contraceptive', through female empowerment and knowledge of contraceptives, has been a development and family planning policy mantra since the s. However, we have also learned much more about the complexities of contraceptive practices: Quite unlike today, among the working classes contraception was entirely assumed to be a male responsibility, whereas a majority of middle-class respondents recalled joint discussion and choices being made by both partners together at the outset of marriage. Finding a female to be in a relationship with was difficult, too, which is why a lot of women opted for heterosexual relationships. Unsurprisingly, Sex in the Great Depression was not immune to these sweeping lifestyle, social, and economic changes. This very important difference between the classes in their typical strategies to help daughters preserve their valued innocence was closely related to the divergent educational provision in this period, with only middle-class girls benefiting from the secondary education which was necessary to make sense of the birth control and sex manuals available, which were deliberately written in a dry scientific manner to avoid the obscenity laws' concern to protect 'public morals'. Whereas working-class girls were deliberately encouraged to shun sexual knowledge for as long as possible and to rebuff outright their boyfriends' wandering hands until the point at which marriage was firmly agreed. There are clear lessons of importance to policy-makers which can be drawn from our findings. Ignorance proved to be far from absolute, companionship was not how people talked of love and marriages, many women saw sex as both a duty and a pleasure, had orgasms but did not see this as of paramount importance. Almost half of the interviewees reported the use of abstinence in order to avoid conceptions during at least a part of their marriages. Women met each other at universities or in prisons, but living openly as a couple was difficult and isolating. Facing up to this problem of absence of evidence made him realise that it was symptomatic of a more general problem, which was the absence of scholarly attention to sex and sexuality in marriage as a central issue requiring study. At the same time, liberal attitudes about sex and sexuality that had grown during the '20s regressed during the '30s at the expense of anyone outside of the traditional sexual norms. By contrast, the issue of choice of birth control method, though presented as a source of sexual dissatisfaction at times, did not arise as a cause of open disharmony between partners in working-class marriages, where it was accepted as a male responsibility and duty. However, this sharing of responsibility for birth control methods was not necessarily a recipe for the sexually enlightened middle-classes to lead the way with marriages of companionate sexual harmony, as the Whig orthodoxy might lead us to assume. In middle-class marriages, by contrast, there was a further unique reason for much of the abstinence reported, which has already been mentioned: We are not disputing that common values and practices in relation to sex, love and marriage were very different by the last quarter of the twentieth century than they had been in the first. Not until the Butler Education Act was free secondary education available for the four-fifths of the population who were at that time working-class. This might suggest to policy-makers that some processes of truly profound cultural change can only be carried by particular generations and that they may happen in a 'revolutionary' or sudden fashion. Phil, which provided revolutionary new findings about birth control practices from working-class interviews, she joined forces with Simon Szreter for this project. For many interviewees sex had been a thrilling private adventure with their partners, not a form of social competition, as they feared it had become for some today. Although we still do not have first-hand evidence from the generations marrying in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, the fact that abstinence was widely-practised among those marrying in the s and s, when alternative barrier methods were more available than previously, strongly suggests that, along with coitus interruptus, it could only have been an even more prevalent method before the interwar decades during the initial stages of the secular fertility decline. The oral history approach has thus provided us with a substantial body of rich and nuanced first-hand evidence, previously absent, on the relationship between heterosexual attitudes and behaviour, marriage, birth control and the fertility decline in England and Wales in the early and mid-twentieth centuries. Meanwhile Kate Fisher had independently come to the same conclusion that the study of fertility decline had neglected the most intimate aspects of negotiation of birth control.
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