The Science of Sexual Pleasure: Eugenics and Sex Advice before 1940

Sarah Jones spoke at ‘What’s Sex Got to Do with It? Gender, Sexuality, & Eugenics’ – the second annual History of Race and Eugenics (HRE) workshop at Oxford Brookes in February 2019.

Her paper is titled The Science of Sexual Pleasure: Eugenics and Sex Advice before 1940.

Abstract:

Ideas about the importance of sexual pleasure and fulfilment became increasingly central to sex and marriage guides in the early twentieth century. As well as accessing details about chaste dating rituals and the practicalities of reproduction and parenthood, readers of these hugely popular texts could now find graphic information about the benefits of mutual orgasm, descriptions of techniques and positions, and arguments about the centrality of great sex to a strong marriage. At a time when many public discussions of sex were still subject to censorship, science played a key role in legitimising such explicit content. The authors, who were often doctors or sexual scientists themselves, claimed authority for their work using ideas drawn from a range of scientific disciplines like anthropology, biology, anatomy, and psychology, as well as from the increasingly influential field of eugenics.

This paper will look specifically at the use and adaptation of eugenic material in such scientific sex advice. Examining popular prescriptive literature produced before 1940, it will argue that ideas about ‘racial fitness’ and ‘racial development’ were key to justifying this new, explicit, and potentially controversial focus on the erotic possibilities of marriage. Interrogating the blurry divisions between sexual science, sex advice, and obscenity in early twentieth-century Britain and America, it will also explore bigger questions about how and why sexual science became ‘popular’ at this time.

 

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.