Sex, science, and censorship in the 19th and 20th centuries

Monday 17th and Tuesday 18th February 2020

Granada, Spain

Click here for practical information for delegates.

Sex, Science and Censorship Draft Programme 

Day 1

9-9.30 Arrival/Welcome 

9.30-11.30 Media and Policing in Sciences of Sex

Chair: Sarah Bull, Ryerson

Birgit Lang, Melbourne — ‘Sexology at the Police Exhibition: Photography Between Sex 

and Violence’

María Jesús Santesmases, Madrid — ‘No Censorship, No Bodies: Foetuses’ 

Photographs in the Late Franco Dictatorship’.

Kate Davison, Melbourne — ‘Aversion Therapy and its “Stimuli”: The Acquisition, 

Production, and Reception of Pornographic Materials in the Post-War Treatment 

of Homosexuality (1950s-1970s)’

Fay Brauer, East London — ‘Circumventing Censorship: Virilizing Victorian 

Homoeroticism after Labouchère’.

11.30-12 Coffee 

12-2  Sex Education, Intimacy, and Youth

Chair: Agata Ignaciuk, Granada

Michael Sappol, Uppsala — ‘“Awakened by a worthy and attractive object”: Anatomy, 

minstrelsy and the first anatomically explicit sex education book for children’

Caroline Rusterholz, Cambridge — ‘Youth Sexuality, Public Health Campaigns, and 

Censorship: The Brook Advisory Centres (1965-1985)’.

Katie Snow, Exeter — ‘Denise Perrigo and the Politics of Maternal Sexuality’.

2-3.30 Lunch

3.30- 5.30 Sex, Science, and the Nation State

Chair: Lesley Hall, Wellcome Library / University College London

Silvia Armenteros Fuentes, Granada — ‘Sexual Science in (Post)Censorship Spain: 


Arnav Bhattacharya, Upenn — ‘Sexology – A Purely Scientific Discipline? Obscenity, 

Censorship, and Sexology in 20th Century South Asia

Agnieszka Kościańska, Warsaw — “It will cause an official protest from the Episcopate”: 

Sexological Self-Censoring between the Communist State and the Catholic Church

Sarah Leonard, Simmons — ‘“Obscene Publications and Unproven Medical Remedies” 

in the Files of Prussian Authorities, 1810-1870’.

5.30-7pm Poster Session

Brian M Watson, Kinsey Institute, Indiana University, “Nature rarely deals with discrete categories:” The Kinsey(s) and the Ghosts of Sexualwissenschaft”

Mallory Szymansky, Alfred University, “Talking about Sex in the Clinic: Treatment for Neurasthenia in Late-19th-Century United States”

Donna Drucker, Technische Universität Darmstadt, “Censorship in Contraceptive Research: Dr. Hannah Stone in the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau, 1925–1939”

Abbie Rees-Hales, University of Birmingham, Title TBC 

8pm Dinner 


Day 2 

9:00 – Arrival

9.30-11.30 Sexology and the Obscene 

Chair: Jen Grove 

Francesca Campani, Padua and Lincoln: “In Science the Obscene Does Not Exist: 

Blurring the boundaries between Science and the “Obscene” in Paolo 

Mantegazza’s Sexology (1850-1910).

Kate Fisher and Jana Funke, Exeter — ‘“Are We to Treat Human Nature as the Early 

Victorian Lady Treated Telegrams?” British and German Sexual Science, 

Investigations of Nature, and the Fight Against Censorship’.

Micaela Pattison, Sydney/ACU — ‘Sex, Censorship, and Gender: (Self-)Censorship and 

Plagiarism as Vehicles for the Propogation of Sexual Science in Interwar Spain’. 

Kateřina Lišková, Masaryk — Scarce pictures: Sexual Imagery Presented by Sexologists

and Invented by People in Late-Socialist Czechoslovakia.

 11.30-12 Coffee Break 

12-2  New Directions in Sex, Science, and Censorship

Chair: Ina Linge 

Melissa Adler, Western — ‘Repression in the Cultural Record’

Heike Bauer, Birkbeck, University of London — ‘Dangerous Fancies: Controlling Dogs 

and Humans’

2-3  Lunch

3-6 Excursion to Alhambra


Conference Outline: 

The burning of Magnus Hirschfeld’s library and archive from his Institut für Sexualwissenschaft by the Nazi party in 1933 is one of the most frequently discussed examples of modern scientific work falling victim to suppression. From Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s use of Latin and Greek for sexual terms in his Psychopathia Sexualis (1886), through to the ‘Spanish Kinsey’ Ramón Serrano Vicens’s 14 year struggle to publish his 1961 study on female sexuality, the history of censorship—both externally imposed and self-performed—is interwoven with the history of scientific attempts to understand sex in a variety of political, national and religious contexts.

Attempts to justify scientific work in the face of the threat of censorship pose fundamental questions about how medical and scientific authority have been defined and secured. Modern constructions of the “obscene” and the “pornographic” created categories distinct from expert knowledge or material of scholarly merit in such a way as to draw new lines between legitimate science and prurient interest. Sexual scientists were among those who had to walk this tightrope, especially if they wanted to promote scientific or medical credentials while reaching out to a non-medial audience. And yet diverse engagements with the topic of sex within research, writing and publication highlight the blurred boundaries between the modern categories of “obscenity” and “science”, the “lascivious” and the “intellectual”, as materials and ideas have shifted between these categories in different contexts, at different times, and for different functions.

The phenomenon of censorship and the category of the obscene have also arguably added value to the scientific study of sex. As Foucault has shown us, investing in a narrative of previous societal repression of sex allows new work to present itself as ground-breaking, particularly within a framework that narrates movement away from nineteenth-century prudery and suppression toward liberation and objective understandings of sexuality. Scientists have promoted the idea that access to sexual knowledge should be restricted to scientific fields.

In this sense, censorship has not only acted as a threat to the circulation of sexual scientific knowledge, but also as an internal strategy to regulate access to, and reinforce the authority of, sexual science, as well as at times to enhance the desirability of material: inviting censorship (and particularly an association with eroticism) could be part of a populist, if not commercial, strategy.

This conference seeks to explore the interconnected history of the scientific study of sex – understood as a broad range of activities – and censorship, omissions, suppression, segregation, expurgation, bowdlerization, or classifications of obscenity, blasphemy or pornography. Key questions might include, but are not limited to:

  • How have materials or ideas relating to sexual science been subject to censorship, either externally or self-imposed?
  • How does the relationship between censorship and sexual science relate to different political, religious and national contexts?
  • How was sexual knowledge affected or threatened by censorship, circulated and translated across national, cultural and linguistic borders?
  • How does censorship relate to attempts to justify or undermine the study of sex, particularly as a ‘scientific’ or ‘medical’ venture or its claims of objectivity?
  • Has there been a value for sexual scientists in censorship? To what extent has censorship been enabling?
  • Have certain topics been the subject of greater anxieties and/or suppression, e.g. relating to particular sexual behaviours, to certain sub-groups, cultures, or races?
  • Were certain media subject to greater censorship, e.g. photography, film, literature, etc.?
  • How does censorship relate to the popularization of sexual science? Can an examination of sexual science through the lens of censorship open up new perspectives on the dissemination of sexual scientific knowledge across diverse audiences?
  • How does the censorship of the sciences of sex connect with the censorship of other sciences?
  • How does the history of sexual science illuminate the wider history of censorship, obscenity and pornography?
  • What are the challenges of doing the history of censorship of the sexual sciences today? In what ways and in which political contexts are the practices of censorship present in historiographic scholarship on sexual science?

Call for papers for this conference has now closed.

Click here for practical information for delegates.

We also have a Facebook event page!

The conference is being organised by Dr Ágata Ignaciuk (Warsaw/Granada), Dr Sarah Bull (Ryerson) and Dr Jen Grove (Exeter).

Local organising committee: Prof. Teresa Ortiz-Gómez, Prof. Nuria Romo, Dr Ágata Ignaciuk and Silvia Armenteros. 

This conference is generously supported by the Wellcome Trust-funded Rethinking Sexology project and the University of Granada.


Sex and Nature: 1800-2018

Sex and Nature: 1800-2018

DATE 10-11 June 2019. VENUE: Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM)

You can find the full programme below.





Sex and Nature



10-11 June 2019

Exeter, UK


Day 1, Monday 10 JUNE 2019


Venue: Garden Room at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM), Queen St, Exeter EX4 3RX – enter through the Garden Entrance at the back of the RAMM.


9:00-9:15              Registration


9:15-9:30              Welcome by conference organisers Sarah Bezan (University of Sheffield) and Ina Linge (University of Exeter)


9:30-10:30           Keynote 1: Astrida Neimanis (University of Sydney): Toxic Erotics and Bad Ecosex

Chair: Sarah Bezan (University of Sheffield)


10:30-12:00         Panel 1: Sex, Nature and Species

Chair: Stewart A. Weaver (University of Rochester)

  • Ben Pitcher (University of Westminster): Neanderthal Sex and Trans-species Drag
  • Ross Brooks (Oxford Brookes University): Darwin’s Closet: Sex beyond Selection in The Descent of Man (1871)
  • Louise Logan (University of Strathclyde): Apes and Angels: The Representation of Pet Primates as Figures of Sexual Danger in the Illustrated Police News


12:00-12:45         Lunch served in Garden Reception, RAMM


12:45-14:15         Panel 2: Plants and Sex(uality)

Chair: Jana Funke (University of Exeter)

  • Joela Jacobs (University of Arizona): Eradicating Desire Root and Branch: Vegetal Eroticism and Human Nature
  • Sam Hampson (University of Cambridge): The Other in the Garden: Derek Jarman’s ‘Modern Nature’
  • Annemarie Mönch (University of Erfurt): Polyamorous Forest Interactions: Orgasmic Nature Writing in Algernon Blackwood’s “The Man Whom The Trees Loved”


14:15-14:45         Coffee break, Garden Reception, RAMM


14:45-16:15         Panel 3: Sex and Nature, from Model to Desire

Chair: Astrid Schrader (University of Exeter)

  • Pandora Syperek (Independent): Siphonophore Sex: The Blaschka Glass Marine Invertebrates and Other Slippery Gender Models
  • Kazuki Yamada (University of Exeter/ University of Queensland): ‘A kind of homesickness for the state of the ovum’: sex, ageing, and death in the cellular ecosystems of the fin de siècle (1870-1930)
  • Sarah Wade (Independent): Sexy Beasts & Saving Wildlife: ‘Pornographic’ Ecology in Contemporary Art & Visual Culture


16:15-16:45         Discussion


Short walk (1 min) from RAMM to Exeter Phoenix (Gandy St, Exeter EX4 3LS)


17:30-18:30         Talk and in-conversation with artist-in-residence Amy Cutler: The Private Lives of the Birds and the Bees – Eco-sex Pedagogies (venue: workshop space at Exeter Phoenix)


19:00-close         Conference Dinner at the Dinosaur Café (5 New N Rd, Exeter EX4 4HH) for those who have registered attendance.


Day 2 Tuesday 11 JUNE 2019


Venue: Garden Room at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM), Queen St, Exeter EX4 3RX


9:00-10:00           Keynote 2: Greta LaFleur (Yale University): Sex, Outside

Chair: Ina Linge (University of Exeter)


10-11:30               Panel 4: Sex, Nature and Modernism/Modernity

Chair: Sarah Jones (University of Exeter)

  • Laura Doan (University of Manchester): Queering the Natural: Lord Berners and His Circle
  • Katie Sutton: (Australian National University): Approaching the Normal and the Natural in Fin-de-siecle German Sexology and Psychoanalysis
  • Elsa Richardson (University of Strathclyde): Animal Passions and Natural Foods: Vegetarian Sexuality in the Humanitarian League


11:30-12:00         Coffee break, Garden Reception, RAMM


12:00-13:00         Panel 5: Speculative Environments

Chair: Astrida Neimanis (University of Sydney)

  • Trycia Bazinet (Carleton University): The Chaos and Promiscuity of Speculative Geology: Post-Glacial Rebound of the Abitibi Lake
  • Eva Hoffman (Whitman College): Queer Futures: Reading Feminist Anthropocene Fiction in a Transnational and More-Than-Human World


13:00-14:00         Lunch, served in Garden Reception

During the lunch break we will be screening an excerpt from War Memorial Trilogy by transdisciplinary artist and researcher Graham Bell Tornado (artist statement can be found in your conference pack).


14:00-16:00         Panel 6: Sex, Nature and Politics

Chair: Eric Rogers (University of Cambridge)

  • Ian Fleishman (University of Pennsylvania): ‘Naturgeil’: Homo-Eco-Erotic Utopianism in Hitler Youth Films and ‘Boy Scout’ Porn
  • Hannah Boast (University of Birmingham): Theorising the Gay Frog
  • Kirsten Leng (University of Massachusetts Amherst) [via Skype]: Health, Nature, and Sexual Liberation: “Compulsory Able-bodiedness” and the History of Sexology
  • Tanya Bakhmetyeva (University of Rochester): Ecofeminism, Maternalism, and the Carnivalesque: the Spatial Politics of Women’s Environmental Activism in Poland


16:00-17:00         Final discussion and plans for publication.


The call for papers announced in December 2018 can be found below.

Call for Papers: Sex and Nature 1800-2018

Since 2016 the Ecosexual Bathhouse art venue has been touring the world. Designed by the Pony Express artist collective, this roving multi-chamber venue aims to explore ecological fantasies: visitors can visit a pollination gallery, a composting glory hole, and a honey bee swarm. Activating desire and channelling erotic expression towards the elements of water, earth, air and fire, the project aims to nurture a visceral connection to nonhuman animals, plants, minerals, and inanimate materials.

The Ecosexual Bathhouse is but one of a number of exemplary case studies that disrupt and display the entangled categories of “sex” and “nature.” This conference aims to interrogate and investigate diverse moments and sites where sex and nature, along with their practices, aesthetics, methodologies, and conceptual histories, are becoming visible in new and unexpected contexts, both in the present and the past, from sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld’s interest in ‘intersex butterflies’ in the 1920s to the botanical sex scene of Han Kang’s The Vegetarian (2007).

Historically, the relationship between sex and nature has long been contested. Ideas of nature and the natural have often been employed to secure and essentialise heteronormative binaries of sex, gender and sexuality. Much feminist and queer scholarship has been dedicated to revealing and challenging such uses of the natural. At the same time, the relationship between nature, the natural and sex has been interpreted to support a variety of causes: in the late nineteenth century, for example, feminists took on the cause of anti-vivisection because they saw it as indicative of a common objectification of women and animals. From Darwin and Linnaeus to Krafft-Ebing and Kinsey, categories of sex and sexuality were introduced into concepts of nature and the natural world. This categorisation of sex and nature led to highly contested and politicised debates among their contemporaries. More recently, the relationship between sex and nature has opened up debates in ecofeminism (Greta Gaard, Val Plumwood), material feminism (Elizabeth Wilson, Stacey Alaimo) and Anthropocene feminism (Claire Colebrook) that seek to rethink the relationship between sex and nature. Instead of rejecting or challenging the idea of the natural, such scholarship has demonstrated the queer and feminist potential of nature. Ground-breaking treatments of nature and sex have led to robust theorizations of queer ecologies (Catriona Sandilands, Astrida Neimanis), natural histories of sexuality (Greta LaFleur) and new kinship forms through reproductive technologies (Sarah Franklin), to name but a few.

The conference welcomes scholars from all disciplines drawing on a broad range of methodologies and focusing broadly on the period since 1800. We aim to explore the entangled categories of sex and nature by examining a wide range of topics related, but not restricted to:

  • Natural histories of sex and sexuality
  • Sexuality and nature: naturalising sexuality, sexing nature
  • Queering nature, naturalising queerness
  • (Un)natural sex, (de)naturalising sex, (re)naturalising sex
  • The politics of sexual nature
  • Nature, naturalness and normativity
  • Nature and feminist critique, past and present
  • The sexual politics of biotechnological reproduction
  • (De)extinction and (re)production
  • Sex and nature in the Anthropocene
  • Authorities on nature beyond natural sciences
  • Race, indigeneity, sex and nature
  • Human, animal, vegetable sexuality
  • Sex, nature and disability
  • Intra-species sexualities from prehistory to the present
  • Intersex across species-boundaries

Abstracts of 350 words, along with a 50-word bio, sent in word format or copied into email body, should be sent to Dr Ina Linge ( and Dr Sarah Bezan ( by 30 January 2019. Confirmed participants will be notified by early February 2019. Early career scholars and post-graduate researchers are expressly encouraged to submit abstracts. Travel bursaries will be offered to two postgraduate participants in exchange for live-tweeting during the conference and written reports following the conference. Please let us know in your abstract submission if you would like to be considered for these. We are keen to publish a selection of papers from the conference as an edited volume or special journal issue. Further plans will be discussed with delegates at the conference.

This conference is generously supported by the Wellcome Trust-funded Rethinking Sexology project.

Sexual Knowledge and Expertise in Europe’s East, before and after 1945

Sexual Knowledge and Expertise in Europe’s East, before and after 1945.

Brno 35 June 2019

The history of sexology has recently shown considerable interest in exploring the global dimensions of the emergence of sexual science. Important work has begun to chart the world-wide transnational networks of exchange and expertise, and examine how sexual science assumed different shapes in various locales.

Read the full programme here.

Continue reading

Sex, Sexuality & Classical Reception seminar + book launch!

This seminar brings together three early career researchers exploring the history of sex and sexuality and the reception of the ancient world in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Followed by a launch of Sculpture, Sexuality and History: Encounters in Literature, Culture and the Arts from the Eighteenth Century to the Present (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), edited by Jana Funke and Jen Grove.

Further details here!

Sexpertise: Sexual Knowledge and the Public in the 19th and 20th Centuries

In July 2018, the Rethinking Sexology project hosted an interdisciplinary workshop on ‘Sexpertise: Sexual Knowledge and the Public in the 19th and 20th Centuriesat the Devon and Exeter Institution. Organised by team member Dr Sarah Jones, in collaboration with Dr Hannah Charnock (University of Bristol) and Dr Ben Mechen (UCL/RHUL), the event brought together researchers from across the country to consider such themes as:

  • Forms of “popular” sexual expertise and knowledge, such as sex manuals, marriage guides, family planning and sexual health instruction, and advice columns in newspapers and magazines.
  • “Alternative” forms of sexual expertise/knowledge and the creation of sexual counterpublics, as well as the entrance of alternative forms of sexual knowledge into the cultural “mainstream”.
  • Professional or medical expertise/knowledge and its relationship with the broader public.
  • Sexual experience and subjectivity as forms of sexual expertise/knowledge.
  • The history of sexuality as itself a form of sexual knowledge/expertise aiming to shape public understandings of sex, sexuality and the sexual past.

Continue reading

Workshop on Sexology and Sexuality in China

This inter-disciplinary workshop was held on 4th May 2018 at the University of Exeter. Dr Leon Rocha (University of Liverpool) presented on “Sexology in the Tabloids: The Case of Zhou Yueran (1885-1962)” and Dr Ting Guo (University of Exeter) discussed “Translation and queer feminism in China: Jihua Network and Carol (2015)”. You can find the abstracts below.

This seminar was hosted by the University of Exeter’s Centre for Medical History and the  Rethinking Sexology project, and was part of the Medical History and Humanities seminar series (details of which can be found here) Continue reading