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Concepts of Sexual Health from the 18th to the 21st Centuries

8th November - 10th November

Concepts of Sexual Health from the 18th to the 21st Centuries

2018 Annual Conference of the Society for the Social History of Medicine
– (Hi)stories of Sickness and Health

Schruns, Vorarlberg, Montafoner Heimatmuseum

Various disciplines have addressed the topic of “sexuality” over the
centuries. Whether medical experts, biologists, theologians, educational
theorists, legal scholars or demographers, each discipline defined
characteristic parameters against the backdrop of the epistemic
traditions specific for their scholarly field. Thus, concepts of
sexuality as moral or immoral, healthy or sickening, conducive or
obstructive to the growth of nations varied profoundly over the course
of time.

It seems common knowledge these days, that quality of life also depends
on the experience of sexual satisfaction. Individuals appear less prone
to acquire and suffer from physical or mental illnesses, thus living
longer and leading happier lives. However, only about sixty years ago,
topics such as teenage sexual education were likely to cause
socio-political controversies. In many countries, sexualities deviating
from the heterosexual norm have only recently been decriminalised and
depathologised. Both, scientific knowledge on relevant physiological
processes as well as increased bodily awareness are vital prerequisites
for the establishment of an attitude that recognises sexuality as a
beneficial contribution to physical and mental well-being.  Finally,
also democratic structures and liberal societies facilitate the
acceptance of personal sexual desires and promote a relaxed view of
one’s own and “other” sexualities.

According to the 21st century paradigm – sex is healthy! The conference
choses a positive approach and does not intend to discuss sexuality
regarding its health threats (i.e. sexually transmitted diseases, sexual
actions defined as illegal etc.). Based on the concept of sexual and
reproductive health, first issued by the World Health Organisation in
1975, we would like to concentrate on the wholesome, preventive aspects
of “sexuality” in a broad historical perspective from the 18th to the
21st century. Our focus lies on concepts, discourses, and actors,
promoting sexual health in various social and spacial contexts over
time.  Four key topics are addressed:

(1) Concepts: in this first focus we would like to scrutinise the
different approaches used by sexual sciences. Which ideas were
propagated by doctors, educators, psychologists, etc. throughout the
centuries? How did they interpret the connection between sexuality and
health? Which thought collectives were successfully established? Which
scientific paradigm could enter common knowledge and how assertive and
sustainable has sexual knowledge been in society? Which part did the
normatively regulating health authorities play? Which sexual health
promoting initiatives were state-induced? Which initiatives developed
beyond the mainstream (i.e. alternative medical approaches or queer

(2) Media: the second emphasis lies on the question of how sexual health
knowledge was conveyed and popularised. This view does not only include
scientific journals or historical and recent advice literature, but also
audio-visual and virtual forms of media (i.e. advertising, film and
TV-productions, social media). How has sexual health been addressed and
displayed in the media? In which way have language and portrayal of
health issues changed over time?

(3) Spaces and Interaction: the spacial positioning of sexual health
constitutes our third focal point. In which spaces has sexuality been
addressed, discussed and lived? At which times in history and under
which presumptions did specific centres for sexual health develop? How
have professionals and clients / patients interacted within those
(medical) spaces? This does not only cover the protected and intimate
spaces of therapeutic interaction but also the occupation of public
space. Where does sexual health become visible in everyday life? Where
do (temporary) spaces of sexual health evolve and how have they been
utilised by the various players?

(4) Body Knowledge: our last key topic deals with the patient’s view
(Porter, 1985). How do patients from diverse sexual orientation talk and
write about sexuality? Which sources are available to researchers in
order to re- and deconstruct historical perspectives on sexual health?

Selected papers will be published in the peer-reviewed journal Virus.
Beiträge zur Sozialgeschichte der Medizin. Contributions related to
Vorarlberg/Montafon topics can also be published in Bludenzer
Geschichtsblätter or in the annual Jahrbuch der Montafoner Museen.

Please send your proposals for individual papers (max. 1-page abstracts)
by December 1, 2017 to Dr. Elisabeth Lobenwein:

The conference committee will decide upon a selection of contributions
for the conference programme in collaboration with the board of the
Society for the Social History of Medicine and the cooperation partners.
Notification will follow until the end of January 2018, the preliminary
conference programme will be forwarded until the end of February 2018.
Apart from the contributors, all historically interested are invited to
join in the conference.

The conference fee amounts to 80 Euros and covers all expenses for
guided tours, drinks, snacks and coffee breaks.

As the conference venue is not easily accessible for people with
disabilities, we offer organised assistance. Please contact us
beforehand if help is required!

On behalf of the Conference Committee:
Marina Hilber (Innsbruck), Elisabeth Lobenwein (Klagenfurt), Michael
Kasper (Schruns), Alois Unterkircher (Ingolstadt), Alfred Stefan Weiß

Dr. Elisabeth Lobenwein
Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt
Institut für Geschichte
Universitätsstraße 65-67
9020 Klagenfurt am Wörthersee


8th November
10th November


Dr. Elisabeth Lobenwein