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She criticised the conventional double standard and the hypocrisy of valuing chastity as the only female virtue, but in her published writings she tended to regard sexual passion as dangerous and irrational. Yet she fell prey to sexual passion herself, bearing a child out of wedlock to her lover Gilbert Imlay and only marrying her lover William Godwin after becoming pregnant. She and Godwin, in somewhat different ways, developed an idea that true passion could become refined as a meeting of minds as well as bodies and should not be marked by the sanction of artificial institutions such as church and state.
During the French Revolution, Olympe de Gouges also asserted female sexual rights by claiming that women should be able to claim maintenance from the fathers of their illegitimate children. The French revolutionaries did make some changes advantageous to women, declaring that they would free them from the despotism of husbands and fathers and from the tyranny of arranged marriages, for instance, by allowing divorce. However, these laws changed only principle, not practice, and authorities rarely prosecuted men for rape. The Jacobins rejected feminism and sent Olympe de Gouges to the scaffold.
By , the backlash against sexual radicalism was in full force as the middle class defined itself in part through sexual morality. In France, the Civil Code of reversed the revolutionary legitimation of divorce and imposed extremely harsh penalties on women who violated the sexual double standard. Women could not sue the fathers of their illegitimate children. And husbands could prosecute adulterous wives — and their lovers — in the courts and have them condemned to prison for two years.
If a husband caught his wife and lover in the act, in flagrante delicto , he could kill them and escape punishment for murder. Many such cases were brought to the courts, although more often, the husband would simply have his wife arrested and not go through the full prosecution. They depicted her as undermining the very foundations of marriage and, in doing so, endangering all social institutions with the threat of revolution. The middle class increasingly contrasted its virtuous morality with perceived aristocratic libertinism.
This contrast reached its apogee in the trial of Queen Caroline in King George IV put his wife on trial for adultery, even though he had abandoned her twenty-five years before and notoriously frolicked with his mistresses. For many, Caroline became a symbol of middle-class purity in contrast to the corrupt oppressive aristocracy. However, when evidence that she had taken a lover surfaced, middle-class public opinion turned against her.
Nevertheless, many working-class people still supported her, because they thought she had every right to take a lover after being deserted by her husband. Working-class morality was very different than that of the middle class in the early nineteenth century. As rising illegitimacy rates became more apparent, sexual morality became a marker of class status. Among working people, rates of premarital pregnancy were very high, ranging from 30 to 50 per cent in parts of rural England, Sweden, Vienna and the Netherlands.
At first, historians attributed lowered marriage ages and rising illegitimacy to industrialisation and urbanisation. Edward Shorter argues that by allowing young people to earn wages instead of having to wait to inherit property, they could enjoy sex before marriage and marry younger. Earning wages in factories, for instance, enabled young women to enjoy sex, reflecting liberated working-class sexual attitudes.
But this argument has been refuted on several grounds. Illegitimacy rates were high among domestic servants, the most traditional female occupation, and generally lower among factory girls, who had more social support and slightly higher wages. Demographers demonstrate that illegitimacy rose in many areas long before industrialisation. Some rural areas had much higher rates of illegitimacy than urban industrial ones such as north-east Scotland, the Austrian Alps, Hungary and parts of Germany.
Rural areas of Austria experienced extremely high illegitimacy, up to Historians therefore now concentrate on proletarianisation, not industrialisation alone, as the cause of the decrease in marriage age and the rise of illegitimacy. Looking at life stories and ethnological accounts of village customs as well as statistics, Louise Tilly and Joan Scott argue that changes associated with the growth of a capitalist economy disrupted the regulation of desire long practised by communities. Unmarried motherhood was very onerous, and low female wages forced women to marry young.
Illegitimate children faced higher risk of dying as infants or children, especially in the first half of the nineteenth century, indicating that their mothers lacked family support and insufficient income. As Tilly and Scott argued, when young women moved to the cities in search of work, they followed traditional rural customs of sex after a promise of marriage. Early modern customs had allowed for non-reproductive sexual play before marriage, including elaborate courting customs such as bundling or night courtship. If a young man refused to marry a woman he courted, he would be pressured or shunned by the family and community.
But with proletarianisation, hard times brought unemployment which prevented young men from fulfilling their promises or forced them to delay marriage; they could easily move to another city in search of work and never see their pregnant sweetheart again. However, isolated and far from home, pregnant women could not draw upon the social support of family or village to force their sweethearts to follow through with their promises.
But illegitimacy was not always tied to social isolation. In Louvain, Belgium, many unmarried mothers worked as lace-makers and continued to live with their parents. A significant minority of women also became pregnant after being sexually coerced. While it may be thought that these women would claim rape in order to make themselves look more respectable, foundling hospital officials were unlikely to believe a woman who said she had been raped by a stranger; their ideal candidate had been seduced after a promise of marriage.
Some of these women were assaulted by their fellow servants. Despite the stereotype of the immoral factory workers, servants were more vulnerable to sexual assault than factory workers; servants could be assaulted as they worked alone in an empty house, while factory girls laboured together and could defend each other. Historians debate whether sexual violence was an expression of male dominance or an aberration of individual men. Anne-Marie Sohn tries to tie violent and sexual behaviour much more tightly to specific moments.
For instance, in the early nineteenth century, there were many cases of young unmarried male agricultural workers sexually attacking isolated women working in the fields. Later in the nineteenth century, when improving economic conditions allowed such men to marry, these rapes declined in number. She therefore sees rape as the result of sexual frustration. I have argued that sexual violence reflected a division in masculine mores in early nineteenth-century Britain.
Many working-class men espoused a restrained, self-controlled, chivalrous masculinity. But others, especially among certain occupations of artisans, celebrated a libertine, even misogynous masculinity, singing songs that celebrated violent seductions and assaults on women. The question of sexual violence is also complicated by the question of language. This difficulty was caused by the fact that nineteenth-century society did not find the distinction between seduction and force to be very important. Rape was seen as an attack on the property of a husband or father.
Whether or not a woman consented, she was damaged property. Many unmarried mothers actually cohabited with the fathers of their children. In Paris, there was one consensual union for every four married couples, and the illegitimacy rate was 30 per cent. Historians initially argued that this represented an alternative morality, a defiance of the bourgeois order. Indeed, many working-class people seem to have regarded cohabitation and informal divorces as socially acceptable. However, other historians now see cohabitation as a symptom of poverty.
Many cohabiting couples would have preferred to marry. In Vienna, up to a third of working-class people could never hope to earn enough to marry and support a family. Some cohabited instead, while others, unable to even afford a room together, had to be content with brief visits in rooms rented by the hour. The experiences of middle-class women differed dramatically from working-class women in the early and middle nineteenth century.
In proper French society, bourgeois women were supposed to appear very modest, with downcast eyes, and girls were not supposed to know anything about sex. Of course, there were exceptions in bohemian life, such as the novelist George Eliot Mary Ann Evans , but they were not accepted in bourgeois society. Middle-class women had little access to knowledge about sex, for the authorities quickly censored any works that gave medical information about sex to a popular audience.
Dr William Acton asserted that most women were not normally troubled with sexual feelings and had intercourse only to oblige their husbands. Acton was extremely influential and his works went through many editions. Many other doctors believed that most women experienced sexual pleasure, even if their desire was less than that of men.
Dr Auguste Debay argued in that it was important for men to satisfy their wives in bed with sensitivity and skill. However, female desire could be seen as dangerous. The increasing prevalence of the idea that women did not need to experience orgasm in order to conceive also made female sexual pleasure seem less important. Even doctors who acknowledged the importance of the clitoris regarded women as sexually passive. Of course, women did not necessarily need explicit information from doctors to enjoy sex. One survey of infertile women found 68 per cent experienced sexual pleasure in marriage, and 79 per cent said they desired sex.
But sexual pleasure was not the same as orgasm: one survey found that under 40 per cent of German women born between and ever had an orgasm. After , illegitimacy declined sharply in most areas. By the end of the nineteenth century, sexual repression seems to have affected working-class as well as middle-class women. Mid-nineteenth-century German working-class activists were quite sexually puritanical. In rural France, the Catholic church was able to increase its influence and inculcated a cult of virginity among girls. The late nineteenth-century decline in fertility — first experienced by the middle class — may have resulted from sexual restraint rather than from sexual pleasure.
Fertility declined first in northern Europe, especially in France. Fertility declined much more slowly in the southern and less developed areas of Europe, such as most of Italy, Spain and Portugal, but also Sweden and Ireland, where it did not decline at all. However, in Italy, fertility diminished notably in northern industrial areas. Historians have debated how far the fertility decline known as the demographic transition was due to traditional methods, such as abstinence, withdrawal and abortion, or the newer barrier methods, such as sponges and diaphragms.
Rubber was vulcanised in —4, but condoms remained twice the price of a loaf of bread, and they were associated with prostitution; the new diaphragms of the later nineteenth-century were illegal and available only to a few brave souls. Withdrawal and abstinence were by far the most common methods, but they resulted in much conflict between men and women.
Many women felt frustrated at their inability to refuse their husbands.
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National differences may be important here. Hera Cook argues that by the end of the nineteenth century, both middle-class men and women controlled their fertility largely by sexual restraint. But Anne-Marie Sohn observes a greater sexual openness in late nineteenth-century France. The number of abortions sharply increased and women enjoyed a somewhat greater degree of sexual openness.
Late nineteenth-century women commonly resorted to abortion. Abortion allowed women to control their fertility without getting the permission of their husbands, who usually did not know; it was a twilight knowledge whispered among women. Even middle-class women resorted to abortion, if they could find a cooperative doctor.
The extent to which Victorians recognised the possibility of erotic relationships between middle-class women has also been debated. The French, of course, were much more aware of this possibility than the British. George Sand recalled that in schools, girls had to walk in threes, rather than twos and were forbidden to kiss each other. Authors such as Maupassant and Baudelaire were fascinated by lesbians, but they depicted them as fearful, perverse creatures.
Some years ago Lillian Faderman wrote an influential book arguing that late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century women could experience passionate friendships with each other, exchanging kisses and embraces, sharing beds and sending each other torrid, romantic letters, all without exciting any suspicion. Faderman also argued that such women were unlikely to have had physical sexual experiences with each other, since they had no concept of lesbianism as an erotic activity.
Then Helena Whitbread decoded the diaries of Anne Lister, an early nineteenth-century Yorkshire gentlewoman. Anne Lister did not face the overt stigma of lesbianism, protected by her wealth and class status, but neighbours remained suspicious of her masculinity and whispered about her close relationship with another woman. Other scholars have found cases of gossip and rumours spread about women thought to be sexually attracted to others, and satirical descriptions of masculine women in novels. By the s, new all-female institutions such as settlement houses and boarding schools allowed intense female friendships to flourish, and enabled women to make lives with each other, without having to marry.
However, for the most part, these relationships were not viewed as sexual or stigmatised as sexual until around the turn of the twentieth century. Yet as Martha Vicinus argues, even with the silences around female—female desire, women found ways of articulating their passions for each other through coded languages, for instance appropriating family and marital metaphors to describe their relationships.
Because working-class women generally did not write diaries or letters, we do not have as much evidence of such passionate friendships among them. Instead, court records and newspapers give us a different picture of the possibility of erotic desire between working women. However, the awareness of erotic possibilities between women varied greatly between national cultures. Theo van der Meer found several cases of women prosecuted for having sex with other women in Amsterdam in the s.
The authorities learned of their cases when neighbours denounced certain houses where women met to caress each other. However, unlike men who had sex with other men, these women did not form a subculture, and these cases are very rare. Even in cultures influenced by Germanic law, which did condemn sex between women, only a few cases surfaced in comparison with the large numbers of men prosecuted for sodomy.
In Britain, many hundreds of women passed as men in search of adventure, better pay and safety in travelling. Newspapers frequently gave short accounts of these women, and popular songs and pamphlets also celebrated their exploits. However, we cannot know how many of these women were motivated by lesbian desire. Many ballads told of young women who disguised themselves as men in order to find their male lovers who had joined the army or navy. These songs enabled women to reimagine a different path for heterosexual romance, as they experienced many adventures and proved their bravery on the way to finding their lovers.
Yet tales of female soldiers also enabled female desire to be understood indirectly. In autobiographical accounts, female soldiers, such as the Russian Nadezhda Durova, claimed that young women flirted with them, forcing them to leave town quickly before they had to disappoint the young woman or reveal their true identities.
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While very rarely female husbands were portrayed as criminals attempting to swindle innocent women, usually they lived with another woman in a long-standing couple. While historians have interpreted these women as precursors of lesbians, dressing as men because they could conceive of no other way of being sexual with and loving women, more recent interpretations would understand them as women who actively wanted to play a masculine role or even change sex.
In general, the concept of lesbianism did not overtly appear in early nineteenth-century working-class British culture. Of course, many women may have engaged in passionate, even sexual friendships with each other. Dr Michael Ryan, however, never found any hint of lesbianism among English prostitutes.
In , doctors also observed lesbian attachments among women in French prisons. Prostitution was one of the few occupations where women could make enough money, if they were lucky, to support themselves and live together, enabling those women who wished to fulfil erotic desires for other women. Prostitution was a very common female occupation in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, given the fact that female wages were too low for survival.
Many women who sold sex, occasionally or full time, could not be identified easily as prostitutes; they occupied discreet rooms and worked at other jobs. In St Petersburg, peasant women coming to look for work in the city often had to exchange sex for lodging or even to find a job. The women who appear in records of the police, lock hospitals which treated venereal disease or Magdalen reformatories were more likely to be full-time sex workers and followed quite a different trajectory than unmarried mothers.
Most prostitutes had lost one or both parents. Orphans brought up in workhouses, foster care or orphanages were often sent out to earn their own living by age twelve, and thus became vulnerable to sexual exploitation. They began to have sex earlier than other women, at sixteen or even younger, although the number of child prostitutes was low.
Working as domestic servants or needlewomen, they had no home to fall back on if they lost their jobs. During the nineteenth century, authorities tried to develop new institutions and regulations to deal with prostitution. The French pioneered the system of registered and regulated prostitution which spread across Europe from the early nineteenth century onwards. First put forth in the revolutionary era, the idea of regulation was revived in , as fears of venereal disease also increased as troops moved all across Europe during the Napoleonic wars.
But the system was only rigorously instituted in The system spread to Brussels and Russia in —4. In Italy, the regulation of prostitution was introduced by Camillo Cavour, the politician who engineered the unification of Italy and who saw regulation as a way of modernising and civilising Italy. In central and eastern Europe, the regulation of prostitution had somewhat different roots in the old system of municipal brothels, resurrected in the early nineteenth century by the morals police who tried to confine prostitution to certain parts of towns or even, in some cases, to run their own brothels.
In turn, the Prussian system influenced the Polish system of Warsaw in By , the new unified German state supplanted these local regulations with its own system of regulation. Although the British had long resisted the regulatory system, colonial authorities first introduced it in to Hong Kong, and in the state established a system of registration and forcible treatment in garrison and port towns in England, and extended it to Ireland, though not to Scotland.
These Contagious Diseases Acts aimed to protect soldiers and sailors from venereal disease. Authorities tended to regard native women as potential prostitutes who could fulfil the sexual needs of soldiers but who also might infect them; registration and treatment of women was seen as the solution, rather than controlling men. In all these systems, the police were empowered to require all women who worked as prostitutes to register with the police and to submit to medical examinations for venereal disease.
If they were found to be infected, they had to undergo treatment at a lock hospital. The police also wanted prostitutes to work in brothels rather than independently, because then they would be easier to observe, register and regulate. The police could also use these rules to harass any woman on the street, even if she did not sell sex. In Italy, any woman without a job found on the streets at night or in a dance-hall could be arrested, charged with being a clandestine prostitute and forced to submit to a medical exam or sent back to her family.
The system of regulation failed to control both venereal disease and prostitution. For those women caught up in the system, registration was an onerous burden so, as a result, most women who engaged in sexual commerce evaded registration.
Angelina Grimke: Rhetoric, Identity, and the Radical Imagination
They avoided working in the licensed brothels, which may have diminished in number as a result. By the late nineteenth century, the numbers of prostitutes also declined, perhaps as a result of increased economic opportunity for women. From the s, state regulation of prostitution also came under sustained attack by the abolitionist movement, who wished to do away with the system. The movement brought together middle-class women, liberal individualists, socialists and churches and chapels.
Many of its adherents were originally motivated by religious horror at state sanctioning of prostitution. These middle-class women faced violent attacks from angry men in garrison towns and opposition from members of parliament who believed ladies should not speak out on such matters. But they also found allies among working-class men angry at the class exploitation of prostitution.
Eventually, the movement forced the government to repeal the Contagious Diseases Acts in England and Ireland in In Germany, the movement against regulated prostitution brought together a broad coalition. Socialists believed that the system allowed soldiers to exploit working-class women and resulted from the elite militaristic domination of politics. Evangelical Protestants supported the state, but they viewed prostitution as a symptom of social disorder and immorality. Feminists regarded prostitution as the sexual exploitation of women.
However, the authorities banned most meetings of the abolitionist movement, limiting its efficacy. In , the new government conceded to the movement by modifying the regulations so that only brothels, not individual prostitutes, would be registered. But, in practice, police regulation of prostitution continued.
In France, the creation of the anti-clerical Third Republic led to intensified hostility against the Catholic church, which abolitionists blamed for the survival of the regulationist system. Liberals and radicals attacked the police system as corrupt and hypocritical. However, the system was only modified, not abolished, in The s and s also witnessed increasing concern for child victims of sexual exploitation.
In , the white-slave scandal burst onto the British scene when journalist W. Stead alleged that he had been able to purchase a thirteen-year-old virgin for 10 pounds. In response, huge numbers of people, chiefly women and working-class men, demonstrated against what they perceived as the class and sexual exploitation of children.
A judicial enquiry confirmed that English girls were sold for francs to Belgian brothels, and that the chief of the police had been complicit in the system. As a result, the regulationist system was repealed in Belgium. Historians first explained the white-slave agitation as a symptom of Victorian repression, a refusal to acknowledge childhood sexuality.
But as the current feminist movement began uncovering the extent of child abuse today, historians have shifted ground somewhat. They acknowledge the genuine concern social activists felt for sexually abused children, but they also point out that late Victorian activists xenophobically projected their anxieties about child sexual abuse onto foreign exploiters. Anger at the state sanctioning of prostitution and the sexual exploitation of women also led to the movement to promote wider social purity by abolishing the double standard and advocating chastity for both men and women.
Although members of the abolitionist movement had tried to protect the civil rights of prostitutes, the social-purity movement increased the regulation of female sexuality and advocated censorship of sexual representations in popular culture. In England, they supported the Criminal Law Amendment Act, which raised the age of consent from thirteen to sixteen for girls.
However, it also allowed the police to remove girls from homes suspected of being brothels, or where women accused of being prostitutes lived, and to put them into reformatories or industrial schools. The exploitation of children also became an issue in the British Empire when the British Government attempted to change the age of consent for marriage in India in Historians debate whether the British Government was genuinely concerned with young girls, or whether it was trying to impose alien customs with its imperial power.
But British opponents of the Bill accepted the contention that Indian female sexuality was so intense that women needed to be married at young ages. The Government did not enforce the Bill very effectively, fearful of alienating Hindu traditionalists. The social-purity movement also strongly influenced the strand of the later suffragette movement that blamed male sexual desire for the ills of women. Less stridently, many feminists wished for marriages based on spiritual unity, not just physical passion. Many German feminists also focused on the dangers of sexual desire rather than the pleasures it could bring.
Birth control became a major issue. For instance, Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh were put on trial for obscenity in for distributing birth-control tracts and were sentenced to two months in prison. However, the publicity around the trial vastly increased the sale of their birth-control tracts and may have contributed to the fertility decline in England in certain areas. After finding it safe and effective, she prescribed it in her medical practice but ran into fierce opposition from doctors and the Government. The Catholic church effectively suppressed birth-control information, and fertility actually increased in the Netherlands.
Roussel denounced the idea that women must serve society by giving birth, no matter how they suffered. Instead, women needed to serve the state as citizens, workers and thinkers. Pelletier also championed abortions and attacked the middle class for its hypocrisy in practising birth control in private yet refusing to allow birth-control information to be publicly accessible for workers.
But French birth-control advocates were followed by the police and often arrested. For many radicals from the s onwards, overthrowing Victorian sexual repression seemed to be a marker of the new modern way of thinking, but until after the First World War, they remained an avant-garde fighting against a hostile culture. In Germany, Helene Stocker espoused the theory that sexual desire was a creative force for humanity.
Following the philosophy of monism, she believed that body and soul could not be separated and that to repress the sexual drive therefore harmed the mind. In Britain, Edward Carpenter and Stella Browne challenged conventional principles of middle-class morality. These radicals often turned to the works of the sexologists to justify their cause. However, the sexologists did not influence popular culture or policy until the inter-war years.
Many of their works were censored or were so expensive they had a limited circulation, and Anne-Marie Sohn has found that their ideas and terminology did not trickle down to ordinary people. But sexology could be problematic as well as inspiring for women. Sexologists decisively rejected religious assumptions about sexuality and instead studied sex scientifically.
By categorising anatomical variations and by insisting on the centrality of sexual selection to evolution, Darwin strongly influenced many sexologists. They were also influenced by Geddes and Thompson, two biologists who went even further than Darwin to posit males and females as fundamentally different, the former active, the latter passive. This focus on biological categorisation also paralleled contemporary efforts to categorise human anatomy by race. But feminists also used Darwinian ideas for their own ends. Some English feminists argued that women should use their sexual power to select men of a higher morality and therefore improve the human race.
They argued that female sexual satisfaction was necessary within marriage, and some even raised the possibility that women could be sexually satisfied beyond marriage. However, their ideas on female sexual desire could also be highly problematic. The most sophisticated formulation of sexual desire came from Freud who strongly distinguished between the sexual drive and its object. He is notorious for first believing in the widespread incidence of childhood sexual abuse and then denying it.
But by claiming that children fantasised about sex with their parents, Freud developed the theory of infantile sexual desire and the idea of the unconscious. This desire gained an object through attachments to parents, especially to the mother. But children had to learn that these attachments were incestuous and forbidden, and therefore had to be transferred, when adult, to persons of the opposite sex.
While it was fairly straightforward for a male to transfer his desire from his mother to an adult woman, the path to adult heterosexuality was much more difficult and circuitous for a woman. Freud believed that girls first experienced sexual arousal through the clitoris. To reach maturity, a female not only had to transfer her desire from her mother to her father, and then to adult men, she also had to abandon clitoral eroticism for vaginal eroticism.
In fact, he claimed to have discovered the vaginal orgasm in Most sexologists regarded sexual desire in much more biological terms, concentrating on the alleged differences between active masculinity and passive femininity. Some sexologists failed to see marital rape as rape, instead, categorising rapists as perverted, psychopathological deviants, different from normal men.
They also ratified the idea that adult women could not be raped, that they secretly wanted to be sexually assaulted. However, French sexologists criticised marital rape, at least on the wedding night; they warned husbands not to deflower their wives violently, concerned wives would fear sex during their married life. While sexologists asserted the existence of female desire, many of them feared it could not be controlled. Continental thinkers such as Cesare Lombroso were more likely than their English counterparts to believe that sexual perversions were embedded in the female body.
He regarded prostitutes as degenerate specimens. Otto Weininger, an Austrian writer, similarly believed that men were more evolved and spiritual than women, while women were totally shaped by their sexual organs. Men risked being dragged down into the mire of material life if they engaged in sexual love for women. Yet some sex radicals and feminists found that his unflinching exploration of sexual passion explained why conventional morality was so destructive for women as well.
Some sexologists categorised homosexuals as gender inverts whose sexual desire could be explained by the idea that they had been born with the wrongly sexed body. Some sexologists initially hypothesised that lesbians were mannish women with enlarged clitorises. However, other sexologists, such as Ellis, argued that homosexuality was a natural variation rather than a sickness or perversion. They often recognised the bisexuality of sexual desire, but more often, they regarded homosexuality as a separate identity or innate form of desire. Sheila Jeffreys argues that sexology stigmatised lesbians by stereotyping them as mannish and perverse.
Their theories stigmatised the passionate friendships among girls and women which previously had not necessary been seen as sexual. Some sexologists accused feminists of stimulating artificial lesbian desires among women who would normally want to marry and have children. Sexology also had positive connotations for lesbians, however. In Germany, the sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld joined forces with feminist sex radical Helene Stocker to protest against unsuccessful German efforts to criminalise lesbianism. Using the case-study method, Ellis and Carpenter also found that many lesbians did not fit within the mannish stereotype and even those who did had many admirable qualities.
Sexological discussions also made it possible for some lesbians to recognise and create their own identities. In Germany, several turn-of-the century novelists combined sexological theories of inversion with their own experiences to portray their erotic experiences with other women. Many sexologists were also very involved in the new field of eugenics, the pseudo-science of human breeding.
While eugenics is now closely associated with its most evil consequence, the Nazi regime, until the s eugenicist thinking was common not only among conservative racists but also among many socialists, liberals and even feminists. Some feminists believed that eugenics could give more power to women who could use birth control to experience sexual fulfilment and also to choose the most fit mate, and the most healthy time, to procreate. They argued that middle-class women failed in their eugenic duty by having too few children and using birth control, not for eugenic reasons, but for fulfilment.
They argued that women must subordinate their own needs for an education and a career to fulfil their primary purpose of motherhood. Unmarried mothers and prostitutes were defined as unfit and feeble-minded and were confined to reformatory institutions or hospitals. In Italy and France, eugenicists believed that population increase was necessary, even among the working class. French eugenicists focused their ire on women, whom they blamed for using birth control and abortion instead of having large families.
In the Dutch colonies, for instance, authorities had tolerated concubinage for centuries, because they believed that white men needed a sexual outlet, but did not want the presence of white women to interfere with the colonial mission. However, the resulting mixed-race population undermined theories of racial difference and superiority. Around , colonial authorities began to ban concubinage and encouraged white women to settle in Indonesia and marry white men.
Of course, tensions remained because such controls could never be effective. After the First World War, these radical ideas about sexology, eugenics, birth control and homosexuality moved from the fringes to the centre of society. Young women found soldiers alluring, and illegitimacy rates shot up after a long decline. But above all, the mass carnage of the battlefields traumatised society, increasing eugenic fears about a loss of population and the fragility of masculinity.
A language of blood and nation began to replace the old religious rhetoric of sin and damnation. In turn, the Germans personified France as a blood-drenched prostitute when French troops occupied the Ruhr after the war. Racial anxieties also intensified when the French used Senegalese troops in the war, resurrecting the myth of the black rapist — or the reality of mixed-race children. Her short skirts and bobbed hair made modernity, and sexual freedom, boldly visible. In the s, it was often unclear whether lesbianism was just another sexual variation for adventurous sexual women, or a distinct sexual identity.
These women, such as Germaine Dulac and Marie Laurencin, formed an avant-garde, international coterie in inter-war Paris. In Germany, working-class and middle-class women began to form a much more extensive subculture, especially in Berlin. Several lesbian magazines were published in which women could recount their experiences, justify their desires and publicise new meeting places.
A network of bars sprang up, where women, some with cropped hair and masculine suits, could dance and flirt with each other. Lesbians also formed social, cultural and political clubs. However, these women often faced suspicion and hostility from neigh-bours and family; conservatives and even some socialists reacted with horror at what they perceived as sexual decadence.
Many women still lived together in passionate friendships without necessarily seeing themselves as lesbians, and one psychologist even accepted these relationships as viable in an era when so many men had died in the war. An effort in —1 to criminalise sexual relations between women in England failed, in part, because members of parliament did not want to publicise lesbianism, believing very few women even knew of its existence. As Laura Doan points out, the s fashions of close-cropped hair, trousers and ties were as popular among heterosexual flappers as among lesbians. However, the s also witnessed an increased hostility to spinsters, who came under suspicion as sex-starved creatures who might warp the minds of young people under their care.
The novel sold well, but a conservative newspaper publisher, frustrated that his campaign against flappers and the extension of female suffrage had failed, demanded that it be censored. The Government forced the publishers to withdraw the book from circulation until , but the trial publicised the concept of lesbianism much more widely than ever before. As a result, masculine fashions and female friendships suddenly became stigmatised. Heterosexual behaviour had begun to change before the First World War, but these shifts became much more apparent in the s.
By , an estimated 20 per cent of French women had sex before marriage. A survey of British women found that 19 per cent of married women born before had sex before their weddings, while 36 per cent of those born between and did. A German study found that under 40 per cent of women born between and who were surveyed had had orgasms at any time in their lives, while 78 per cent of those born between and did. However, many women remained sexually unsatisfied in the inter-war years, as these changes percolated slowly through the generations.
One French study from found that half of women were not sexually satisfied in marriage, while half regularly or sometimes experienced sexual satisfaction. Marie Stopes, the pioneering writer of marital advice, received thousands of letters from men and women frustrated at sexual ignorance, the difficulties of birth control and their lack of sexual pleasure. In response, sexologists argued that both men and women needed to be sexually satisfied to ensure marital happiness and the health of society, and their message finally became much more influential in popular culture during the s and s.
The psychoanalyst Marie Bonaparte even underwent surgery to move her clitoris closer to her vagina so that she could have an orgasm in the Freudian way. Most sex counsellors believed that a clitoral orgasm was better than leaving a woman unsatisfied. Sex counsellors urged husbands and wives to please each other sexually, insisting that husbands must learn how to bring their wives to orgasm.
For instance, Marie Stopes spread information about female sexual pleasure to the masses in her book Married Love She criticised men for thinking that the male sexual drive was overwhelming and had to be satisfied. Instead, men must recognise when a woman became sexually receptive and learn to please her sexually, including how to stimulate the clitoris. The Dutch doctor Theodore van de Velde, whose Ideal Marriage was widely translated and extremely popular, taught men how to please their wives, including how to perform oral sex on women.
He instructed couples that their goal should be simultaneous orgasms. Yet he also believed that female sexuality was passive and that men must retain control and skill in order to allow their wives to lose control. He disapproved of women on top in sex as a perversion of natural gender relations. Many sex reformers also believed in sexual or moral hygiene, which would modernise sex.
They believed that uncontrolled sexual desire could be dangerous, but that properly managed and regulated, sexual pleasure could contribute to marital stability and social productivity. In Germany, social hygiene clinics were opened to counsel men and women for the purposes of eugenic marriage, but they were not very popular, since people preferred more practical information about sexual pleasure and birth control.
Socialists in Berlin and Vienna sometimes warned young people not to indulge too much in irresponsible activity, but instead, to sublimate their desires into healthy outdoor activities. In response, Wilhelm Reich criticised the social-democratic and communist sexual-hygiene movements for not focusing enough on sexual pleasure among working-class young men and women.
The movement should not try to regulate and direct sexual activity, he argued, but to teach young people how to enjoy sexual pleasure. However, Reich and his followers did not always acknowledge the difficulties women in particular found in enjoying sexual pleasure and expressed hostility to homosexuality.
The dramatic drop in family size among the working class also represented a significant change from the pre-First World War generation and helped make sexual pleasure possible, especially for women. Whereas working-class women of the pre-war generation tended to have large families, family size dropped to two or three children, and in many cases in Germany, only one child. Working-class women had relied on abstinence, withdrawal or abortion to control their fertility. The number of abortions in Germany and France had skyrocketed even before the war. After the war, governments in Britain and Germany slowly and reluctantly allowed health clinics to prescribe birth control for married couples, and chemists and mail-order suppliers also sold condoms.
In Germany, the government forbade the advertisement, but not the sale, of contraceptives. Millions of men had used condoms during the war, and they became cheap and widely available. Doctors and chemists also invented new forms of diaphragms, IUDs intrauterine devices and chemical contraceptives, which were distributed in clinics set up by new birth-control leagues. These clinics preferred to give women chemical contraceptives and diaphragms, because condoms meant depending on men, and cervical caps and IUDs required a doctor.
As James Woycke argues, once women had recourse to abortion, they realised that control of fertility was in their own hands so they became more receptive to the barrier means of birth control that were becoming more available. Birth control and abortion also became an issue for socialists in revolutionary situations.
Soviet Russia legalised abortion, through the first trimester, in In part, Alexandra Kollontai, a Bolshevik feminist, inspired these ideas through her insistence on female autonomy and free love. However, the Communist Government also faced a chaotic period of civil war in , with millions of unmarried mothers and victims of rape and no resources to care for these children.
During the s, the Soviets claimed to be increasing access to contraception to enable women to make decisions about their sex lives and motherhood and to diminish the need for abortion. However, given the shortage of consumer goods, contraceptives were not the highest priority for the Soviet Government. Some Spanish anarchists, very interested in sex reform and eugenics, legalised abortion in Catalonia in the s and promised to set up birth-control clinics to diminish need for abortion.
During the turmoil of the Spanish Civil War and the hostility of the church and even many feminists to birth control, however, these promises could not be carried out. The inter-war period also witnessed a harsh backlash against these advances in contraception. The French legislature banned the distribution of contraceptive information, except condoms, in , in a fit of hysteria about the decline of population after the war. The Government also prosecuted abortionists even more harshly. In Italy, the rise of Fascism also led to increasing restrictions on birth control and abortion.
The Italian birth-control movement had always been weak, in part because, unlike their northern European counterparts, Italian eugenicists saw large families as a proof of national, even imperial, virility. During the s, Fascists warned that the birth rate was declining and must be reversed. From —7, the Fascist Government of Mussolini heavily censored any birth-control information that might come into the country from foreign sources and punished abortion even more severely than before.
However, these and other efforts to raise the birth rate were remarkably unsuccessful, and at least in one instance, women protested at the arrest of their local abortionist. By , the Nazis had destroyed the sex-reform movement in Germany. They blamed Jews for the sexual freedom of the Weimar years and promised to restore the traditional family, thus appealing to conservative and religious elements of public opinion.
They stigmatised abortion and sex reform as Jewish and communistic. The Nazis, of course, were motivated by a eugenicist agenda, but one very different from that espoused by Weimar sex reformers. Racial hatred motivated them above all. In , the Nazis forbade sex and intermarriage between Jews and Aryans.