The Long Sexual Revolution: English Women, Sex, and Contraception, 1800-1975

By Hera Cook | Go to book overview

5
Mastering the Sexual Self: Contraception
and Sexuality 1890s–1950s

In 1928, H. G. Wells wrote in the introduction to a contraceptive advice manual: 'When the adult citizen has gone through these pages he or she will know exactly the physical factors of the modern sexual problem. He or she will have all the mastery of his or her sexual self that knowledge can give.'1 Wells had extensive opportunity to gain mastery of the existing methods and his penchant for sexually passionate affairs with young, unmarried middle-class women meant his contraceptive failures were recorded in an age when few such accounts survive. Amber Pember Reeves, the daughter offriends, did not become pregnant until she desired to do so, but Rebecca West seems to have become pregnant almost the first time she and Wells had intercourse.2 Thus, Wells's mastery of the existing methods could not be relied upon to prevent pregnancy. When the sexually inexperienced poet Rupert Brooke had intercourse with Katherine Cox in 1912, he obeyed the instructions he had been given, Unfortunately this meant the couple waited until Cox's most fertile period, mid-month, and she probably syringed her vagina with quinine and water, a most inefficient method.3 Cox became pregnant very quickly and then either miscarried or had an abortion. Contraceptive failure was

1 M. Fielding, Parenthood: Design or Accident? A Manual of Birth Control (1928), 10. For a more
extended discussion of birth control methods, including the economic costs in this period,
see H. Cook, 'The Long Sexual Revolution: British Women, Sex and Contraception in the
Twentieth Century' (Ph.D. thesis, 1999), ch. 3.

2 R. Brandon, The New Women and the Old Men (1990), 184–5, 193.

3 P. Delany, The Neo-pagans: Friendship and Love in the Rupert Brooke Circle (1987), 117, 170, 172,
180, 197.

-122-

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