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

By Hera Cook | Go to book overview

14
Population Control or 'Sex on the Rates'?
Political Change 1955–1975

Between 1955 and 1975, the British government moved from being almost wholly uninvolved in the provision of contraception to free provision of contraception to all women and men regardless of age or marital status. In 1977, Audrey Leathard described the campaigns and the expansion in services, and in 1976 Gillian Walt examined family planning policy-making at local and government level.1 These two writers accepted unquestioningly the value of what had been and was being achieved by the Family Planning Association (FPA) and other similar groups. They tell a tale of well-intentioned progress towards the light. However, Jeffrey Weeks asserted in 1981 that it was right-wing fears of population growth and support for eugenics that led to the provision of birth control on the NHS. Elizabeth Wilson suggested in 1977 that a 'view of the Pill as a method of controlling young women has indeed gained ground'2 These Marxist historians present a grim narrative of shifting control. This interpretation is not grounded in an accurate representation of the events or the changes in women's lives yet it is this interpretation which has largely been followed. For example, Jane Lewis commented in 1992 that '[i]n regard to sexual autonomy it may be argued that there has been no slackening in government's determination to regulate women's sexual behaviour'.3 In

1 A. Leathard, The Fight for Family Planning: The Development of Family Planning Services in Britain,
1921–74
(1980). G. Walt, 'Policy Making in Britain: A Comparative Study of Fluoridation and
Family Planning, 1960–1974' (D.Phil. thesis, 1976).

2 J. Weeks, Sex, Politics and Society: The Regulation of Sexuality since 1800 (1981; 1989), 259.
E. Wilson, Women and the Welfare State (1977), 69.

3 J. Lewis, Women in Britain since 1945 (1992), 95.

-296-

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