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

By Hera Cook | Go to book overview

7
English Sexuality in the Twentieth
Century: Ignorance, Silence,
and Gendered Sexual Cultures

I have found that people talk to me very frankly about sex, and I have formed some interesting conclusions from their confidences and from my own personal experience. The most important is my firm conviction that most people go through life without experiencing sexual pleasure worth the name.1

Leonora Eyles, who wrote this in 1933, was a journalist and the author of a sex manual. She had been married twice and had several affairs, and wanted to share what she had learnt. Until the late twentieth century her readers are unlikely to have been surprised that the majority of the population experienced little by way of sexual pleasure, but many would have been taken aback that people would speak frankly to her about their sexual experience.2 The publication since the 1970s of numerous biographies of radical or literary and highly sexually active individuals, many of whom left generous diaries and letters, and histories of groups to whom

1 L. Eyles, Commonsense about Sex (1933), 77. Recent sexual histories of 20th-century England
include that by P. Ferris, who was an observer of events as a journalist in the 1960s. Sex and the
British: A Twentieth Century History
(1994). L. Hall focuses on sexual knowledge. R. Porter and
L. Hall, The Facts of Life: The Creation of Sexual Knowledge in Britain, 1650–1950(1995). C. Haste
makes a quick whip round the usual suspects in C. Haste, Rules of Desire: Sex in Britain, World
War I to the Present
(1992). S. Humphries's useful oral history includes illicit heterosexual
activity, A Secret World of Sex(1988). J. Weeks provides the only theoretically informed
account: Sex, Politics and Society: The Regulation of Sexuality since 1800 (1981; 1989).

2 N. E. and V. C. Himes, 'Birth Control for the British Working Classes: A Study of the First
Thousand Cases to Visit an English Birth Control Clinic', Hospital Social Service, 19 (1929), 588.

-165-

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