Thursday, May 01, 2014

The Repressive Era Before the Sexual Revolution

Thank God for the sexual revolution that the Boomers whisked into place with the pill and free love or else we would be living in the Dark Ages. Sex would be boring, vanilla, white bread and suppressed like in the dry '50s. Controlling what makes it to the present from the past is a powerful tool, so crafting historical social narratives is just as important of a skill as contemporary media social narratives. Fortunately, we have history and basic advertising to show us that the past was not so stuffy. Fifty years before the Summer of Love ('67), Dr. Marie Stopes published the book Married Love. Dr. Stopes was not a doctor with any human biological expertise, but her work does show us that even in 1918 plenty of sex was to be had for the public. Looking back at Stopes and her work, was society truly repressive?
Dr. Stopes was actually a botanist. Even then, the credibility of "doctor" could sell a book like publishing houses use today for instant status to help sell books to the public. She must be an expert, she is a doctor! Not quite. She was a botanist whose first marriage failed due to it not being consummated. Yes, divorce was possible before the revision of divorce laws. Amazing to readers of Jezebel to know that, but it is true. Divorce was possible but much harder to achieve than a simple trip to the courthouse on a seasonal mood disorder whim. Dr. Stopes traded in one failing man for a winner with money who helped publish her book. It sold briskly as the public was eager to read up on it. It spoke of the rights of partners, pleasing a woman, positions, frequency, preparing a woman and the issue of men who used prostitutes before marriage.
Stopes was connected to Margaret Sanger, the Fabian Society, eugenicists and birth control advocates. She did not support abortion because she felt proper contraception could prevent the need for abortion, and that life once conceived should be born. It would probably shock her in our free pill dispensing era to still see women having four abortions by age 24. Some things never change, as Stopes pushed gender equality, birth control, sex positivism, and she herself resembled the Jezebel types. Stopes did not take her first husband's name, and her one child she had in her 30s had a hyphenated Stopes-Roe surname (not Roe-Stopes with father's name first). While liberals would gladly argue that she would drop her eugenicist views and be pro-choice if alive today, they might be right. Would she look back on her era and view it as horribly repressive? Hard to say because the courts did support her free speech and her book was allowed to advertise in print like any other product. Considering the size of the advertisement, it sold well, and it was published before the progressive approved, chic Jazz Age.

Less than a $1 (1930s ad)
This other book was free (ad from 10s)


Toddy Cat said...

The belief in the repressive, sexually uptight Fifties (and prior) is an important part of the Boomer New Left mythos, perhaps, along with the myths of "Civil Rights", and Vietnam, the most important part. It's no wonder that this has all been flushed down the memory hole, its one of the pillars of our current regime.

Big Bill said...

I love the sly little dodge in the book order form. It sounds so like countless internet websites today:

"Sold only to adults. State age: ___"