History of Sexuality Seminar

Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in or organisation of workshop, seminar or course

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Camilla Skovbjerg Paldam - Participant

'Even Menuhin has to practice the violin daily': The Joy of Sex and the sexual self in 1970s Britain Ben Mechen (UCL) In 1974, the biologist, physician and writer Alex Comfort published in Britain his 'gourmet guide to love making', The Joy of Sex. Encyclopaedic in scope and avowedly liberal in mood, Joy's recipes for the 'starters', 'main courses' and 'sauces and pickles' of satisfying sex, from oral sex to bondage and discipline, along with its illustrations of a hippyish young couple in the throes of passion, would make it a global bestseller and an enduring icon of the 'sexual revolution', whilst confirming Comfort as Britain's 'Doctor Sex'. But what precisely did Joy say, how was it read by contemporaries, and what might this tell us about sex and sexuality in 1970s Britain? This paper attempts an answer. Setting Comfort and Joy in their historical contexts, it begins by arguing that Joy influentially outlined a new, counterculturally-informed version of the 'fully-realised' sexual self: improving and experimental, free of unnecessary 'hangups', determined in the pursuit of mutually orgasmic pleasure, firm in the belief that good sex and the good life were inseparable, and, crucially, advisable by 'sexperts' like Comfort. This vision of the sexual self is used, in the rest of the paper, as a means of further uncovering the complexity of Britain’s 'sexual revolution'. Did Joy relieve sex of its norms and pressures, as it claimed to do, or simply reformulate them? Was its vision of sexuality open to all, or only those who could afford the time, space and resources counselled by Comfort as the preconditions for gratifying sex? And for all its talk of sexual mutuality and equality, and even the universality of bisexual desire, did Joy remain fundamentally sexist and heteronormative in outlook? With answers to questions like these in mind, the paper concludes by arguing that The Joy of Sex is a valuable resource for understanding the chronology and character of Britain’s postwar sexual liberalisation, and in particular its limits. Reproduction, eugenics, and the fight for free love at the fin de siècle Sarah Jones (Exeter) In the final years of the nineteenth century, radical free love advocates the Legitimation League began to publish their journal, The Adult. The journal was dedicated to the discussion of the reform of sexual relationships, and contributors debated ways to make a system of total sexual freedom a practical possibility. One of the key problems facing those debating what a meaningful and workable free love relationship might look like was the question of reproduction. Women’s physiological role in the production of children represented a barrier to many of those discussing the possibility of free love, as it rendered complete sexual equality problematic. This paper will examine the dialogue occurring around reproduction here, as it demonstrates in microcosm the instability of ideas about gender that were positioned at the heart of free love debate. This paper will show that authors with opposing viewpoints on 'The Woman Question' manipulated or reinterpreted gendered ideas about the female body and its reproductive function to support different radical sexual aims.
5 May 2015


SeminarHistory of Sexuality Seminar
LocationUniversity of London, School of Advanced Studies, Senate House
CountryUnited Kingdom
Period01/09/2014 → …


ID: 87364627