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Print culture—books, magazines, periodicals, pamphlets, and advertisements—was a key location for encountering ideas about sex and bodies in twentieth-century Britain and Ireland. Looking at the 1920s through to the 1960s, a proliferation of printed media that dealt with sex and bodies is visible. Despite this, there is limited historiographical work on the connections between sexual knowledge and publishing. Marital, sexual, and contraceptive advice manuals have been explored by a number of historians, but prominent authors (like Marie Stopes) often dominate this work, and they are often not placed in the context of their production, advertising, and distribution. Exploring the advertising and distribution of these texts further paints a more nuanced picture of how and where ideas about sex and bodies were circulated. It also creates space for exploring the means through which sex was becoming an increasingly important part of understandings of the self in the twentieth-century. Not only are the ideas about sex and bodies circulated in these sources important, but questions of access and engagement broaden our understandings of how sex was learned about, thought about, and experienced in this period.

In this paper, I will explore some of my work-in-progress on the dissemination of sexual knowledge through print culture in Britain and Ireland. Thinking about what people had access to—as well as what they did not—I will talk through some of the print sources that I think are central to histories of sex and bodies in the twentieth-century. As a paper based on ongoing work for my thesis, this is a tentative step towards expanding the way we use and engage with print culture as historians writing about sexual knowledge, its production, and its spread.


All welcome- this seminars is free to attend but registration is required.