School of Humanities and Social Science
HISTORY SEMINAR SERIES – 2009
Spinning Sex Education: the formation of new knowledges in interwar Australia.
Friday, 15 May
10am to 11am
(with morning tea/coffee afterwards)
Cultural Collections Reading Room (near the Information Common),
Level 2, Auchmuty Library, Callaghan Campus
The twenties was an age of pleasure. From the sultry tones of jazz emerging in night-clubs, to an increasing interest in physical perfection promoted by body culture movements, to the raw sexuality flaunted by the flapper, sensual bodies were everywhere.
Yet it is clear that this culture of decadence merely hid deeper, quite virulent anxieties: VD, promiscuity, sex perverts, single mothers, and of course the continuation of a strong and healthy white race. In the interwar years, sex education was increasingly promoted as the answer to all of these problems. From all sides of the political spectrum there were calls for the scientific exploration of sexual knowledge.
This paper will explore these new sexual knowledges, particularly early advice for children and adolescents. Through a consideration of the primary sources, it will suggest that, rather than being emancipatory or even educative, sex “education” was a pronounced form of social control. It was not education for knowledge per se, but rather an attempt to reshape sexual mores, to convince children and teens of the need to control and restrain their sexual desire. In an age of modernity, sex education was less an exploration of new knowledges, but simply a repackaging of older ideas about modesty, continence and restraint.