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Title: Everyday sex in 1970s Britain
Author: Mechen, B. D.
ISNI:       0000 0004 7229 6613
Awarding Body: UCL (University College London)
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2016
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This thesis explores how public understandings of “everyday sex” - or the sexual practices and preferences deemed appropriate to “ordinary” men and women – were reshaped during the 1970s. Using the development of the Durex condom brand, the extension of the welfare state to include family planning services, and the enormous popularity of Alex Comfort’s The Joy of Sex as case studies, it draws upon a wide range of sources in order to provide a critical history of Britain’s “sexual revolution” or sexual liberalisation. Overall, it argues that liberalisation was a process limited in scope, exclusionary in form and frequently chaotic in imposition. Following work on the formation and governance (or self-governance) of the “liberal” subject, and the characterisation of modern society as the “rule of freedom”, the thesis identifies attempts to define a strictly-bounded liberal heterosexual subject as a key development of the period. This gendered (and frequently classed) subject would freely consume sexual commodities (like Durex condoms), freely use state family planning services, and freely improve his or her sexual talents. As the thesis shows, this new freedom brought with it new pressures and new expectations, but also a new hostility towards those who did not fit the mould: the liberal heterosexual subject was positioned in opposition to a range of increasingly impermissible alternatives – the single mother or the sexually unadventurous “square”, to take two examples – gaining further definition from just who he or she was not. Challenging progressive narratives of the “revolution” on another front, the thesis also demonstrates the ways in which the liberalising process was shaped and mediated by an array of actors, not all of them motivated by “progressive” goals, as well as the many instances in which change in the sexual sphere was rooted in accident and contingency as much as careful planning.
Supervisor: Rieger, B. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available