Sex: Public Health, Social Hygiene and Eugenics

  • Alison Bashford


Administering the population with respect to sex in the first half of the twentieth century gave rise to all kinds of interventions in the governing of the self, as well in the securing and governing of nations. Several domains of regulation of sexual conduct and of population converged, each legacies of mid and late Victorian social questions, social science and social activism. And each problematised both the pathological and the reproductive implications of sex. Sexology — the science of sex — became expert and institutionalised. Linked but with a different genealogy was the very public feminist debate on venereal disease with its politicising of relations between men and women, between the forceful state and particular women, and its agenda for the self-governance of men in relation to their sexual desire. Interwar ‘social hygiene’ in Britain, can be understood as the outcome of one strand of sexology (concerned with birth control) and a direct descendent of nineteenth century feminist Contagious Diseases Acts protest. ‘Social hygiene’ in Britain was, as we have seen, ‘racial hygiene’ in Australia. Linked again, but with its own antecedents in nineteenth century biology, was eugenics.


Venereal Disease Infant Welfare Birth Control Advocate Racial Hygiene Eugenic Society 
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Copyright information

© Alison Bashford 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alison Bashford
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of HistoryUniversity of SydneyAustralia

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