By Simon Szreter and Kate Fisher
As a young obstetrician in London in the 1960s, who had just moved into a house built in the 1920s, I began talking to my two neighbors, literally over the garden fence. They were both widows in their 80s and we soon wandered into conversations about the role of contraception in their married lives half a century earlier. Looking out on the sexual revolution of the 1960s, they were almost eager to talk about intimate details of their younger lives.
These discussions gave me a tiny glimpse of the richness of oral history. Simon Szreter and Kate Fisher have systematically and meticulously uncovered the intimate lives of couples one generation later, whose sexual lives cover the interval between the end of World War I and the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Sex Before the Sexual Revolution is as representative of a nation’s behavior as any social history can be. The narrative is rooted in a comprehensive knowledge of the literature, as well as a familiarity with earlier, more limited attempts to collect intimate oral histories. The authors interviewed 89 men and women, half from the northern industrial town of Blackburn and half from the London area, locations that respectively mirror the British social classifications of working class and middle class. They let the participants tell the story in their own words, even on occasion recording ”remarkable exchanges between married partners discussing how they had not talked to each other in their marriage.”
Published in Population & Development Review, September 2011, 37(3): 588-591