Representations of Pregnancy and Birth in German Sex Education Books 1900s-1970s

2 March 2009, 17:00 - 18:30

CRASSH, 17 Mill Lane

Speaker:
Dr Lutz D.H. Sauerteig
(Centre for the History of Medicine and Disease, Durham University)

Abstract:

Sex education literature can be read as a culturally and historically contingent repertoire of concepts of the body, of how the sexual body was understood and of what kind of knowledge about the sexual body should be conveyed to the young. My paper will examine textual and visual representations of pregnancy and childbirth in (West) German sex education books from the 1900s to the 1970s. Over the entire period, nearly all sex educators suggested that questions such as 'Where do I come from?' or 'How does life begin?' were amongst the most burning questions in which the young were interested. Simultaneously, by dealing with these issues sex educators directed children's attention to the relevance of a specific knowledge of reproduction. Authors used their narratives about pregnancy and childbirth to strengthen the fine line they were at pains to draw between mediating sexual knowledge to the young and inciting premature sexual activities. At the same time, children's sexual understanding was also shaped by the silences within these narratives and what sex educators thought unimportant or inappropriate to convey to the young.

The knowledge imparted to the young about reproduction, the body's sexual anatomy and physiology, as well as the emotional aspects involved in reproduction also naturalized sex differences in reproduction. Hence, knowledge of reproduction became central to the formation of gender identities. In particular, the scripts for motherhood outlined in sex education material (from the heroic and divine mother to the autonomous pregnant woman) were fundamental to the construction of femaleness.


Biography:

Lutz Sauerteig is a historian of medicine, sexualities and bodies. He studied Modern European History, History of Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, Theatre Studies, and Cultural Anthropology in Munich, Oxford and Berlin. He received his M.A. in History from the Ludwig-Maximilian's University, Munich, in 1989 and his doctorate (Dr. phil.) in History from the Humboldt University, Berlin, in 1996. From 1990 to 1992, he worked as Research Assistant at the Institute for Modern History, University of Munich. From 1994 to 2003 he lectured history of medicine at the Institute for the History of Medicine, Medical Faculty, University of Freiburg. Since May 2003, he is Lecturer for History of Medicine at the School of Medicine and Health, Durham University, and a Wellcome University Award Holder (2003-08). He is the Deputy Director of the Centre for the History of Medicine and Disease and Fellow of the Wolfson Research Institute. From November 2008, he also is chair of the Society for the Social History of Medicine.

 

 All welcome. No registration required.

Part of the Cambridge Interdisciplinary Reproduction Forum (CIRF)