Lets Talk About Sex (and Reproduction): Counselling for Reproductive Health in Post-war Europe

12 December 2019 - 13 December 2019

SG1/2, CRASSH, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DT

Further details about this conference will be made available in the near future. 

Please email conferences@crassh.cam.ac.uk if you would like to be kept informed about the event, or have any other questions. 



Caroline Rusterholz (University of Cambridge)

Yuliya Hilevych (University of Cambridge)

Jenny Bangham (University of Cambridge)



Today, counsellors in reproductive health help patients and parents make reproductive decisions, interpret the results of genetic tests, make decisions about treatment and birth control, and understand sexual difficulties. Counselling encounters are potentially highly emotional — provoking guilt, fear, confusion, relief and joy — and can powerfully impact individuals, families, extended families and communities. They also have rich and varied histories. In post-war Europe, counselling and communication practices in reproductive health have driven and been shaped by the ‘liberalisation’ of sexuality, the psychological turn, ethical and legal debates about reproductive autonomy and disability, discourses about race, gender and medicine, a growing need for patients to manage risks, and new definitions of responsible citizens and patients.

This two-day interdisciplinary conference will bring together historians, sociologists and current professionals to discuss how counselling has changed, how its practices have shaped reproductive health and what its histories can tell us about practices today. In bringing together scholars and practitioners we focus on three principal fields: sexual and birth-control counselling, infertility counselling and genetic counselling. Focusing on Europe—historically a centre for new reproductive technologies—participants will chart and compare the histories and present-day practices of these rich medical encounters. 

Thematically, the conference has four aims:

  1. To recover the changing (and gendered)  experiences of reproductive and sexual medicine, by patients and practitioners
  2. To explore the role of ‘emotion’ in counselling, to recover how emotions have been understood according to class, gender and race, and how have counsellors been taught to discipline their own emotions
  3. To understand changing strategies for managing risk and responsibility, and how these have differed across political contexts
  4. To explore how counselling is being refashioned today, in light of new reproductive technologies and genomic medicine. 




Supported by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), the British Academy, the Cambridge Reproduction Strategic Research Initiative, the University of Cambridge's Faculty of History, and the Wellcome Trust.