series event

Love, Marriage and Pleasure in Sex Education Textbooks and Manuals, 1950-1970

In 1961, Alan Ingleby, the author of the sex education textbook Learning to Love, asked ‘What is Sex Education?’. He later answered his own question by instructing the reader: ‘ask your friend this question and nine times out of ten, they will say that it means telling children the ‘’facts of life’’- the biological details of human reproduction’. Ingleby, however, disagreed and asserted that cultivating the capacity to love was essential for happy marriages, and therefore, to sex education.

Historians of emotion have identified the post-war years as a time of significant discursive change in the ways in which love was socially constructed, however, few have considered how these shifts shaped the representation of sex in education. Yet, Ingleby’s work is reflective of the way in which formal sex education saw a move away from biological explanations of sex and became increasingly framed around emotions and heterosexual romance following the Second World War.

Through an analysis of student textbooks and teaching manuals, this seminar will focus on how sexual pleasure was constructed in relation to love and romance in post-war sex education. Ellie will argue that these materials legitimised discussions of sexual pleasure through contemporary ideologies of domesticity and the companionate marriage, revealing the complex ways that sex education reflected, and acted as an ideological vehicle for, dominant ideas about gender, love, respectability and sexuality at this time. This is significant because while the post-war period, has traditionally been understood as a time of growing sexual permissiveness, these materials demonstrate how conservative attitudes towards sexuality remained, with these textbooks and manuals simultaneously constructing boundaries of sexual respectability.        

Ellie Simpson is a PhD Candidate at the University of Winchester. Ellie began her PhD research after completing a Master’s Degree in History in 2018. Her PhD research is focused on the historical development of formal sex education in England from 1920-2020. Ellie has presented at the International Standing Conference on the History of Education in both Berlin 2018 and Porto 2019. In 2018, Ellie presented research related to the use of biology textbooks and manuals in 1940s sex education and in 2019 on the contested authority of the teacher as a sex educator during the passing of sex education in 1988. Ellie has also presented research at Modern British History in Birmingham in 2019 and at the interdisciplinary symposium Rethinking Disruptive Sex the 19th to the 21st Century held at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine earlier this year. Ellie is also active in her role as post graduate representative for the History of Education Society UK.


Please note that this session will NOT be live-streamed and recorded.




Open to all, seats available on first come, first served basis.


LSHTM Centre for History in Public Health