What can we learn from Marie Stopes’s 1918 book Married Love?

Rafia Zakaria in The Guardian:

ScreenHunter_2966 Feb. 14 17.32“More than ever today are happy homes needed,” declared crafty Marie Carmichael Stopes in the very first sentence of her sex manual Married Love, which turns 100 this year. Happy homes, her logic held, were the consequence of happy marriages and thus “the only secure basis for a present-day state”. So a book geared to teaching married couples how to have great sex (and thus a great marriage) was a service to the country.

Stopes’s was a clever argument and it worked, if not for the betterment of society, then certainly for her publisher. Married Love was a huge hit in Britain, selling out six printings within a few weeks of publication, as eager couples gobbled up its contents. The Americans were less keen on better sex for the sake of the state; they immediately banned the book, with US customs barring its import for more than two decades. By that time, Britons had bought more than half a million copies of the book and were far ahead of their prudish US counterparts in the quest to understand female sexual pleasure. They were also well on their way to “entering on a new and glorious state” based entirely on “the joyous buoyancy of their actions”.

Florid as the prose seems 100 years on, Stopes’s deft cloaking of her sex manual in religious sanction (a Father Stanislaus St John provides an endorsement) and state welfare was for good reason. Even while talking about sex was taboo, marriage and its boundaries had shifted considerably by 1918.

More here.