Over the counter and on the high street
Contraceptive retailing in the urban landscape
in The business of birth control
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The focus of Chapter 5 shifts to urban retail distribution, a commercial process largely neglected in current historical scholarship on birth control, but one in which the tensions and ambiguities of the interwar years and birth control in this period were the most obvious. The chapter examines how Lord Bertrand Dawson, birth control authorities, social conservatives and consumers responded to the growing visible and unmediated promotion and sale of contraceptives from chemists’ shops and surgical stores. Retail outlets became increasingly important to contraceptive distribution as they adopted ‘scientific salesmanship’ and brightly coloured and branded window displays, as did mechanised contraceptive slot machines placed outside the shops of chemists and barbers and at new sites of leisure. The chapter then outlines how the failure to find consensus on how to accept the rights of married adults to access birth control appliances via retailers and slot machines while preventing access to adolescent consumers meant that legislation was largely abandoned by 1950. Ultimately, free trade and, with it, overt commercialisation triumphed and contraceptives were freely available from, if not freely advertised by, chemists’ shops as the contraceptive Pill was introduced.

The business of birth control

Contraception and commerce in Britain before the sexual revolution


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