Sex, Catholicism and women in post-war England
Author: David Geiringer

On 25 July 1968, Pope Paul VI shook the world. His encyclical letter Humanae Vitae rejected widespread calls to permit use of the contraceptive pill and deemed artificial contraception ‘intrinsically evil’. The Catholic Church is now commonly identified as the antagonist in a story of sixties sexual revolution – a stubborn stone resisting the stream of sex-positive modernity. There has been little consideration of how Catholic women themselves experienced this period of cultural upheaval. This book is about the sexual and religious lives of Catholic women in post-war England. It uses original oral history material to uncover the way Catholic women negotiated spiritual and sexual demands at a moment when the two increasingly seemed at odds with one another. The book also examines the public pronouncements and secretive internal documents of the central Catholic Church, offering a ground-breaking new explanation of the Pope’s decision to prohibit the pill. The materials gathered here provide a fresh perspective on the idea that ‘sex killed God’, reframing dominant approaches to the histories of sex, religion and modernity. The memories of Catholic women help us understand why religious belief does not structure the lives of most English men and women today in the way it did at the close of the Second World War, why sex holds a place of such significance in our modern culture, and crucially, how these two developments related to one another. The book will be essential reading for not only scholars of sexuality, religion, gender and oral history, but anyone interested in post-war social change.

David Geiringer

interviewees’ recollections. Anne decided to go on the pill after having eight children: ‘I don’t think I had fully discovered my full self until this happened.’ 28 We will be delving deeper into Anne’s change later in the chapter, but at this point I want to examine what exactly this ‘self’ was that was being discovered. It was a process of ‘discovering’, ‘uncovering’ and ‘recognising’ that tended to be

in The Pope and the pill
Abstract only
David Geiringer

the Church’s prohibition on all forms of artificial contraception, grappling instead, somewhat unsuccessfully, with natural family planning (or the rhythm method) – the only form of birth regulation permitted by the Vatican. The introduction of the pill in 1961, widely heralded as the catalyst for a ‘revolution’ in sexual practice across English society, had not shaken her resolve. Like many ‘liberal

in The Pope and the pill
Abstract only
David Geiringer

, hormone-free and non-invasive’, a message which has resonated with the growing number of women unhappy with the side-effects of the pill. 18 NFP is beginning to shake off its association with both the ‘Vatican’ and ‘roulette’. Natural Cycles is sold as a means of ‘getting to know yourself’ – the CMAC used this very phrase to encourage its clients to take up NFP in the 1960s and 1970s. This is an interesting reversal of the

in The Pope and the pill
David Geiringer

reasserted the Church’s prohibition of artificial means of contraception three months later, they decided to grapple with the method a little longer. In the end, they continued practising NFP for over twenty years, interspersed with sporadic periods of using the pill. She explained that she never felt completely comfortable with defying the Pope, but that it was primarily her husband’s ‘scruples’, which

in The Pope and the pill
David Geiringer

of reciprocation between the two. Just as the marriage-guidance initiative had been driven by Protestant actors in the first half of the twentieth century, Catholic forays into socio-scientific research were making significant contributions to the field in their recognition of ‘interpersonal concerns’. 53 It is often forgotten that one of the principal architects of the pill was a Catholic doctor who was motivated

in The Pope and the pill
David Geiringer

( 1996 ), pp. 27 – 34 . 11 The oral history material comes out of my PhD research. This thesis includes more details about the methodological approach taken and is available from the University of Sussex library. ‘The Pope and the Pill: Exploring the Sexual Experiences of Catholic Women in Post-War England’ (University of Sussex

in The Pope and the pill
David Geiringer

the interviewees’ parents’ generation in that she was willing to defy the Church’s teaching well before the birth-control debate took off in the public realm during the 1960s. Despite this example in her early life, Mary chose to grapple with NFP at the start of her marriage, only moving on to the pill in her forties. While the interviewees were introduced to the morality of birth control by their

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arrived in Madras, his pills were analysed by British surgeons and its ingredients were listed. The focus shifted from the efficacy of the pills to its ingredients. William Duffin and another surgeons reported to the Hospital Board, that although the repeated trials were successful in curing snakebites, some of the ingredients raised questions, but in the absence of any other remedy, they recommended the Government ‘to leave every practitioner to administer remedies, as his own judgement may direct as heretofore in cases of

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