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This chapter introduces Scotland’s sexual progressives as part of a loosely aligned collective of radicals from across Britain intent on reforming conventional codes of sexual morality, at a time of tumultuous national debate. The Victorian fin de siècle was a period of ‘sexual anarchy’, when the forces of moral conservatism struggled to redraw the boundaries of respectability tested by New Women and decadent men. Scotland’s sexual progressives entered this debate, offering a politicised discourse on diverse aspects of the Sex Question, including marriage, illegitimacy, prostitution, birth control, sexual pleasure and same-sex relations. Heterodox forms of belief were crucial in their freedom to reimagine new forms of intimacy, the individuals featured here drawing on a reworked Swedenborgianism, the positivist ‘Religion of Humanity’ and ‘religious agnosticism’ to formulate their new moral codes. Older radical traditions, such as feminist freethought, also provided vital legitimacy and stores of radical ideas. However, this chapter argues that regulation came not just from the rigidly respectable bourgeoisie, but from socialist and feminist organisations, wary of reinscribing past associations between political radicalism and immorality.

Sexual progressives

Reimagining intimacy in Scotland, 1880–1914


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