Emotion bodies, sexuality, and sex education in Edwardian England

Hera Cook

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Abstract

The history of emotion has focused on cognition and social construction, largely disregarding the centrality of the body to emotional experience. This case-study reveals that a focus on corporeal experience and emotion enables a deeper understanding of cultural mores and of transmission to the next generation, which is fundamental to the process of change. In 1914, parents in Dronfield, Derbyshire, attempted to get the headmistress of their school removed because she had taught their daughters sex education. Why did sex education arouse such intense distress in the mothers, born mainly in the 1870s? Examination of their embodied, sensory, and cognitive experience of reproduction and sexuality reveals the rational, experiential basis to their emotional responses. Their own socialization as children informed how they trained their ‘innocent’ children to be sexually reticent. Experience of birth and new ideas relating disease to hygiene reinforced their fears. The resulting negative conception of sexuality explains why the mothers embraced the suppression of sexuality and believed their children should be protected from sexual knowledge. As material pressures lessened, women's emotional responses lightened over decades. The focus on emotion reveals changes that are hard to trace in other evidence.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)475-495
JournalThe Historical Journal
Volume55
Issue number2
Early online date10 May 2012
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2012

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