Married Love: the 1918 book by Marie Stopes that helped launch the birth control movement
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Marie Stopes was a distinguished academic scientist and became the youngest doctor of science in Britain. But when her book Married Love was published on March 26, 1918, it completely changed her life and arguably those of millions of men and women.
The book offered a detailed description of sexual relations, and its publication allowed this topic – which had long been taboo – to be more readily discussed by both men and women.As my research has chronicled, the book sold 2,000 copies in the fortnight after publication and within a year, six further editions had been published. Her work struck a chord in the post-World War I era. It was bought by women who had just gained the vote and men demobbed from the services. It was read by aristocratic readers in Chelsea but also by factory workers in Northern towns such as Liverpool and Manchester. Her name even featured in playground rhymes chanted by London’s children. Stopes was not married when she wrote Married Love. She had impetuously married her first husband, the Canadian academic geneticist Reginald Ruggles Gates, but the marriage soon broke down. She explored the possibility of divorce, but on discovering the expense turned to the unusual ground of annulment. In a high-profile court case, revealing intimate sexual details were reported in the press, and annulment was granted on the grounds of non-consummation.
Writing on marriageAt the start of Married Love, Stopes declared:
In my own marriage I paid such a terrible price for sex-ignorance that I feel that knowledge gained at such cost should be placed at the service of humanity.Stopes claimed her knowledge was derived from research in the British Library. It would have helped that she had a biological science degree and had lectured medical students. But there was another experience that Stopes drew upon – her long love affair with Japanese academic Kenjiro Fujii. Although he divorced his wife, he eventually terminated the relationship. Although supposedly fictitious, Stopes’s Love Letters of a Japanese was based on their passionate relationship and the draft was written before the publication of Married Love. The heroine confided: “I feel a soft kiss on my neck, and everything vanishes, and I long to put my arms round you and be held close to you.” Up until 1918, Stopes’s most popular book had been a study of ancient plant life. Her academic publishers refused to publish Married Love because it was seen as too controversial. Its publication was therefore financed by Manchester businessman Humphrey Roe, a longstanding birth control campaigner. In true romantic style, Roe wooed Stopes, and became her second husband. The opening sentence of Married Love, sets the book’s tone: “Every heart desires a mate.” It goes on to set out sexual priorities for both sexes. Controversially for the time, women are portrayed as having sexual needs.
It should be realised that a man does not woo and win a woman once for all when he marries her: he must woo her before every separate act of coitus.
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