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About Pre-1973 Nonfiction

From the Sexologists to Sexual Liberation: Books in the Human Sexuality Collection, 1860-1973

Jessica R. Cattelino and Brenda J. Marston

The Human Sexuality Collection contains over six hundred nonfiction, mostly English language titles published between 1860 and 1973 which offer insight into the relationship between popular science, culture, and sexuality. Over this time period, attitudes and ways of understanding human sexuality were transforming in the sciences and social sciences, the legal system, and the public. In 1960, the Federal Drug Administration approved the birth control pill, just as America’s youth were creating a sexual liberation movement involving free love, women’s rights, reproductive freedom, and gay liberation. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association announced that it no longer considered homosexuality a mental illness. With these legal, political, professional, and social events, the nature of both academic and popular works on sexuality changed dramatically in the 1970s.

In order to facilitate research into the ideological, scientific, and cultural changes that led up to the explosion of writing about sexuality in the 1970s, the Human Sexuality Collection has created a bibliography from its holdings. The two main categories include: standard academic works starting in 1860; and nonfiction paperbacks marketed to a general audience during the 1960s and early 1970s.

The earlier social science texts on sexuality include the writings of sexologists, anthropologists, psychologists, and advocates in the eugenics movement, as well as some works on health and hygiene. These how-to books on sex and marriage, studies of sexual perversion, and cross-cultural explorations of sexual customs all offer important glimpses into the prevailing attitudes about sex during these years. Examples of these books include Frederick Hollick’s The Marriage Guide (1860), Bernarr Macfadden’s Manhood and Marriage (1916), Katherine Bement Davis’ Factors in the Sex Life of Twenty-Two Hundred Women (1929), George Henry’s Sex Variants: A Study of Homosexual Patterns (1941), and Bronislaw Malinowski’s Sex and Repression in Savage Society (1955). Later texts consist mostly of psychological and sociological studies of homosexuality.

While many of these social scientists wrote for an academic audience, it is widely known that “scientific” texts about sex-related topics were read for reasons other than academic curiosity, as exemplified by Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s 1888 Psychopathia Sexualis. The work became so popular that Krafft-Ebing found it necessary to reassert the “professional” nature of his work by placing the sexually descriptive passages in Latin and writing a disclaimer about his scientific intent for the book’s use. The massive sales of Psychopathia Sexualis and the fact that at least one publisher specializing in erotic literature reissued it in paperback point to its popular appeal. References to this text even appear in literary works: in Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness, the lesbian protagonist Stephen finds Krafft-Ebing’s work in her father’s library and herein discovers who and what she is. Whether or not sexologists and other social scientists intended to reach a non-professional audience, people have clearly long understood that science opens a critical window for reading about sexuality.

The relatively unexplored genre of popular nonfiction books about sexuality that appeared in the 1960s consists largely of case histories, studies in sexual perversion, stated “exposŽs” of “the homosexual underground,” and explicit how-to books. Many feature sexually-explicit photographs and illustrations. Common topics include lesbianism, male homosexuality, transsexuality, sex offenders, “sexual perversion” (anal and oral sex, fetishes, masturbation, sadomasochism, bestiality, etc.), and sex in marriage. Almost all of these books are written by men, though many have women as subjects. Most of the photographs contain only white people, though some do feature African-American men and women; included among these are a few books about interracial sex. Important publishers represented in the Human Sexuality Collection include Sherbourne Press, Medco Books, Ultima Books, Halloway House, and Falstaff Press, as well as the following who also published fiction: Greenleaf Classics, L.S. Publishers (the “Imperial Books” series), and Brandon House.

Many of these books resemble the more well-known pulp fiction novels of the 1950s and 1960s in cover art, size, price, and advertising style. At the same time they appeal to the readers’ sexual interests, many of these nonfiction books market themselves as legitimate social science written by “world famous” authors who prominently display their advanced degrees as evidence of their authority. Titles often sound vaguely scientific: Understanding Sexuality: A Psychologist’s Guide to Perfect Intercourse in Marriage, A Study of Contraception: Practices and Methods, A Study of Sexual Fetishes: An Illustrated Examination of the Sexual Deviate, The Anatomy of a Lesbian, and Compulsive Homosexuality in the Married Male. Several publishers established series with scientific-sounding names in which to publish these books: the Monarch Human Behavior Books, the Sex Education Clinical Series, and the Barclay House Psycho-Sex Studies. Many of the books contain statements asserting the social or scientific value of the contents, eschewing erotic pleasure as the proper motivation for reading, and emphasizing the social value of increasing popular knowledge about sexuality. In this they resemble the physique magazines of the late 1950s and the 1960s, which tried to divert attention from their homoerotic appeal by emphasizing the value of the publications to art students and body builders. Science provided a cloak of legitimacy for publishing about sex when other forms of discussion were prohibited by law or public morality.

Delineating the difference between “real” scholarship and “popular” or “pseudo” science can be challenging, as demonstrated by the books in this collection. Among the paperbacks with provocative covers are Margaret Mead’s Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies and Havelock Ellis’ Psychology of Sex. By contrast, behind the dull, text-only cover of Alfred Ellison’s Oral Sex and the Law are many explicit photos of men and women engaged in oral sex. While some publishers gave lurid covers to mainstream social science studies on sex, others put academic packaging on erotic material.

Though many of the academic volumes in the collection are not rare, the editions marketed to a popular audience have not generally been preserved in research libraries. Together, the social science texts on sexuality show what information and views about sexuality were distributed in print over the last century, and they provide an important context for analyzing the nonfiction paperbacks. Because the paperback books refer to and mimic the social science books, seeing these two groups side by side offers a unique opportunity for coherent research on sexuality ranging widely across different kinds of literature. Indeed, the strength of the collection lies in the juxtaposition of these books, which all speak to broad cultural notions of science, legitimacy, and sexuality. They will be of interest to researchers in many aspects of sexuality, lesbian and gay history, the history of book publishing, censorship, the history of social science disciplines, and popular culture.

These books came primarily from the gifts of the Mariposa Education and Research Foundation, headed by Bruce Voeller, and from book collector George Fisher, who ran Elysian Fields Booksellers. In the early 1970s, Fisher, Voeller, and members of Mariposa recognized the value of both the paperbacks and textbooks on sexuality and began collecting them. Because of their vision, the books are now available to the public, and researchers will be able to study these books as a whole.

A bibliography of these books is available in Pre 1973 Bibliography.

Jessica Cattelino, Cornell ’96, received a Cornell Tradition fellowship to organize, analyze, and improve access to books in the Human Sexuality Collection. Brenda Marston is Curator of the Collection. Written Aug. 95.

Collection Highlights