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Birth Control, Sex, and Marriage in Britain 1918-1960$
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Kate Fisher

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780199267361

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199267361.001.0001

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‘What've a boiling kettle got to do with a baby?’ 1

‘What've a boiling kettle got to do with a baby?’ 1

The Maintenance of Ignorance

(p.26) 1 ‘What've a boiling kettle got to do with a baby?’1
Birth Control, Sex, and Marriage in Britain 1918-1960

Kate Fisher (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter explores the tension between the proliferation of information about birth control methods (condoms, caps, female pessaries, and forms of abortion) in the early 20th century, and the evidence that many individuals remained bewildered about issues of sex and contraception. The gendered aspects of knowledge acquisition are discussed: whilst men actively aimed to obtain birth control information, many women sought to maintain their innocence by ignoring it, resisting the urge to rectify gaps in their knowledge and adopting an ignorant persona in social situations and personal relationships. Moreover, assertions of complete ignorance, while sometimes exaggerated, are shown to be rhetorical strategies through which respondents drew attention to the difficulties they experienced in obtaining, interpreting, and using the information they acquired. Many struggled to decode euphemisms or distrusted their sources of knowledge. Therefore, despite increased information, a feeling of profound ignorance dominated their approach to sex and birth control.

Keywords:   sex education, condoms, abortion, birth control clinics, sex manuals, Marie Stopes, withdrawal, euphemisms, gender, sexual identity

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