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Sexuality, parenthood and population
Sexuality and parenthood encompass some of the most ordinary and yet most profound...
Sexuality and parenthood encompass some of the most ordinary and yet most profound experiences that life has to offer. In this unit, we look at how attitudes to parenthood and sexuality and the links between the two have changed, with specific reference to the fertility decline that began in the mid-nineteenth century.
By the end of this unit you should be able to:
- use a feminist historical approach to critically examine theories about how and why fertility decline in Britain occurred and to explore the importance of gender and power in reshaping parenthood and sexuality in social policy and personal lives;
- use histories of marriage, sexuality, parenthood, birth control and population policy to illuminate the connections between procreative sexuality, personal lives and social policy, in particular those relating to fertility decline in Britain between the 1860s and the 1920s;
- focus on parenthood and sexuality within marriage as the unmarked category, the norm against which other sexualities and parenthoods are defined;
- demonstrate the use of a historical approach to explore the specificities of a particular time and place in the past in order to illuminate processes of social change.
- Current section: Introduction
- Learning outcomes
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Explaining fertility decline from a feminist perspective
- 3 Social policy and its contexts during the fertility decline
- 4 Conclusion
- 5 Further resources
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Sexuality, parenthood and population
Sexuality and parenthood encompass some of the most ordinary and yet most profound experiences that life has to offer. Until recently these two domains were intricately linked, and the idea that it is possible and desirable to have sex solely for pleasure without risk of pregnancy or having children is a relatively new one. This split between sexuality and parenthood has come about through a myriad of interlinking social changes, including shifting social relations and attitudes to sexuality, and widening access to reliable contraception and legal abortion.
In this unit we look back at a time when sexual practices leading to conception were the norm, when the risk of pregnancy was an integral part of heterosexual sexualities, and when heterosexual sexuality and parenthood were inextricably connected. We will examine these interrelationships through the phenomenon known as the fertility decline, when couples in increasingly significant numbers deliberately began to limit the number of children in their families. We will draw upon a feminist theoretical perspective which places gender divisions and constructions of heterosexuality at the centre of its analysis. Class, ethnicity and other divisions are also integral to social policy and personal lives, sexuality and parenthood, and they will be explored to some extent. However, it is inequalities of gender that are highlighted and developed most fully.
This unit is an adapted extract from the course
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Originally published: Wednesday, 13th July 2011
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