1913: Marie Stopes claims ignorance of sex

Marie Stopes (1880-1958) was a Scottish-born botanist and author. She became famous for promoting sex education for women and awareness of female contraception, opening the first birth control clinic in Britain.

Stopes graduated with a bachelor’s degree in botany from University College in London before her 21st birthday. Within two years she had also earned a science doctorate and a PhD. In 1911, she married Reginald Ruggles Gates, a Canadian scientist, but within a year their political differences and personal incompatibility had taken a toll on their relationship.

In 1913 Stopes sought the dissolution of her marriage to Gates. When seeking annulment, Stopes made some astonishing claims. She swore that the marriage had not been consummated, mainly because Stopes was unaware what sexual intercourse actually was. She claimed to have discovered the reality of her situation after visiting the museum and reading an anatomical text.

Stopes was medically tested and discovered to be virgina intacta. She was granted a divorce in 1916. Two years later she penned her controversial but groundbreaking sexual guide, Married Love.

Stopes regularly asserted that her motive for educating married women was to spare them the misery of sexual ignorance that she had endured. Some historians and biographers, however, view Stopes’ claims of marital ignorance with scepticism.

Source: Various, including William Garrett, Marie Stopes: Feminist, Eroticist, Eugenicist, 2008. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.