Sex, Health and Deviance in Britain since 1800 - HIST6075

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Module delivery information

Location Term Level1 Credits (ECTS)2 Current Convenor3 2024 to 2025
Combined Autumn and Spring Terms 6 60 (30) checkmark-circle


From early nineteenth century concerns over declining birth rates to the profound impact of the AIDS epidemic in the late twentieth century, this module will examine key political, economic, social and medical issues and events that shaped discourse, attitudes and behaviours surrounding sex and health in Britain since 1800. A central concern of this module will be to untangle the complicated relationship between public discourse and private behaviour. Indeed, while vocal social commentators, scientific and medical communities, the State and the Church increasingly sought to regulate sexual attitudes and behaviours, deviant and tabooed practices such as prostitution, masturbation and sex outside marriage were (and still are) prevalent. In untangling public discourse and private behaviour, the module will consider: the extent to which the regulation of sex and health has been successful; the ways in which attitudes and behaviours changed across the period and varied according to geography, social class, sexual preference, gender and ethnicity; and how they affect our attitudes towards sex and health today. Themes addressed in this module include: Britain's role in the global commercialisation of contraceptive technologies; venereal disease; abortion and infanticide; eugenics; same-sex relationships; and sex crimes.


Contact hours

Total contact hours: 80
Private study hours: 520
Total study hours: 600

Method of assessment

Main assessment methods:
Primary source commentary (1,500 word) – 6%
Critical review of recent literature in the field (2,000 words) – 12%
Research essay (3,500 words) – 14%
Presentation (20 minutes) – 8%
Examination – Sources paper (2 hours) – 30%
Examination – Standard paper (2 hours) – 30%

Reassessment methods:
Reassessment Instrument: 100% coursework

Indicative reading

The University is committed to ensuring that core reading materials are in accessible electronic format in line with the Kent Inclusive Practices. The most up to date reading list for each module can be found on the university's reading list pages:

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1. Understand and critically assess the relationship between sex and health in Britain since 1800.
2. Critically evaluate the role of the Church, the State, the medical profession and others in shaping public discourse and societal norms surrounding sex and health in Britain since 1800, drawing on a range of primary sources.
3. Critically assess the extent to which public attitudes towards sex and private behaviour were regulated throughout this period, by drawing on examples of deviant attitudes and practices.
4. Critically analyse deviant attitudes and behaviours through a series of individual case studies according to geography, class, gender and ethnicity.
5. Situate the history of sex and health in the broader context of nineteenth and twentieth century Britain, and where possible, Europe, North America and Asia.
6. Critically evaluate the notion of deviance, drawing on relevant historical and sociological literature.
7. Develop a systematic understanding of the challenges faced by those considered sexually deviant in the twenty-first century through a detailed knowledge of the history of sex and sexuality.

The intended generic learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1. Write an informed research essay, historiographical review and commentary on documents, under pressure of time.
2. Work critically with primary materials, ephemera, images, advertisements, newspapers, pamphlets, autobiographies, diaries, and contemporary film and video resources, accurately deploying established techniques of analysis and enquiry.
3. Develop the ability to navigate, identify, absorb and react to a substantial amount of material related to the subject in various formats.
4. Develop the ability to manage their own learning, enhancing skills which enable the design and completion of a research essay in which primary and secondary materials are assessed against current academic debates in the field Develop communication skills and the ability to work in a team through class discussions on complex historical problems


  1. Credit level 6. Higher level module usually taken in Stage 3 of an undergraduate degree.
  2. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  3. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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