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21 - Sex in Early Twentieth-Century Berlin

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 April 2024

Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks
University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
Mathew Kuefler
San Diego State University
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Berlin is often described as the site of sexual innovation in both popular and scholarly accounts of the history of sexuality in the twentieth century. Particularly in the inter-war period, the metropolis became an iconic symbol of gender-bending nightlife, an organizational centre for myriad movements of sexual emancipation, and a nexus of scholarly efforts to catalogue and understand human sexual comportment and identity. This chapter argues, however, that while there was certainly an explosion of public, literary, and medical interest in sex, sexuality, and sexual identity in early twentieth-century Berlin, the terms ‘invention’ and ‘discovery’ can oversimplify what was actually a very complex and contentious historical process. Focusing on a few examples of the divisions within queer communities – particularly the conflicts between feminist, lesbian, and transgender activists and the arguments emanating from the masculinist branch of the gay rights movement – it tracks how discourses about the morality of prostitution, the social impact of same-sex love, and racialized biological knowledge shaped definitions of citizenship in ways that still resonate and are still debated. It is this debate, rather than some kind of definitive invention of sexual identity, that makes this period relevant for our present.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2024

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Further Reading

Bauer, Heike, ed. Sexology and Translation: Cultural and Scientific Encounters across the Modern World. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2015.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Beachy, Robert. Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a Modern Identity. New York: Knopf, 2014.Google Scholar
Bruns, Claudia. Politik der Eros: der Männerbund in Wissenschaft, Politik und Jugendkultur (1880–1934). Cologne: Böhlau, 2008.Google Scholar
Bruns, Claudia, and Walter, Tilmann, eds. Von Lust und Schmerz: Eine Historische Anthropologie der Sexualität. Cologne: Böhlau, 2004.Google Scholar
Dickinson, Edward Ross. Sex, Freedom, and Power in Imperial Germany, 1880–1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dobler, Jens. Zwischen Duldungspolitik und Verbrechensbekämpfung: Homosexuellenverfolgung durch die Berliner Polizei von 1848 bis 1933. Frankfurt: Verlag für Polizeiwissenschaft, 2008.Google Scholar
Domeier, Norman. Der Eulenburg-Skandal: Eine politische Kulturgeschichte des Kaiserreichs. Frankfurt: Campus, 2010.Google Scholar
Grossmann, Atina. Reforming Sex: The German Movement for Birth Control and Abortion Reform, 1920–1950. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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Herrn, Rainer. Der Liebe und dem Leid: Das Institut für Sexualwissenschaft 1919–1933. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2022.Google Scholar
Leng, Kirsten. Sexual Politics and Feminist Science: Women Sexologists in Germany, 1900–1933. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2018.Google Scholar
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Matysik, Tracie. Reforming the Moral Subject: Ethics and Sexuality in Central Europe, 1890–1930. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Samper Vendrell, Javier. The Seduction of Youth: Print Culture and Homosexual Rights in the Weimar Republic. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2020.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schwartz, Michael. Sozialistische Eugenik: Eugenische Sozialtechnologien in Debatten und Politik der deutschen Sozialdemokratie, 1890–1933. Bonn: J. H. W. Dietz Nachfolger, 1995.Google Scholar
Smith, Jill Suzanne. Berlin Coquette: Prostitution and the New German Woman, 1890–1933. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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Timm, Annette F. The Politics of Fertility in Twentieth-Century Berlin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.Google Scholar
Tobin, Robert Deam. Peripheral Desires: The German Discovery of Sex. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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