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22 - Sex in Sydney in the Twentieth Century

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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Sydney was the original site of British settlement in Australia and its largest city in the twentieth century. With a reputation for hedonism, Sydney’s identity became entangled, to a marked extent, in its sexual cultures. The preoccupation with whiteness ensured that attitudes to birth control were closely related to settler racial aspirations. State regulation of sex work and female sexuality was also connected to concerns about preserving racial vigour, but it helped to secure a powerful role for organized crime and police corruption in the city’s sex industry. Key Sydney sex radicals and reformers took their place in British imperial and, to an increasing extent, global networks. Gay (or ‘camp’) male subcultures emerged in the middle decades of the century and, after a period of greater freedom during the Second World War, attracted repression in the 1950s. Lesbian subcultures emerged more slowly, but were discernible by the 1960s. At the same time as the contraceptive pill was transforming heterosexual relations, Sydney emerged as Australia’s major centre of gay life as well as a place of notable ethnic diversity and sexual variety. By the end of the century the city’s identity was bound more tightly than ever to its sexual cultures.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2024

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Further Reading

Allen, Judith A. Sex & Secrets: Crimes Involving Australian Women since 1880. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1990.Google Scholar
Arrow, Michelle. The Seventies: The Personal, the Political and the Making of Modern Australia. Sydney: NewSouth, 2019.Google Scholar
Bongiorno, Frank. The Sex Lives of Australians: A History. Melbourne: Black, 2012.Google Scholar
Conor, Liz. The Spectacular Modern Woman: Feminine Visibility in the 1920s. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2004.Google Scholar
Faro, Clive, with Wotherspoon, Garry. Street Unseen: A History of Oxford Street. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2000.Google Scholar
Featherstone, Lisa. Let’s Talk about Sex: Histories of Sexuality in Australia from Federation to the Pill. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars, 2011.Google Scholar
Featherstone, Lisa, and Kaladelfos, A.. Sex Crimes in the Fifties. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2016.Google Scholar
Frances, Raelene. Selling Sex: A Hidden History of Prostitution. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 2007.Google Scholar
Jennings, Rebecca. Unnamed Desires: A Sydney Lesbian History. Melbourne: Monash University Publishing, 2015.Google Scholar
Kirkpatrick, Peter. The Sea Coast of Bohemia: Literary Life in Sydney’s Roaring Twenties. Brisbane: University of Queensland Press, 1992.Google Scholar
Matthews, Jill Julius. Dance Hall & Picture Palace: Sydney’s Romance with Modernity. Sydney: Currency, 2005.Google Scholar
Nowra, Louis. Kings Cross: A Biography. Sydney: NewSouth, 2013.Google Scholar
Reynolds, Robert. From Camp to Queer: Re-making the Australian Homosexual. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2002.Google Scholar
Sendziuk, Paul. Learning to Trust: Australian Responses to AIDS. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 2003.Google Scholar
Spearritt, Peter. Sydney’s Century: A History. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 1999.Google Scholar
Ware, Cheryl. HIV Survivors in Sydney: Memories of the Epidemic. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Willett, Graham. Living Out Loud: A History of Gay and Lesbian Activism in Australia. Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 2000.Google Scholar
Wotherspoon, Garry. Gay Sydney: A History. Sydney: NewSouth, 2016.Google Scholar
Wotherspoon, Garry Through the Gay Looking Glass: The Many Lives of Clive Madigan. Sydney: Carlton, 2020.Google Scholar

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