By Sophie Turbutt (@Sophie_Turbutt)
L‘Éducation Sexuelle was a popular sex manual written by French anarchist Jean Marestan in 1910. Marestan trained as a doctor but was forced to quit his studies due to financial hardship; instead, he joined a bohemian circle and wrote for anarchist journals. Harnessing his connections in the movement, he managed to get his sex manual widely promoted in the anarchist press, not only in France but also elsewhere in Europe and the Americas. It was translated into five languages, went through many editions, and sold tens of thousands of copies.
The manual, which was illustrated, included anatomical descriptions of the reproductive organs, advice on puberty, sexual hygiene and venereal disease, and a lengthy discussion of the pros and cons of different contraception methods. He emphasised the need for sexual relationships to be free and equal between genders, with both parties taking responsibility for safe sex. Most notably, Marestan was a big believer in freedom of maternity, which stemmed from his connections to anarchist neo-Malthusian circles who proposed voluntary birth control programmes via sex education classes and free access to contraception and abortion. Marestan reasoned that if people could choose when they wanted to conceive, then women’s health would improve and fewer children would be brought up in destitute families. The influence of Marestan’s sex education efforts was especially remarkable in Spain, where anarchist journals specifically dedicated to sex education operated throughout the 1920s and 1930s. In 1936 the Spanish anarchists entered the Catalan government, where they passed landmark legislation legalising abortion and contraception for the very first time. L’Éducation Sexuelle wasn’t just a sex manual; it was a gateway to reproductive rights.
Cleminson, Richard. “Education, Environment and Sexuality in the Anarchist Movement in Spain.” Recherches & Éducations, 19 (2018): online.
Lora Medina, Alejandro. “Sexualidad, Desnudismo y Moralidad en el Anarquismo Español de los Años Treinta: De los Debates en la Prensa a la Aplicación de la Ley del Aborto Durante la Guerra Civil Española.” Hispania, 78:260 (2018): 817-846.
Sonn, Richard. “‘Your Body is Yours’: Anarchism, Birth Control, and Eugenics in Interwar France.” Journal of the History of Sexuality, 14:4 (2005): 415-432.
Image: Jean Marestan, L’Éducation Sexuelle, 8th Edition (Paris: Editions de la ‘Guerre Sociale’, 1911).