Biography and Sexual Teachings of Marie Stopes Part 1

About the author of Married Love Marie Stopes, biography and history of her sexual teachings.


MARIE STOPES (1880-1958), Great Britain

At a remarkably young age and during a time when it was extraordinarily difficult for a woman to gain professional recognition (the early 1900s), Marie Stopes became a world-respected paleobotanist. She even persuaded the Royal Society to give her a grant to go to Japan. There she hunted fossils, often in dangerous wilderness, and pursued--but failed to win--a Japanese scientist whom she had met while studying in Munich. She was not only a doctor of science but also a doctor of philosophy. She had studied the fertilization of the ovum by sperm under a microscope. Yet this brilliant scientist--who was, incidentally, beautiful as well, with eyes one of her biographers described as "sexual"--was married for months to a fellow botanist, Reginald Ruggles Gates, before she discovered the cause of an anxiety which had begun on her wedding night--that she was still a virgin, her marriage unconsummated. And moreover, it was only after research at the British Museum that she was able to reach this conclusion. In order to extricate herself from this marriage, Marie had to press a nullity suit which made public Gates's impotence.

Shocked at her own ignorance, and convinced that other women (and men) must be equally ignorant, she wrote one of the foremost marriage manuals of the 20th century--Married Love--while she was still a virgin. It was a strange amalgam of purple prose, suffragist philosophy, and sage advice on lovemaking. Within two weeks, the first printing of the book had sold out, and letters begging for advice, mostly on birth control, were pouring in.

Marie finally lost her virginity at age 37, when she married her second husband, Humphrey Roe, a rich, handsome man of 40 who had been a flier in W.W. I. In 1918 she published her second book, Wise Parenthood, a guide to contraception which came under bitter attack. Three years later, in 1921, Marie and her husband founded the first birth-control clinics in England, financed out of their own pockets. The clinics were designed to attract poor people, who came in droves to learn how to stop having babies. Along with other devices and methods, Dr. Stopes prescribed a high-domed vaginal cap she had developed herself. In that same year, she organized a huge meeting in favor of birth control in Queen's Hall. Ironically, Marie desperately wanted a child but had difficulty conceiving. At last, after one stillborn child, at age 43 she gave birth to a healthy boy.

With fame (and she attracted a good deal of it), she became stubborn, aggressive, and flamboyant. Once she chained a copy of her book Roman Catholic Methods of Birth Control to the font of Westminster Cathedral. In 1930 she wrote to Pope Pius XI, asking that they join forces since they were both on the same side, in fighting "the evil practice of abortion." A few months later, when the pope issued the Casti Connubii attacking contraception, Marie took it as a personal reply. Nothing frightened her--not lawsuits, not the opposition of the Catholic Church, not her friend George Bernard Shaw's contentious letters. Yet despite her advanced thinking in the area of birth control, she had no tolerance for sexual perversions and considered homosexuality an abomination. She also became a fanatic proponent of eugenics and even attempted to prevent her son's marriage because his fiancee wore glasses.

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