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The British Society for the Study of Sex Psychology was officially formed in April 1914, ‘for the consideration of problems and questions connected with sexual psychology, from their medical, juridical, and sociological aspects.’ The Society intended to take a rational and non-judgemental approach to questions of sex and sexuality, aspiring to ‘greater sexual freedom in society’. Among its members were medical professionals, writers, researchers, and activists in numerous reformist movements. 

History and Influence

The origins of the BSSSP were an informal meeting of what was first conceived as The British Society of Psychiatry on 12 August 1913. This all-male group, chaired by German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, shared a primary interest in reforming the laws around homosexuality, and included Edward Carpenter and Laurence Housman, who would remain central to its later incarnation.

The Society’s inaugural meeting as The British Society for the Study of Sex Psychology took place on 8 July 1914 at The Medical Society in Chandos Street, London. Over the following decades, it had limited funds and a membership of never more than a few hundred, but nevertheless maintained its ‘sort of disinterested enthusiasm for sexual misconduct in all its forms’, drawing members and visitors from a wide variety of professions and activist interests. It held meetings, hosted speakers, and circulated papers on subjects spanning sex education, birth control, marriage and divorce, homosexuality, obscenity, and sunbathing.

Four individuals were considered its cornerstones: writers and campaigners Edward Carpenter, and Laurence Housman, criminologist George Ives, and naturalist Bertram Lloyd. Suffragist and actor Cicely Hamilton was the group’s first female member, though ‘membership and eligibility for office… on precisely the same terms to women as to men’ was described as a ‘fundamental principle’ of the Society. Indeed, most of the Society’s medical professionals were women, and female representatives from movements including suffrage and divorce law reform were plentiful.

Notable members and speakers

F.W. Stella Browne (feminist and abortion law reformer)

Dr. Charles Vickery Drysdale (engineer and philosopher)

E.M. Forster (novelist and humanist)

Laurence Housman (writer, artist, and activist)

Julian Huxley (zoologist and philosopher)

Jessie Murray (psychoanalyst and suffragette)

Dora Russell (writer and campaigner)

Harriet Shaw Weaver (activist and editor)

Read more

Browne, F. W. Stella, ‘A New Psychological Society’ in International Journal of Ethics, Vol. 28: 2 (January 1918), pp. 266-269

Hall, Lesley A., ‘‘Disinterested Enthusiasm for Sexual Misconduct’: The British Society for the Study of Sex Psychology, 1913-47’ in Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 30:4 (October 1995), pp. 665-686

Records of the British Sexological Society at The Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas

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