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"If we can show that we are helping adolescents to understand themselves, their feelings and their needs, then we are doing [a] valuable job": counselling young people on sexual health in the Brook Advisory Centre (1965-1985).

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Rusterholz, Caroline  ORCID logo


First opened in 1964 in London, the Brook Advisory Centres (BAC) were the first centres to provide contraceptive advice and sexual counselling to unmarried people in postwar Britain. Drawing on archival materials, medical articles published by BAC members and oral history interviews with former counsellors, this paper looks at tensions present in sexual health counselling work between progressive views on young people's sexuality and moral conservatism. In so doing, this paper makes two inter-related arguments. First, I argue that BAC doctors, counsellors and social workers simultaneously tried to adopt a non-judgmental listening approach to young people's sexual needs and encouraged a model of heteronormative sexual behaviours that was class-based and racialised. Second, I argue that emotional labour was central in BAC staff's attempt to navigate and smooth these tensions. This emotional labour and the tensions within it is best illustrated by BAC's pyschosexual counselling services, which on the one hand tried to encourage youth sexual pleasure and on the other taught distinctive gendered sexual roles that contributed to pathologising teenage sexual behaviours and desire.In all, I contend that, in resorting to an emotionally orientated counselling, BAC members reconfigured for the young the new form of sexual subjectivity that had been in the making since the interwar years, that is, the fact that individuals regarded themselves as sexual beings and expressed feelings and anxieties about sex. BAC's counselling work was as much a rupture with the interwar contraceptive counselling tradition-since it operated in a new climate, stressed a non-judgmental listening approach and catered for the young-as it was a continuity of some of the values of the earlier movement.



history, medical humanities, sexual medicine, Humans, Adolescent, Sexual Health, Counseling, Sexual Behavior, Emotions, Contraceptive Agents

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Med Humanit

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Volume Title


Wellcome Trust (209726/Z/17/Z)