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Sex and Syphilis at the Cinema

Venue: Online

No booking required

Anne Hanley (Birkbeck), Peter Fifield (Birkbeck) and Tim Boon (Science Museum)

Please note we are at capacity for this event.

Join us for an online film screening of the rarely seen interwar public-health films Trial for Marriage (1936) and Test for Love (1937). Both address the problem of venereal diseases and the important role that the new VD Service was playing in reducing disease prevalence and breaking down the social taboos and sexual double standards that deprived people—mostly women—of the knowledge to protect themselves against infection. Such VD health-education films packaged up uncompromising morality tales as light entertainment, intending that audiences would identify with one of the protagonists and realise how close they themselves might have come to danger. Some films, such as Test for Love, were produced for female audiences. Others, such as Trial for Marriage, were intended for men. The plots of both films were typical of the genre: a young person falls in with a ‘fast’ crowd, commits a sexual transgression and discovers that they have been infected with syphilis or gonorrhoea. This would be followed by a period of suffering and self-recrimination. But, importantly, the films also promised eventual atonement. Such sexual transgressions would have been morally unforgivable and medically untreatable only a few decades earlier. Although still a grievous social misstep, it was now nothing that a prompt visit to the local VD clinic could not fix.

Dr Anne Hanley (Birkbeck), Dr Peter Fifield (Birkbeck) and Dr Tim Boon (Science Museum) will host a short roundtable/Q&A discussion about the historical social and cultural context in which these films were produced and viewed by interwar cinema goers.

This event is hosted by the Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image. Booking via Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image.




This event is part of the Department of History, Classics and Archaeology's Discover the Past spring 2021 events series, open to the public and students. To see the full list of events, visit the Discover the Past web page.

The Department of History, Classics and Archaeology at Birkbeck has a distinguished tradition as an international centre of excellence. We are the only university department in London to include archaeologists, classicists and historians investigating every period from prehistory to the early twenty-first century. Join us to discover the past and engage with the present across continents and cultures.

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