The Great Depression through the 1940’s

By Chelsea Mageland

The Great Depression (1929-1939)

Birth Control Advertisement. Click to go to it's source website.

The Great Depression changed the purpose of dating during the 1930’s (Hill, 2008).  The original goal of dating was to find one’s future husband or wife, and it became a way of socializing and entertainment.  Hill (2008) explains this shift due to the “acceleration of the emphasis on youth” from the 1920’s.  The automobile also contributed to this change, as young adults and teenagers would borrow their parents’ car, park it in an isolated area with their date, and engage is sexual activities.

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Because the 1930’s was a time of economic hardship, many people felt it was crucial to keep the size of their family fairly small, and birth control became more and more popular during this time (Tone, 1996).  There was a “birth control boom” in the 1930’s.  This shows the gradual changes that had been occurring since before 1900, when because of religious reasons birth control had been illegal, to the 1910’s and 1920’s when illegal clinics existed, to the 1930’s where it was not only legal, but greatly advertised and became a popular market especially targeted at women (Tone, 1996).  Views toward (heterosexual) sexual behavior were continuing to become more liberal, however this was not the always case for homosexuality.  Many neo-Freudian psychologists saw homosexuality as being a problem that was caused by a mental illness (Wake, 2008).  In the 1930’s and ’40s, some American psychiatrists and psychologists used methods such as psychotherapy and even electroshock therapy to try to “treat” or “cure” homosexuality (Chiang, 2010).

The 1940’s

The 1940′s continued on the more liberalized ideal towards sex: that it didn’t just have to be for reproductive purposes (eNotes, 2011).  The Kinsey Reports, which I will go into more detail in the Fifties, showed America a more realistic depiction of the sexual behavior that was occurring (Johnson, 1997).  Sex was seen more as as a pleasurable activity; we see this as it had a stronger presence in movies and magazines, as well as with the growing popularity of contraception that began to take off in the 1930′s (eNotes, 2011).


Chiang, H. H. (2010).  Liberating sex, knowing desire: scientia sexualis and epistemic turning points in the history of sexuality.  History of Human Sciences, 23(5), 42-65.

eNotes.  (2011).  1940′s Lifestyles and Social Trends.  Retrieved from

Hill, C. A. (2008) Human Sexuality: Personality and social psychological perspectives.  Retrieved from

Johnson, P. (1997).  A history of the american people.  New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

Old Magazine Articles.  (2008).  Sex During the Thirties.  Retrieved from

Tone, A.  (1996).  Controlling reproduction: an American history.  Retrieved from,+Andrea.+1996.+%E2%80%9CContraceptive+Consumers:+Gender+and+the+Political+Economy+of+Birth+Control+in+the+1930s.%E2%80%9D+Journal+of+Social+History+29.+485-506.&source=bl&ots=Sb5qYq07fR&sig=w72uabS8ZsDJGGz2O2zpcXVzOJE&hl=en&ei=lnfTTrWnLsLosQLWiKXbDg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CB0Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=illegal&f=false

Wake, N.  (2008).  Sexuality, intimacy, and subjectivity in social psychoanalytical thought of the 1920s and 1930s.  Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 18, 119-130.

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