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Journal of the History of Sexuality 12.1 (2003) 68-97

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Sexual Reform, Psychoanalysis, and the Politics of Divorce in Spain in the 1920s and 1930s

Thomas F. Glick
Boston University

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THE SEXUAL REFORM MOVEMENT in Spain before the Spanish civil war was the product of a loose coalition of physicians and lawyers influenced by Freudian psychology. These individuals shared concerns about gender inequality and sexual dysfunction, which they viewed as obsolete features of traditional Spanish society. Because the movement began under the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera (1923-30), it became an arena for political expression that, under conditions of democracy, might well have sought other outlets. In 1931 most of the movement's leaders were elected to the Constituent Cortes of the Second Republic, in which they were instrumental in writing the divorce statute of the Republican constitution and in lobbying for its passage. That statute, approved by the Cortes in October 1931, was written by Luis Jiménez de Asúa, a criminologist who soon after became an avowed Freudian, and was argued on the floor by two self-identified Freudian psychiatrists, César Juarros and José Sanchis Banús, an indication that Freudian psychology was not an adventitious phenomenon in Spain of the 1920s and 1930s but was part of the texture of Spanish political life.

The political atmosphere during the dictatorship was not conducive to the founding of a Spanish chapter of the World League for Sexual Reform (WLSR). When it was finally established in 1932, the Spanish chapter was the most socially conservative of the national chapters discussed in these pages. It was one of the few that did not include homosexuality in its agenda. While chapter members were not, for the most part, practicing Catholics, the leadership was sensitive to Catholic issues and sought to build a coalition around a minimalist, rather than a maximalist, social agenda, one based on simple reforms of a pronatalist variety. Even when, during the Spanish civil war, the Republic enacted some maximalist reforms, such as those addressing abortion, homosexuality remained a taboo subject. It is [End Page 68] my objective here to focus on the activities of leading Spanish sexual reformers in the decade before the establishment of the Spanish chapter of WLSR. It was then that all of the chapter's leaders were establishing their credentials in the reform movement.

In the 1920s and early 1930s the core issue for most sexual reformers was divorce. The coalition in favor of allowing divorce comprised sectors of the intelligentsia who were critical of traditional sexual mores in Spain and who favored equal rights for women before the law. This was not an ideologically uniform coalition by any means, and its leading spokesmen reached very different conclusions on the nature of sexual relationships and the respective social roles of men and women. All participants in the debate claimed scientific support for their conclusions, but scientific positions on sexual matters were inevitably informed by social views already formulated. Like Darwinism before it, Freudian psychology had become a creed of the Spanish Left, and elements of it were marshaled in support of long-held liberal or socialist political and social goals. Conservatives, too, were able to enlist Freudian ideas to suit their more restricted notions of women's proper place in society.

In Madrid during the 1920s and 1930s, a number of social movements converged to produce agitation in favor of permitting divorce. Groups promoting feminism, prostitution reform, sex education, mental health, and eugenics all had interests in this area. Moreover, in Spain those involved in any one of these movements tended to participate in or favor the goals of the others. The interlocking leadership of such groups was comprised of a readily identified network of doctors and lawyers that both received Freudian ideas and interpreted them for the general public.

The present discussion focuses on five individuals, all of whom were elected as deputies to the Constituent Cortes of the Republic and participated in the...


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