Frank Bongiorno: The Sex Lives of Australians

Pleasure and repression in Australian sexual politics

Dennis Altman


The Sex Lives of Australians: A History
by Frank Bongiorno
Black Inc., $32.95 pb, 367 pp, 9781863955676


In 1984 Carole Vance edited an important book on female sexuality entitled Pleasure and Danger.Those terms could well have provided a subtitle for Frank Bongiorno’s thorough and engaging history of sex in Australia. ‘Sexuality,’ wrote Vance, ‘is simultaneously a domain of restriction, repression and danger, as well as a domain of exploration, pleasure and agency.’ To which she might have added a domain of increasing surveillance, another theme that runs through Bongiorno’s book. From fears of unwanted pregnancy and the dangers of botched abortion, to herpes and HIV, sex has always carried threats to health and safety. At the same time, it is an arena of pleasure, even though much religious and ideological pressure has been applied to restrict and constrain the possibilities that people might find in full expression of their sexual potential. Even in the comparatively liberated 1920s: ‘Public debate about sex in Australia stressed dangers and pitfalls and gave less attention to sex as a source of pleasure.’

Read the rest of this article by subscribing to ABR Online for as little as $10 a month, or subscribe to the print edition to receive access to ABR Online free of charge.

If you are a single issue subscriber you will need to upgrade your subscription to view back issues.

If you are already subscribed, click here to log in.

Dennis Altman

Dennis Altman

Dennis Altman is a Professorial Fellow in Human Security at La Trobe University. He is the author, with Jon Symons, of Queer Wars (Polity, 2016).

Published in September 2012 no. 344

Leave a comment

Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.

NB: If you are an ABR Online subscriber or contributor, you will need to login to ABR Online in order to post a comment. If you have forgotten your login details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.