Before porn was legal, there was Beate Uhse (1921-2001). Before there were iconic other javelin champions-turned-stunt pilots-turned-sex-shop-proprietors, there was Beate Uhse. And before there was Beate Uhse, there was an erotic underworld in Germany, rife with untrained abortionists, uneducated practitioners, and a whole lot of folks looking for guides to “marital hygiene.” Basically, before there was Beate Uhse, there was Beate Uhse undone: a perfectly fertile breeding ground, if you will, for an assertively proto-feminist stock offering.
Elizabeth Heineman’s Before Porn was Legal: The Erotica Empire of Beate Uhse, recently profiled by New Books in History (which resulted in the most downloaded interview in the site’s existence), takes on the story of the former Luftwaffe pilot, war widow, and black marketer, ultimately placing the erotica entrepreneur at the forefront of Germany’s socio-sexual revolution. Through Uhse’s story, Heineman explores how one mail-order business (spearheaded by Uhse’s self-penned guide to the rhythm method) battled restrictive legislation and conservative mores in order to bring consumers the new products demanded by a burgeoning liberal marketplace that was anxious for sexual self-help. If that doesn’t quite tempt you enough into uncovering more of what’s—well, under the covers—of the book, then Heineman’s innovative reads of oral histories from a nation on the verge of a social, secular, and democratic revolution certainly should. It’s an Horatio Alger tale with a twist of liberal morality; a rags-to-riches coming-of-age foray with a hint of sexy mail-order mystique; and an exhaustive scholarly debut helmed by a badass German ace once banned from the Flensburger tennis club due to “general concerns.”
Doctor says you better have a look: