Oral histories of sexuality, reproductive health and prostitution

Image used to illustrate the exhibtion Gay UK: Love, Law and Liberty, at the British Library. Images copyright LSE Library and Peter Tatchell.
Gay UK: Love, Law and Liberty, free exhibition at the British Library (Images © LSE Library and Peter Tatchell)

We hold a large collection of oral histories that explore changing attitudes to sex, and sexual and reproductive health.

About the collection

A number of oral history collections at the British Library Sound Archive offer  the opportunity to explore changing attitudes to sex, and sexual and reproductive health. A number of the collections contain interviews with those in worlds rarely documented, such as prostitution, and explore themes such as changing attitudes towards homosexuality and birth control.

What is available online?

Observing the 1980s brings together, for the first time, 'voices' from both the Mass Observation Archive and the British Library's Oral History collections. This material offers a unique and inspiring insight into the lives and opinions of British people from all social classes and regions during the 1980s. The interviews from which the clips were selected for the 'Observing the 1980s' Open Education Resource are derived from collaborative oral history projects and include recordings with those involved in key events, such as the Falklands War, the Miners' Strike and the Brixton riots, as well as those reflecting on industry in the 1980s, unemployment and redundancy, and HIV and Aids. The interviews in their entirety are made available on British Library Sounds.

The Listening Project is available on British Library Sounds.   Initiated in 2012, The Listening Project is an audio archive of conversations recorded by the BBC. People are invited to share an intimate conversation with a close friend or relative, to be recorded and broadcast (in edited form) by the BBC and curated and archived in full by the British Library. These one-to-one conversations, lasting up to an hour and taking a topic of the speakers' choice, collectively form a picture of our lives and relationships today - some of these topics include health, sexuality, religion and belief. Edited excerpts from the collection are broadcast regularly on BBC Radio 4 and on local radio stations across the UK and Northern Ireland.

The British Library's LGBTQ Histories website includes an article introducing oral histories of love, identity and activism.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

The Millthorpe Project: Interviews with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans Trade Unionists comprises 10 oral history interviews carried out by the Millthorpe Project in 2008 and 2009. The project sought to illustrate how lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans trade unionists have sought to integrate these two key aspects into their personal and political lives. The interviews were carried out with support from the University and College Union (UCU) and the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

The Hall-Carpenter Oral History archive is a major collection of interviews relating to gay and lesbian experience in Britain. The original oral history project was established in 1985 as part of the Hall Carpenter Archives, which had been set up in 1982. After the closure of the Hall Carpenter Archive the written papers were given to the London School of Economics and the oral history collection, including correspondence and some transcripts, was donated to the National Sound Archive in 1989.

Before Stonewall: a lesbian, gay and transgender oral history is a collection of VHS copies of interviews with members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered communities recalling their experiences from the years before 1969 and the beginning of the Gay Liberation Movement. The Rainbow Television

Collection of Gay/Lesbian Videos is a collection of videos assembled by independent television company Rainbow Network with a view to re-broadcast, drawn from sources all over the world.

The Martyn Taylor collection is a collection of six oral history interviews conducted by the late Martyn Taylor relating to the history and experiences of older gay British men, mostly born in the second decade of the twentieth Century.

The Tony Dean Gay Commercial Scene interviews  is a collection of interviews about London's gay commercial club scene, in the 1960s to 1980s.

The Philip Cox 'Gaywaves' Collection comprise of mainly off-air recordings made between 1979 and 1990, including recordings made in 1982-1983 for use in production of 'Gaywaves', the first British radio programme produced by and for gay men, broadcast from the pirate radio station 'Our Radio'. The collection includes many programmes relating to HIV and AIDS and gay and lesbian issues.

The All Out Production Collection comprises recordings produced by All Out Productions between 1993-2000 for BBC Radio. The majority of the collection consists of the complete series of broadcasts 'Out this Week', a weekly, live programme that highlighted gay and lesbian issues and perspectives on the news. 'Out this Week' was broadcast on BBC Radio 5 Live from 1994-1999. Also donated is the two-part documentary 'You can come out now': which explored the history of gay rights in Britain and was broadcast on Radio 4 in May 1998. The collection includes uncut interviews recorded during the production of the documentary.

Reproductive health

QMWC: Changes in birth control  is a collection of interviews conducted by a group of women medical students from Queen Mary Westfield College in 1993. The study investigated changing attitudes to contraception in the light of the introduction of the contraceptive pill; the impact the Pill had on women's health and life; and changes in attitudes within the medical profession to contraception.

The Lara Marks contraceptive pill interviews is a collection of 53 recordings of interviews with (or talks by) scientists, medical practitioners and lay test participants involved in the development of the contraceptive pill, and two off-air recordings of  radio broadcasts, recorded by Dr Lara Marks and her research assistants between 1994 and 1997.

An interview with Lady Helen Brook, advocate of birth control and founder of the Brook Organization for sexual health advice and services to the under 25's, is included in the National Life Stories project Leaders of National Life.

An interview with Dame Josephine Barnes the first female consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Charing Cross Hospital and the first female President of the British Medical Association, is included in the National Life Stories project Leaders of National Life.


An Oral History of Prostitution is a series of interviews with sex workers and others involved in the sex industry.

Male Order: life stories from boys who sell sex is a collection of taped interviews which gave rise to the publication Male order: life stories from boys who sell sex by Barbara Gibson (London: Cassell, 1995). The subjects are four young men and two transsexuals who are or have been selling sex as a means of survival.

Related recordings

For collections relating to medicine and medical science see the collection guide to oral histories of medicine and science and technology.  For collections relating to HIV/AIDS, health and mental health see the collection guide to oral histories of personal health, mental health and disability.

Further information

See the collection guide to Oral History and webpages for National Life Stories: the oral history charitable trust based at the British Library.

Search the online Sound and Moving Image catalogue to retrieve detailed information for every oral history interview.  For more information on how to search the catalogue and listen to oral history recordings see our 'How to' guide. 

Contact us

Oral History
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom