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Beate Uhse, who has died aged 81 of a lung infection, is credited with almost single-handedly revolutionising her fellow Germans' post-war attitude towards sex. She was inspired, she said, by the idea that you should "take people for what they are, and give them what they want, within certain boundaries".
She insisted that she was in the business of erotica - and was not a crusader for women - but her no-nonsense pragmatism towards sex was undoubtedly necessary in post-Hitler Germany, which had a lot of un-learning to do. For years, Nazi theory had taught that contraception was the greatest evil, and, even in the late s, many men still believed it was more hygienic to have sex with a blonde than with a dark-haired woman.
Uhse's role as a sex entrepreneur began shortly after the war when, following a brief spell in a British prison, she settled in the north German village of Bradup. She became a door-to-door saleswoman offering buttons and children's toys, but, in , recognised a more lucrative gap in the market. Three homeless and unemployed neighbours, made pregnant following the return of their husbands from war, went to Beate for advice. Her doctor mother had taught her about the Swiss Knaus-Ogino contraceptive method, which was practically unknown, having been banned under the Nazis.
She borrowed a typewriter and copied out the details. In exchange for 5lbs of butter, a local printer agreed to produce 2, copies of "Text X", which she sold for two Reichsmarks a piece a pair of shoes cost around Within months, she had sold 32, leaflets.
In , at the age of 32, Uhse founded a mail order firm in Flensburg, offering reasonably-priced contraceptive devices and literature for the purpose of "marital hygiene". During the s, the variety of merchandise increased dramatically to include Parisienne lingerie, so-called minute creams, Cythera Cocktails, the Nous-Deux-Spezial Praline and the bath potion Ariadne H6. In , by now a millionaire, Uhse opened the world's first sex shop in Flensburg to huge public approval, cautiously naming it the Institute for Marital Hygiene.