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'This loathsome subject': Sex education in Progressive-Era America

Posted on:2007-06-05Degree:Ph.DType:Dissertation
University:University of HoustonCandidate:Shah, Courtney QFull Text:PDF
This Loathsome Subject argues that what constituted sex education in the United States differed greatly from one intended audience to the next. Reformers' assumptions about race, class, and gender played a crucial role in the development of a mainstream sex education movement by the 1920s. Reformers used sex education to establish expertise, social control, and segregation during the Progressive Era. The debate between biological and cultural differences permeated both the social debate and the medical debate over sexuality. For instance, using the documents of the National Medical Association, the preeminent organization for black health professionals, my work highlights how alternative institutions opposed scientific racism, and how the categories of class and gender worked in conjunction with or in opposition to categories of race. Examination of "character-building" organizations like the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) and the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) shows how the white, middle-class ideal reflected cultural assumptions about sexuality and formed an aspirational model for upward mobility to those not in the privileged group. In addition, the battle over policing young women's sexuality during World War I pitted middle-class women against their working-class counterparts.;These three examples show how identity shaped beliefs about sexual behavior, education, and even physiology. The intersection between race, gender, and class formed the backbone of Progressive-Era debates over sex education, the policing of sexuality, and the prevention of venereal disease.
Keywords/Search Tags:Sex education
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