Prescription for Heterosexuality

Prescription for Heterosexuality: Sexual Citizenship in the Cold War Era

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Prescription for Heterosexuality
    Book Description:

    In this lively and engaging work, Carolyn Lewis explores how medical practitioners, especially family physicians, situated themselves as the guardians of Americans' sexual well-being during the early years of the Cold War. She argues that many doctors viewed their patients' sexual habits as more than an issue of personal health. They believed that a satisfying sexual relationship between heterosexual couples with very specific attributes and boundaries was the foundation of a successful marriage, a fundamental source of happiness in the American family, and a crucial building block of a secure nation.Drawing on hundreds of articles and editorials in medical journals as well as other popular and professional literature, Lewis traces how medical professionals defined and reinforced heterosexuality in the mid-twentieth century, giving certain heterosexual desires and acts a veritable stamp of approval while labeling others as unhealthy or deviant. Lewis links their prescriptive treatment to Cold War anxieties about sexual norms, gender roles, and national security. Doctors of the time, Lewis argues, believed that "unhealthy" sexual acts, from same-sex desires to female-dominant acts, could cause personal and marital disaster; in short, says Lewis, they were "un-American."

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0638-5
    Subjects: Sociology, History, Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    The January 17, 1966, issue of theJournal of the American Medical Association(JAMA) included a “Special Communication” from psychiatrist William F. Sheeley, the former head of the American Psychiatric Association’s General Practitioner Education Program, a committee devoted to preparing physicians to deal with the psychological problems of their patients in general practice. Sheeley addressed jama readers on the topic “Sex and the Practicing Physician.” “Since ancient times and before,” he began, “people have turned to the family physician for help with problems affecting their sex lives.” In current times, Sheeley continued, distressed patients regularly consulted their trusted family doctors...

  5. Chapter 1 American Physicians and Sexual Defense
    (pp. 13-36)

    “Civil defense in this country becomes a very serious problem and responsibility of the doctor of medicine,” wrote physician Lawrence Drolett in theJournal of the Michigan State Medical Societyin 1955. “It is our duty as physicians to be prepared to render a heroic service to the people of our nation in the event of a disaster, either of local or national significance.”¹ Many of Drolett’s colleagues agreed that, in terms of both preparation and response, physicians had a special burden to bear in civil defense. Their medical training, of course, made physicians well equipped to manage the injuries...

  6. Chapter 2 Femininity, Frigidity, and Female Heterosexual Health
    (pp. 37-70)

    June Cleaver has become the cultural icon of 1950s American womanhood. The fictitious wife and mother on the television programLeave It to Beaver, she was the model of the white, middle-class, suburban homemaker in the mid-twentieth-century United States. With hair perfectly coiffed, aprons neatly starched, pies freshly baked, and a house that was always in order, June Cleaver set a high standard for American women. Although a number of historians and personal memoirs have demonstrated that the Cleaver household was more fantasy than fact, the ideal that the Cleaver family modeled has been emblazoned upon the American cultural memory....

  7. Chapter 3 Masculinity, Sexual Function, and Male Heterosexual Health
    (pp. 71-94)

    “Kent isn’t one bit like the average man,” reported Jan, a frustrated wife featured in the May 1963 issue of theLadies’ Home Journal. “He’s cold — sexually cold, I mean.” In other ways, Jan conceded, Kent lived up to her expectations of an attentive spouse. “He is extra good about opening doors for me, pulling out my chair, remembering holidays,” she acknowledged. “But if we make love three or four times a month, Kent is satisfied.” She, however, was not. On their recent wedding anniversary, Jan “put romantic records on the hi-fi, candles on the dinner table, [and] wore a...

  8. Chapter 4 The Premarital Pelvic Examination
    (pp. 95-112)

    In 1956 Henry B. Safford, the regular medical advice columnist for theLadies’ Home Journal, related the story of a couple who came to his practice three months after their marriage, desperate for his help. After first talking with the husband and wife individually and as a pair and then performing a thorough gynecologic exam on the wife, Safford concluded that the couple’s troubles could be traced to a variety of factors inhibiting the wife’s sexual function. The physical condition of her excessively rigid and intact hymen was compounded by her fears of pregnancy and a deplorable lack of adequate...

  9. Chapter 5 Artificial Insemination and the American Man
    (pp. 113-144)

    In December 1953Science Digestfeatured an article by popular science writer Watson Davis titled “10,000 Test-Tube Babies.” As the title indicates, Davis estimated that in the preceding fifteen years, approximately 10,000 American children had been conceived through the process of artificial insemination with donor semen, or AID. For women whose husbands were infertile, Davis explained, aid was becoming an alternative to adoption that would enable them to experience the joys of biological motherhood by being inseminated with the semen of an anonymous donor.¹ In just three pages, Davis sketched the legal, medical, and moral parameters that surrounded the use...

  10. Epilogue
    (pp. 145-152)

    In December 1965 Max Levin wrote a special article for theNew England Medicine titled“The Physician and the Sexual Revolution.” A professor neurology at New York Medical College, Levin’s stated intent was from the standpoint of emotional health, the current sexual with its emphasis on freedom and permissiveness for the adolescent.” Overall, his assessment of the sexual revolution was unapologetically Distinguishing between freedom of sexual thoughts and freedom action, Levin blamed Kinsey and other “scientific” researchers for era” and its “new set of values,” particularly the idea that “premarital sex experience tends to increase the chances of marital happiness.”...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 153-184)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 185-220)
  13. Index
    (pp. 221-228)