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Dirty Words

Dirty Words: The Rhetoric of Public Sex Education, 1870-1924

Robin E. Jensen
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Dirty Words
    Book Description:

    Dirty Words: The Rhetoric of Public Sex Education, 1870-1924, details the approaches and outcomes of sex-education initiatives in the Progressive Era. In analyzing the rhetorical strategies of sex-education advocates, Robin E. Jensen engages with rich sources such as lectures, books, movies, and posters that were often shaped by female health advocates and instructors. Her narrative demonstrates how women were both leaders and innovators in early U.S. sex-education movements, striving to provide education to underserved populations of women, minorities, and the working class. Investigating the communicative and rhetorical practices surrounding the emergence of public sex education in the United States, Jensen shows how women in particular struggled for a platform to create and circulate arguments concerning this controversial issue. _x000B__x000B_The book also provides insight into overlooked discourses about public sex education by analyzing a previously understudied campaign targeted at African American men in the 1920s, offering theoretical categorizations of discursive strategies that citizens have used to discuss sex education over time, and laying out implications for health communicators and sexual educators in the present day.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09017-2
    Subjects: Education, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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

    On August 22, 1996, the 104th U.S. Congress and President William J. Clinton, a Democrat, passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. Better known as the 1996 Welfare Reform Bill, this act drastically altered how and to whom welfare benefits are granted in the United States. What many people do not know is that the Welfare Reform Bill also censored public education about sexual health. The bill included the controversial provision that abstinence-education programs be the only federally funded sex-education curricula in U.S. schools. The act defined abstinence education (known today as “abstinence-only” or “abstinence-only-until-marriage” education) as any...

  5. ONE Engaging Ambiguous Discourse
    (pp. 1-35)

    When Dr. Prince A. Morrow founded the “social-hygiene” movement in the early 1900s, his aim was to teach U.S. citizens how to stop the seemingly exponential spread of venereal diseases. In his bookSocial Diseases and Marriage, Morrow claimed that disseminating information about the dangers of venereal diseases would be the best remedy.¹ He wanted citizens, specifically male citizens, to know about reproductive biology, germ theory, and human physiology so they would avoid infecting themselves and others. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, “social” was a common euphemism for sex; “hygiene” was analogous to what “health” is for U.S....

  6. TWO Championing the Chicago Experiment
    (pp. 36-66)

    In the fall of 1913, over twenty thousand Chicago high school students completed the first public sex-education program in U.S. schools. The program consisted of three lessons designed to inform students about “personal sexual hygiene,” “problems of sex instincts,” and “a few of the hygienic and social facts regarding venereal disease,” respectively.¹ The previous year, the founder of the program and superintendent of Chicago Public Schools, Dr. Ella Flagg Young, had proposed to the Chicago Board of Education “that specialists in sex hygiene who lecture in simple, yet scientifically correct language,” provide such a course in all twenty-one high schools.²...

  7. THREE Propagating Wartime Sex Education
    (pp. 67-90)

    When the Chicago School Board decided not to continue Dr. Ella Flagg Young’s Chicago Experiment after the 1913–14 school year, many Chicago residents probably believed that the city (and the nation) would revert back to talking about and creating sex education using primarily ambiguous language. But the years during and directly before World War I were hardly a return to routine, as the threat of war altered social norms and public expectations. Social-hygiene advocates wisely used the impending war as a justification for providing soldiers with information about sex—information that they argued would allow soldiers to make the...

  8. FOUR Speaking for Women at War’s End
    (pp. 91-114)

    By the end of World War I, Dr. Rachelle Slobodinsky Yarros had traveled throughout the United States giving hundreds of talks on sex education under the auspices of the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) and the American Social Hygiene Association. She provided her audiences with straightforward information about the “prevalence and dangers of venereal diseases and prostitution,” the value in keeping sexual desires under control, and the details of conception and reproduction.¹ In this respect, Yarros was just one of many advocates of public sex education who argued that it was vital for U.S. soldiers to learn how to protect...

  9. FIVE Campaigning for “Separate but Equal”
    (pp. 115-148)

    Directly after World War I, the U.S. Public Health Service, in cooperation with state boards of health and the American Social Hygiene Association, developed and publicized several sex-education campaigns. In 1919, they released “Keeping Fit: An Exhibit for Young Men and Boys.” In 1922, they released “Youth and Life: An Exhibit for Girls and Young Women.” In that same year, they also released “Keeping Fit: For Negro Boys and Young Men.”¹ Each campaign was part of the postwar effort to redesign sex-education programs for white soldiers so they could be used to reach civilians.

    What immediately stands out about these...

  10. CONCLUSION: Making the Case in the Twenty-First Century
    (pp. 149-160)

    In the second decade of the twentieth century, Dr. Ella Flagg Young’s strategically fragmented argumentation strategy helped her to garner support for the first sex-education program in U.S. public schools. She integrated arguments in favor of public sex education into other conversations and used the ideologies undergirding those conversations to convince people of their rationality. Because Young never gave speeches or wrote essays exclusively about sex education, choosing instead to advocate for public sex education in more understated ways, she granted audiences the space to consider her appeals without immediately realizing that they were so doing. By the time they...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 161-178)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 179-194)
  13. Index
    (pp. 195-202)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 203-206)