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What Adolescents Ought to Know

What Adolescents Ought to Know: Sexual Health Texts in Early TwentiethCentury America

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    What Adolescents Ought to Know
    Book Description:

    In 1901, Dr. Alfred Fournier committed an act both simple and revolutionary: he wrote For Our Sons, When They Turn 18, a sexual and reproductive health treatise based on his clinical work at a leading Paris hospital. If this booklet aided adolescent understanding of health, it also encouraged reformers around the world to publish. By 1913, countless works on venereal disease prevention were available to adolescents. During this period, authors wrestled with how to make stilldeveloping scientific information available to a reader also in the process of maturing. What would convince a young person to avoid acting on desire? What norms should be employed in these arguments, when social and legal precedents warned against committing ideas about sex to print? How, in other words, could information about sex be made both decent and compelling? Health reformers struggled with these challenges as doctors’ ability to diagnose diseases such as syphilis outpaced the production of medicines that could restore health. In this context, information represented the best and truest prophylactic. When publications were successful, from the perspective of information dissemination, they were translated and distributed worldwide. What Adolescents Ought to Know explores the evolution of these printed materials—from a single tract, written by a medical researcher and given free to anyone, to a thriving commercial enterprise. It tells the story of how sex education moved from private conversation to purchased text in early twentiethcentury America.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-185-4
    Subjects: Sociology, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    (pp. 1-18)

    In 1901, Dr. Alfred Fournier committed an act both profoundly simple and strikingly revolutionary: he wrote a treatise on sexual and reproductive health for young men, full of cautions and information based on his clinical work at a leading Paris hospital. The publication,Pour nos fils, reflected Fournier’s understanding of the threat represented by syphilis and gonorrhea and urged his adolescent readers to protect themselves against these diseases. The weapon he offered them was abstinence; the reward he promised was a future with a happy, healthy family. If this fifty-page booklet aided adolescent understanding of health and the body, it...

    (pp. 19-62)

    At the age of seventy, French physician Alfred Fournier turned, in the words of one colleague, his “prudent pen” to adolescents’ risk for sexually transmitted infection.¹ The preeminent syphilologist of his generation, Fournier had become convinced that the secrecy and shame surrounding syphilis were conditions that allowed it to flourish.² It followed that communicating broadly, rather than only with other physicians, was essential to disease prevention. For years he had challenged cultural and professional norms that left the general public, particularly young people, ignorant and consequentially vulnerable to the longterm and even fatal consequences of sexually transmitted infection. His profound...

    (pp. 63-88)

    It did not take long for a broader commitment to sexual health education to emerge from Alfred Fournier’s public activism. Between the French doctor’s prestige and his work’s scientific basis, arguments about the need to prevent venereal disease gained currency and attracted individuals to the cause. While hundreds promptly joined the association Fournier founded, others, both in France and abroad, met the recently declared problem with their own talents. These individuals adapted information publicized by the French Society in hopes of communicating with audiences who would not be reached by pamphlets distributed individually in Paris. Both immediately and in the...

    (pp. 89-119)

    Even before the first copy ofDamaged Goodswas sold, American writers and health advocates had begun to instruct adolescents in the new facts of reproductive health. Adult attitudes toward young people’s information needs varied, but they concurred in the importance of collective action and authorship, joining a small but growing number of American social hygiene associations. Activist Anna Garlin Spencer later pronounced nineteenth-century moral education societies the progenitor of American venereal disease prevention groups, but most twentieth-century reformers envisioned themselves as innovators distinguished by their interest in health.¹ Her characterization of continuity obscured the international underpinnings of the later...

  9. CHAPTER 4 WHAT YOUNG READERS OUGHT TO KNOW: The Successful Selling of Sex Education
    (pp. 120-151)

    Neither the difficulties of financing sexual health education nor its progressive mission could forestall reproaches against the growing body of informative treatises. “There is nothing new about the Seven Deadly Sins,” Agnes Repellier wrote in 1916. Her apologia for innocence and decency, “The Repeal of Reticence,” recoiled from the attention that the Purity Movement and related reform efforts gave to sex and the body. Repellier, a prominent writer for theAtlantic Monthly, found the resulting public discourse distasteful: “Why then do so many men and women talk and write as if they had just discovered these ancient associates of mankind?...

  10. CHAPTER 5 BATTLING BOOKS: Censorship, Conservatism, and Market Competition
    (pp. 152-177)

    Even as humanitarian and opportunistic impulses shaped the distinctive print culture of Progressive Era hygiene literature, equally forceful voices countered the aspirations of the genre’s progenitors. The best-known hygiene titles for young readers realized significant circulation in the early twentieth century, and the realities of a growing market inspired imitators as well as opponents of sharing real knowledge about reproduction with adolescents. Challenges to hygiene titles emerged from outside the industry and within. Paul S. Boyer has aptly noted that when considered in its cultural context, “censorship history became considerably more complex and less black and white.”¹ The related early...

    (pp. 178-192)

    Their difficult inception a recent but fading memory, the initial sexual and reproductive health titles of the twentieth century were soon awash in competition. Where Alfred Fournier had once envisioned himself alone, counseling a father to sharePour nos filswith his adolescent sons, there followed any number of publishers who wished to join this conversation and thrust their works into a bewildered parent’s hands. A mere five years after the imaginary and then seemingly idealistic colloquy, the outpourings of writers determined to publish their thoughts about sex for younger readers had reached unanticipated proportions. Much as the sudden surfeit...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 193-226)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 227-238)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 239-240)