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Ellen S. More

Apr 29, 2022

The Transformation of American Sex Education

Mary Calderone and the Fight for Sexual Health

New York University Press 2022

Mid-century America had a problem talking about sex. Dr. Mary Calderone first diagnosed this condition and, in 1964, led the uphill battle to de-stigmatize sex education. Supporters hailed her as the “grandmother of modern sex education” while her detractors painted her as an “aging libertine,” but both could agree that she was quickly shaping the way sex was discussed in the classroom.

Part biography, part social history, The Transformation of American Sex Education: Mary Calderone and the Fight for Sexual Health (NYU Press, 2022) for the first time situates Dr. Mary Calderone at the center of decades of political, cultural, and religious conflict in the fight for comprehensive sex education. Ellen S. More examines Americans’ attempts to come to terms with the vexed subject of sex education in schools from the late 1940s to the early twenty-first century. Using Mary Calderone’s life and career as a touchstone, she traces the origins of modern sex education in the United States from the work of a group of reformers who coalesced around Calderone to create the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) in 1964, to the development and use of the competing approaches known as “abstinence-based” and “comprehensive” sex education from the 1980s into the twenty-first century.

A fascinating and timely read, The Transformation of American Sex Education provides a substantial contribution to the history of one of America’s most intense and protracted culture wars, and the first account of the woman who fought those battles.

Jane Scimeca is Professor of History at Brookdale Community College.

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