Condom Nation: The U. S. Government's Sex Education Campaign from World War I to the Internet

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This history of the U.S. Public Health Service's efforts to educate Americans about sex makes clear why federally funded sex education has been haphazard, ad hoc, and often ineffectual.

Since launching its first sex ed program during World War I, the Public Health Service has dominated federal sex education efforts. Alexandra M. Lord draws on medical research, news reports, the expansive records of the Public Health Service, and interviews with former surgeons general to examine these efforts, from early initiatives through the administration of George W. Bush.

Giving equal voice to many groups in America—middle class, working class, black, white, urban, rural, Christian and non-Christian, scientist and theologian—Lord explores how federal officials struggled to create sex education programs that balanced cultural and public health concerns. She details how the Public Health Service left an indelible mark on federally and privately funded sex education programs through partnerships and initiatives with community organizations, public schools, foundations, corporations, and religious groups. In the process, Lord explains how tensions among these organizations and local, state, and federal officials often exacerbated existing controversies about sexual behavior. She also discusses why the Public Health Service's promotional tactics sometimes inadvertently fueled public fears about the federal government’s goals in promoting, or not promoting, sex education.

This thoroughly documented and compelling history of the U.S. Public Health Service's involvement in sex education provides new insights into one of the most contested subjects in America.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Editorial Reviews

H-Net Reviews
This is a highly readable study about a hot-button issue... Condom Nation contextualizes federal policies within the changing sexual mores of the twentieth century and shows how important it is to look at the story behind sex education campaigns.

— Tamara Myers

H-Education, H-Net Reviews - Tamara Myers

This is a highly readable study about a hot-button issue... Condom Nation contextualizes federal policies within the changing sexual mores of the twentieth century and shows how important it is to look at the story behind sex education campaigns.

Washington Post Book World - Susan Jacoby

Lively historical account... Lord is particularly enlightening about the ways in which race, religion and geography have produced an inconsistent approach to sex education.

Conscience - James Wagoner

An informative and enjoyable read.

Susan Jacoby
…this lively historical account of the U.S. Public Health Service's earnest but ineffectual sex education efforts…is a sobering tale of the ways in which racial and religious biases, unmoored from scientific evidence, can derail a public mission that ought to be dedicated to improving the health of all citizens. Whether the lesson has been learned, or whether unreason will return in future government-funded attempts to teach a particular version of sexual morality, remains an open question.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Lord, a public health historian, argues that the U.S. government has spent the past 90 years trying to give Americans frank sex education, but the power of religious groups and Americans’ own squeamishness in admitting to having premarital sex has thwarted public health officials for nearly all of that time. After an informative, pithy explanation of the origins of the modern Health and Human Services Department and the surgeon general post, Lord documents the government’s sex education efforts, successes and failures decade by decade, in chronological, rather than thematic order. By slogging through a chronological account of sex education, she skips over the opportunity to consider why Americans have had such trouble talking not just about sex education, but about sex itself, and how that unease is at the core of this country’s ambivalence over “aggressive and candid programs promoting sex education” for teenagers. The book functions, at best, as a desk reference, a year by year catalogue of government policy, rather than a substantive discussion of the modern history of American sex education. (Jan.)
Library Journal
The subtitle of this well-written, well-researched book makes its intentions known right away. Lord (acting historian, U.S. Public Health Service), an independent scholar and creator of Beyond Academe, a web site that helps historians find nonacademic jobs, moves easily between and among her themes, showing how the desire to "conflate" medicine and morality "or to set them up in opposition to one another" has "caused incalculable and often irreparable damage to both privately and federally funded sex education programs." Lord's plentiful sources include government documents and a judicious balance of scholarly and popular articles and books. Even her notes, which provide contextual information and suggestions for additional readings, are worth perusing. VERDICT Readers may puzzle over the punny-sounding title, lurid cover, and somewhat glib chapter titles ("Abstinence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder"), but this is a serious, substantial contribution to the social history of American sexual values that anyone who reads deeply in the subject should appreciate. It will appeal to sociologists, educators, policymakers, and historians alike.—Ellen D. Gilbert, Princeton, NJ
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801893803
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Publication date: 11/23/2009
  • Edition description: 20
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 1,172,339
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Alexandra M. Lord received her Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She previously served as a historian with the U.S. Public Health Service.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Table of Contents

1 In bed with the Fed 1

2 The people's war, 1918-1926 25

3 Battling the mad dog, 1927-1940 48

4 Lifting the shadow from the land, 1941-1945 71

5 A false sense of security, 1946-1959 93

6 Making love, not babies or disease, 1960-1980 115

7 Telling it like it is, 1981-1988 138

8 Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder, 1989-2008 162

Epilogue 187

Notes 191

Index 217

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