Condom Nation: The U.S. Government's Sex Education Campaign from World War I to the Internet Hardcover – 23 Nov 2009
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"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."(Publishers Weekly)
"Lively historical account... Lord is particularly enlightening about the ways in which race, religion and geography have produced an inconsistent approach to sex education."(Susan Jacoby Washington Post Book World)
"This fascinating history of the past hundred years of sex education in America explores public and private efforts to eradicate sexually transmitted disease and promote healthy sexual behavior: It also reveals our hang-up, Alexandra Lord observes: 'Americans' uneasiness with sexual behavior.'"(Youth Today)
"Americans have a split on the issue: using a condom is a responsible action, but having the sex that makes using a condom a responsible action, well, that’s irresponsible and immoral. Lord, a former historian for the Public Health Service, has documented this ambivalent stance throughout her fascinating book, which surprises throughout in showing just how little sex education changed through the twentieth century, even though we profited from an increase in scientific knowledge and from improved contraceptive and prophylactic technologies."(Erotica Readers and Writers Association)
"An informative and enjoyable read."(James Wagoner Conscience)
"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)
About 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.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Beginning with the formation of the Marine Health Service, which sought to keep sailors healthy, government agencies have attempted to craft sex education programs that strike a balance between informing the public and avoiding scandal. As Lord deftly outlines in her book, the vast majority of Americans have always wanted to have accurate information on how to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies, as well as expanded knowledge on the range of human sexuality. However, as described in the book, public health practitioners have had to walk a fine line between giving the facts and placating those who might be offended by detailed information on these subjects. Lord also compares and contrasts the public health strategies of the U.S. with other industrialized countries, and the bottom line is that sex education programs in the U.S. are downright ineffective and embarrassing in comparison. The author brings up an outstanding explanation for this in the diversity of the United States vs. these other countries; because the U.S. is so large and diverse even a minority (perhaps ill-informed) faction may carry the numbers needed to make an impact (perhaps negative) on public health.
After reading this book I became even more baffled as to why the U.S. is still so ridiculously prudish about sex and sexuality in 2010. Based on the solid and well-documented research in this book, we as a country seem to actually be going backward on sex education. I'm actually surprised this book did not get more press when it was published--it should have. It's a very well-researched and well-written book on a controversial subject. It is an absolute must-read.
The British Medical Association agrees -- they just honored Condom Nation with two of their 2010 book awards & the judge remarked: 'Who would have thought that a social history of sex education in the US would be such an absorbing page-turner? ... I found this account to be enlightening, entertaining, sobering and enraging."
I couldn't have said it better. I only wish there were a website where I could see all the pamphlets, posters, films etc. mentioned in the book.
Here's to hoping powers-that-be within the US book-award circles don't let the controversial subject matter blind them from considering similar honors for Condom Nation here at home.
There were times where I felt this book vague or not explicit enough, particularly on the history before 1970. The author mentions programs sponsored by the Public Health Service, but often with little on the details of these programs. It is too general to state that the Public Health Service sponsored such and such or that the programs had not changed in twenty years - but we end up knowing very little of the contents. Also different states would alter the contents (censor) of various programs, but again, little is said as to which parts were being altered or expunged. Religious leaders reacted negatively to a film in 1956 called "Baby Doll", but we are not told why they were infuriated.
It is only with the appointment of Everett Koop as surgeon general that the book becomes more rounded. Even though Koop was a Biblical fundamentalist, he was able to separate science from religion. His reports on the growing AIDS epidemic - sent to all Americans via the postal service - were explicit and to the point.
U.S. society does come off as prudish and fanciful with the advent of the "abstinence" programs beginning in the Reagan era - as if teenagers were to suddenly become saints. Surgeon general, Jocelyn Elders, was forced to resign because she spoke positively about masturbation during a speech in 1994. Contrast this with the leader of Thailand who was openly distributing condoms during the 1990's. One can imagine the controversy if an American President, or for that matter the current Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, were to do the same!
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