256 pp., 6 x 9
A volume in the series:
Studies in Print Culture and the History of the Book
What Adolescents Ought to Know
Sexual Health Texts in Early Twentieth-Century America
Traces the emergence and marketing of sex education texts
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.In 1901, Dr.In 1901, Dr.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 still-developing 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 twentieth-century America.
"Any collection strong in adolescent social issues and the history of sex education will find this a fine study."—Midwest Book Review
"[Pierce] has meticulously integrated this study about sex, health, and gender with a study of print and publishing, and scholars and students alike will appreciate the complexity of her insights."—Choice
"Pierce has uncovered hidden facts and portrays them in a condensed, well organized, and easy to follow manner. This book serves as a stern reminder that science is grounded in theory and, as researchers, our goal is to disprove it. However, when our research theory is put into print, the general public reads it as fact, and thus the power of print continues."—Journal of Family & Consumer Sciences
"That Americans became consumers of sex education literature--willing to spend money to purchase texts on sexual health--is a historical development well illuminated by Jennifer Burek Pierce's new book. It adds to the literature on the history of sex education an emphasis on the significance of print: How and why did those pamphlets and books emerge? What made them commercially viable? How did print culture alter the transmission of information about sexual health? What were its local origins and transnational dimensions? Answers to these questions unfold as the author traces the contributions of key figures to sex education in the first half of the twentieth century."—Journal of American History
"[Pierce] convincingly demonstrates that 'the modern practice of reading guidance emerged in connection with medical and reform interests in adolescent reproductive health, before it became the province of experts on children's literature, librarians and publishers' (p. 189). Pierce therefore makes a significant contribution to both our understanding of the history of sex education and the history of print culture in the early twentieth century."—American Historical Review
"This is a story couched in the context of its time--of medical research, religious and moral instruction, politics, race-related matters, and eugenics. Each of the five chapters opens a door to information that suggests there is still more to discover."—Studies in American Culture