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Mary, Quite Contrary: Mary Steichen Calderone and the Entangled Ideology of Sixties Era Sex Education

Brafman, Sarah

Dubbed the "grandmother of sex education," Mary Steichen Calderone founded the Sex Information Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) in 1964 at age sixty, making it the first volunteer health organization devoted entirely to educating and disseminating information to adults and youth about positive human sexuality. Until SIECUS' establishment, many health organizations still deemed sex a forbidden subject, viewing it primarily as the root cause for social ills such as venereal disease and obstruction of family values. SIECUS, on the other hand, proudly planted the word "sex" in its title and sought to emphasize the "creative and re-creative functions" not only of sex but also of human sexuality. Calderone's achievements tell the story of an immensely accomplished life; medical director of Planned Parenthood, founder of a new and unprecedented sexual health organization, teacher, advocate, physician, mother, grandmother. While these achievements reveal great personal success, questions as to the role and larger significance of her work and sexual philosophies remain. Where and how do Calderone and her brand of sex education fit into the history of the 1960s? How might her work be contextualized within the framework of the political and social upheaval of the era? How were her attitudes towards, and goals for, sexuality and sex education informed by other philosophies and social movements from that time period? How did her ideology influence ideas and practices of other fields and movements? Finally, how did Calderone's ideology influence the future of sex education? In an era torn between preserving Victorian era middle class values and revolutionizing notions of sexual propriety, SIECUS and Mary Calderone stood a middle ground in a polarized political arena. Yet that center eventually became the focal point of its own controversy, proving that moderation can also be divisive.

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History
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B.A., Columbia University
Published Here
May 13, 2010

Notes

Senior thesis.

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