Pioneers of Sex Education


Early in our century the right to sexual knowledge reappeared as a public issue. Especially after World War I, many Western countries began to debate the merits of lifting all sexual censorship for adults and of including some sex education in the normal school curriculum. Sex researchers and physicians wrote new explicit sex manuals or offered public lecture programs (see "Sex Research"). Not surprisingly, in the U.S. as well as in Europe, the first advocates of sex education met with considerable opposition. However, their persistent efforts finally led to more rational public attitudes. Since we can list here only a few examples, we have selected three individuals from different fields and three organizations with different goals and approaches. The individuals belong to America's recent past; the organizations are still active today.

Benjamin B. Lindsey (1869-1943)

Benjamin Barr Lindsey served as a judge on the juvenile court in Denver, Colorado, where he became concerned with the connection between poverty and juvenile delinquency. He drafted numerous legislative proposals and contributed greatly to an improved juvenile justice system in Colorado and other states.

His social concerns also led him to lecture widely to popular audiences all over the country and, in 1925 he and Wainwright Evans, a journalist, wrote a series of articles dealing with the sexual problems of adolescents. Collected in a book under the title The Revolt of Modern Youth, these articles created a great deal of controversy, since Lindsey approached unconventional sexual behavior in a rational and nonjudgmental manner. As a result, many conservative political and religious leaders accused him of corrupting the morals of the young. In 1927 his next book The Companionate Marriage (also written with Evans) caused an even greater public outcry. In this book Lindsey advocated, among other things, sex education and birth control information in public schools. In view of the continued sexual oppression of the young, he also proposed a new form of marriage called "companionate marriage" which he defined as "a legal marriage, with legalized birth control, and with the right to divorce by mutual consent for childless couples, usually without payment of alimony".

The book made Lindsey internationally famous. However, while his rather moderate and reasonable proposals were widely supported in the U.S. as well as in Europe, he also found himself again accused of immorality by various conservative religious groups'. His political opponents quickly seized the opportunity to drive him from the bench in Colorado. Lindsey then moved to California where he served as a judge in Los Angeles until his death.

Today Judge Lindsey is largely forgotten, but in his time he was well known all over the world as one of the most engaging and effective spokesmen for sexual reform.

Margaret Sanger (1883-1966)

Working as a nurse with women in the poorer sections of New York City, Margaret Sanger saw a great deal of sexual misery. She soon came to the conclusion that, in order to give her patients effective help, she had to teach them how to avoid unwanted pregnancies. She promptly set out to do so and also began to write about the subject. (It was she who coined the term "birth control".)

Margaret Sanger felt very strongly that every woman should have the right to control her own body and, in 1914, she began to espouse the view in her magazine The Woman Rebel. Of the nine issues that appeared, seven were suppressed by the Federal authorities and Mrs. Sanger was indicted for "sending obscene literature through the mails". However, since she was able to win considerable public support for her work, the case was dismissed in 1916.

During that same year, Margaret Sanger and her sister opened a birth control clinic in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. This clinic was almost immediately closed by the authorities as a "public nuisance". The sisters were accused of having violated the state obscenity laws and, as a punishment, they were sentenced to 30 days in the workhouse. Still, after having served the sentence, Margaret Sanger continued her work undeterred until, in 1929, the Sanger Clinic was raided and the files were confiscated. Again, public support led to an eventual dismissal of the case. Finally, in 1936, a Federal Appeals Court affirmed the right of physicians to prescribe contraceptives "for the purpose of saving life or promoting the well-being cf patients".

In 1921 Mrs. Sanger founded the American Birth Control League, and in 1929 she organized the National Committee on Federal Legislation for Birth Control. Ten years later the League combined with another group to form the Birth Control Federation of America, which in 1942 became the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. In 1953 Margaret Sanger became the first president of the International Planned Parenthood Federation and devoted much of her remaining time and energy to the cause of birth control in Asia.

In spite of Margaret Sanger's great personal success and eventual vindication, there remained legal obstacles to the effective spread of birth control information in many parts of the U.S. even after her death. Federal law still prevented such information from being sent through the mails, and many states retained laws against the use and sale of contraceptives. It was not until 1965 that a Connecticut law prohibiting contraception even within marriage was declared unconstitutional. In view of this Supreme Court decision, Massachusetts in 1966 amended its own law to allow contraception when prescribed by a doctor, but only to married couples. It took another six years to have this amended law also struck down as unconstitutional. Finally, in 1970, the U.S. Congress removed the last Federal restrictions related to contraception.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)

In the course of his long life, Bertrand Russell, the English mathematician and philosopher, made substantial contributions in many different fields of human knowledge and championed a great number of humanitarian causes. All of this is well known and therefore need not be repeated here. However, modern sex educators owe him a special gratitude for his courageous fight for sexual rights and a rational approach to sexual problems.

When Russell's own children were growing up he and his wife founded a coeducational school in which the students were given considerable freedom. His experiences with this school (1927-1932) greatly influenced his views on education. In 1929 he published Marriage and Morals, a book dealing with human sexual relations both inside and outside of marriage. !n this book he argued for more and better sex education of the young, sexual intercourse before marriage, the option of extramarital relations for both husband and wife, and divorce by mutual consent for childless couples. Russell made these proposals because he believed in marriage as a social institution and, in fact wanted to strengthen it by combating ignorance, hypocrisy, and sexual exploitation. In some respects his position was quite similar to that taken two years earlier by Judge Ben Lindsey. Not surprisingly, just like Lindsey, he was quickly denounced as immoral and when, during the Second World War, he came to the U.S., outraged conservative groups turned on him with a vengeance.

In 1940 Russell was appointed professor of philosophy at the City College of New York. However, certain parents of City College students went to court and filed a taxpayer's suit to have the appointment annulled. The parents' lawyer argued that Russell's books were "lecherous, salacious, libidinous, lustful, venerous, erotomaniac, aphrodisiac, atheistic, irreverent, narrow-minded, untruthful and bereft of moral fibre". Moreover, as an individual, the author had condoned homosexuality and led a nudist colony in England. Russell's philosophical writings were dismissed as "cheap, tawdry, worn out, patched up fetishes and propositions, devices for the purpose of misleading the people".

The judge who heard the case agreed that Russell's books contained "filth" and "immoral and salacious doctrines" and promptly denied him the right to teach. In the view of the court, the appointment had been an illegal attempt to establish a "Chair of Indecency" at the college and therefore violated "the public health, safety, and morals of the people". Since Russell himself was not a party to the proceedings, he had no means of reply or redress. The Board of Higher Education in New York did not appeal the decision, because Mayor La Guardia feared the political consequences. Bertrand Russell went on to lecture at Harvard and later at the Barnes Foundation near Philadelphia. Nevertheless, his experience in New York continued to cast a shadow over the rest of his stay in America.

Planned Parenthood

Thanks to the efforts of Margaret Sanger and other champions of birth control, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America was established in 1942. The Federation now has its headquarters on 810 Seventh Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10019. There are also several regional offices around the country as well as affiliated committees and councils in every state of the union. The respective offices are listed in the telephone book of almost every large city.

Planned Parenthood, which has grown considerably over the years, provides reproduction information and voluntary birth control services to the general public. It also trains professionals and paraprofessionals for work in the family planning field.

The International Planned Parenthood Federation is a worldwide organization composed of family planning groups from 79 nations which helps provide birth control services in more than 100 countries. Today the activities of Planned Parenthood represent perhaps the most extensive organizedl effort to bring at least some theoretical and practical sexual knowledge to men and women everywhere.


SIECUS, the Sex Information and Education Council of the United States, was formed as a voluntary health organization in 1964. The members come from various professional disciplines, such as medicine, psychiatry, anthropology, sociology, education, and religion. The organization tries to "establish man's sexuality as a health entity, ... to dignify it by openness of approach, . .. to give leadership to professionals and to society, to the end that human beings may be aided toward responsible use of the sexual faculty and toward assimilation of sex into their individual life patterns as a creative and recreative force."

In conjunction with these efforts, SIECUS has published a number of books, pamphlets, and study guides related to sexual problems and issues a quarterly SIECUS Report. It also provides consultant services to communities and schools and supports a nationwide program of sex education. The SIECUS national headquarters is located at 80 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10011

The National Sex Forum

In 1968 The National Sex Forum was established in San Francisco under the auspices of a religious foundation and soon became internationally known as a center for innovative methods in sex education, sex therapy, and counseling. The Forum produces its own printed materials, videotapes, and educational films which cover the whole spectrum of human sexual activity. They are used in so-called SAR (Sexual Attitude Restructuring) programs which are attended by professionals from many fields, but which are also open to the general public. The films are further made available to medical schools, colleges, churches, and other institutions.

In addition to such practical projects, however, the Forum has also encouraged advanced and specialized research. Therefore, in 1976, The Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality was founded, it is a graduate school for persons wishing extended professional training in the area of human sexuality. The Institute is qualified under California law to grant four academic degrees: Master of Human Sexuality, Doctor of Arts in Human Sexuality, Doctor of Human Sexuality, and Doctor of Philosophy in Human Sexuality. The Institute's comprehensive academic programs, sophisticated instruction methods, and excellent physical facilities make it one of the most important enterprises in the field of higher sex education today.

Both The National Sex Forum and The Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality are located at 1523 Franklin Street, San Francisco, CA, 94109.


[Title Page] [Contents] [Preface] [Introduction] [The Human Body] [Sexual Behavior] [Sex and Society] [The Social Roles] [Conformity & Deviance] [Marriage and Family] [The Oppressed] ["Sexual Revolution"] [Epilogue] [Sexual Slang Glossary] [Sex Education Test] [Picture Credits]