THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Copyright (c) 1996, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: Monday, July 15, 1996 TAG: 9607150031 SECTION: FRONT PAGE: A1 EDITION: FINAL SERIES: SEX EDUCATION HOW IS IT WORKING? SOURCE: BY LORRAINE EATON, STAFF WRITER LENGTH: 331 lines
The first sex education movement emerged from an idea that shocked the late-Victorian sensibilities of many Americans - that sex for pleasure might be acceptable.
It was around 1890 and, unpleasant as it might have been, these early sex educators thought that the Victorian silence about sex must be broken. America's youth needed to know that sex was for procreation within a marriage, period.
Through these conflicting schools of thought, organized sex education in America was conceived.
In the home or in the school? That was an early quandary. So was whether to separate girls and boys. And on top of all this, sex educators had an uneasy feeling that by talking about sex, they might even encourage passion, a concern that has lingered for nearly 100 years.
``Society had a pretty negative thrust toward sex ed,'' said Howard J. Ruppel Jr., executive director of the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists.
In 1905, the privately funded American Society of Sanitary and Moral Prophylaxis, a group formed to halt the spread of venereal disease, suggested that only boys needed formal training on sexual physiology and hygiene. If schools taught sex ed, printed materials should be used with great discretion.
The presses, meanwhile, were rolling out information about biology and human sexuality. College students peddled all-purpose encyclopedias door-to-door, with entries on everything from how to heal livestock to onanism, a euphemism for masturbation.
Meanwhile, trucks carrying 35 mm projectors kicked up dust along rural roads all over the country, showing films on sexual hygiene at community centers, schools and other public meeting places, said Rick Prelinger, a New York City film archivist. The road shows were particularly popular in the rural South, where the illiteracy rate was higher.
The media was so swamped with sexual material that in 1913, the popular journal Current Opinion proclaimed that it was ``Sex O'Clock in America.''
Still, ``in the early 1900s only a few schools offered sex education,'' said William L. Yarber, a human sexuality professor at the University of Iowa.
In 1912, the National Education Association endorsed public school sex education. Two years later, it called for training for ``sex hygiene'' teachers ``to assure a safe moral point of view.''
But not until the United States entered World War I did sex ed gain national attention. The Victorian silence was shattered as sex education became an issue of national security.
In the fall of 1917, the year that the United States entered World War I, the Army called in the first big draft quota, and military and public health officials awakened to a sonorous reveille. Nearly 40 percent of the draftees were infected with venereal disease - unfit to serve.
``It requires from two weeks to six or eight or 10 weeks or even longer to restore them to such physical condition that they are of some use to the Army,'' Maj. William F. Snow of the Army's Medical Reserve Corps, told a Senate subcommittee on military affairs in June 1918.
In 1919, soldiers infected with VD cost the Army about $15 million, the equivalent of $135 million today.
The problem, Snow said, was a lack of education about VD transmission, except from traveling ``charlatans'' who promised easy cures. It was a grave situation that couldn't be ignored - a military problem with a civilian basis.
The bill being considered the day Snow testified created the Interdepartmental Social Hygiene Board. It gave colleges $300,000 to develop social hygiene curricula stressing prevention.
The Public Health Service teamed up with the U.S. Bureau of Education to conduct a survey of sex education in the nation's high schools. And the Health Service produced reels of films and reams of sex-education material, including the ``Manual on Sex Education in High Schools.''
The Victorians would have been horrified, but the Board's work won support from many groups, including the national Parent-Teacher's Association and the Congress of Mothers.
``The pressures (of war) made it possible to do things that were not possible during peacetime,'' said Martin S. Pernick, a professor and public health historian at the University of Michigan. ``There were more VD casualties than battle casualties. . . . Military necessity carried the day.''
But the young draftees weren't the only congressional concern. Leaders also were wrestling with disease spread by rampant prostitution and ``the girl problem.'' Caught up in the romance of the war and a vague feeling of patriotism, teenage girls sought sex with men in uniform. The Committee on Protective Work for Girls hired 65 female officers to patrol the woods and streets outside military camps and round up the wayward teens.
``They take them home and tell their mothers to keep them home and look out for them,'' Raymond B. Fosdick, chairman of the Commission on Training Camp Activities of the War Department, told the U.S. House committee in 1918.
Another official detailed several cases of ``the girl problem,'' including that of a 12-year-old ``found about the streets of Norfolk late at night with sailors. She was not diseased, but was of immoral habits, feeble-minded, and degenerate. She was accustomed to amuse groups of sailors by dancing naked before them and so was continually in danger of becoming a disease menace.''
Again, the culprit was identified as a lack of education.
``The civilian population . . . must be educated,'' Dr. W.S. Rankin, secretary of the North Carolina State Board of Health, told a Senate committee.
In an exchange with oddly modern tones, Sen. George E. Chamberlain, chairman of the subcommittee on military affairs, asked: ``Do you not think one reason for the spread of this disease is the modesty which prevents a parent frequently from advising a son or a daughter as to the sexual relations at all?''
``I am sure of it,'' Snow replied.
By 1920, curricula on the prevention of VD were in place in schools and universities in 28 states, and the Social Hygiene Board was working to increase that number.
By 1940, school administrators and the U.S. surgeon general came out in favor of sex ed. The U.S. Public Health Service called the need for sex ed in the schools ``urgent,'' and warned school officials that it was bound to be controversial but that they should be persistent.
World War II, with its massive war machine at home and thousands of fathers fighting overseas, posed another threat to the American family. Fathers were gone, mothers were working in war factories, and teenagers were getting into trouble.
``During World War II, the borders of morality melted away,'' Prelinger said, and the ``girl problem'' resurfaced.
VD was again an issue of national security, and the government resumed production of anti-VD films, posters and pamphlets for civilian and military use. Throngs of civilians and soldiers watched these sexually explicit films, including one produced by John Ford called ``Sex Hygiene.''
There was little public outcry about the federally produced films, Pernick said. ``No one disagreed with the messages, which were very straightforward - chastity, monogamy, impressing children with the terrors of VD.''
But, Pernick said, there was ``considerable debate about whether the message was counter-productive. There was a sense that no matter what you tell teenagers about sex . . . it gets them thinking about it.'' Some believed that ``suppression of information was the best way to promote teenage celibacy.''
The old fears were lingering.
In the wake of the war, producing educational films for America's classrooms became big business. More than 200 were produced between 1945 and 1960, but only a few of these were purely sex ed. Most focused on dating, marriage and how to be popular.
After two world wars and the Great Depression, they were ``trying to teach kids to be kids again,'' Prelinger said.
On the ``plumbing'' side, Walt Disney came out with ``The Story of Menstruation.'' ``Human Reproduction,'' was produced by McGraw-Hill, the big textbook publisher, and was widely used in schools, including those in Norfolk.
In the film, a father and mother sit in a living room wondering what in the world they will say when their child asks about sex. Although animation and models illustrate the human reproductive system and the process of a normal birth, the film would later lead to Virginia's first regulations on sex education.
The 1940s also brought a change of philosophy - from an anti-sex, just-the-facts approach to a broader discussion of human sexuality that took into account personal and family relationships.
``No longer was the sole purpose repression of sexual activities and thoughts. Sex education was now expected to help contribute to the long-term sexual adjustment of individuals,'' said Lynn R. Penland in the April 1981 edition of the Journal of School Health.
Still, few educators dared call the subject ``sex education.'' Instead, Penland said, it was taught under titles like ``homemaking'' and ``mental hygiene.'' The thinking was that the better the program, the less obvious it would be.
In the the 1950s, about 25 percent of females under age 18 were sexually experienced, according to The Alan Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization that studies reproductive issues. And in 1955, the American Medical Association and the NEA teamed up to publish a popular series of five pamphlets for sexually active young adults.
Norfolk Public Schools in 1953 developed a plan, in concert with the Health Department, to expand on the human reproduction lessons taught in high school biology class. But they didn't dare call it sex ed. Dubbed ``human growth and development'' it included lessons, taught by city police officers, on how to thwart sexual harassment, and lessons on VD taught by public health workers.
Teachers didn't mention abortion (it was still illegal) or much on birth control. The message was abstinence, and ``we couldn't actually talk about human intercourse in the classroom,'' said Walter B. Clay, 67, a teacher and top health administrator in Norfolk's public schools for more than 31 years.
``If questions came up, teachers were directed to say, `This is a topic we cannot discuss. It is too controversial,' '' Clay recalled.
Few parents opted their children out of the classes, Clay said.
But in 1954, a group of Northern Virginia parents complained to the General Assembly that ``sex education'' films were being shown in secondary school science classes. The film cited was none other than ``Human Reproduction,'' the animated film from the 40s.
The result was that every education aid - every film strip, every book, every pamphlet - had to be approved by the State Board of Education. Even this caused trouble. Groups in support of sex ed questioned why some materials were deemed inappropriate. In 1963, the state board adopted a detailed procedure. Under the guidelines, 114 items were approved for use in 28 school districts.
The 1960s was a decade of great divide.
A 1964 Perdue poll of 1,000 teenagers revealed that few - 32 percent of girls and 15 percent of boys - learned about sex issues from parents. Far more - 53 percent of the boys and 42 percent of girls - found out about sex from peers. Only 6 percent learned from courses in school, and 88 percent said that they wanted more information.
According to Yarber, there was a shift in the focus of sex education from teaching abstinence to teaching facts about the consequences of sexual promiscuity.
Despite widespread support, sex ed came under serious attack. Groups with names like Mothers Organized for Moral Stability, or MOMS, condemned the programs as communist and immoral. Congress considered a bill that barred the use of federal funds for sex-ed programs and teacher training.
The Wall Street Journal reported that when an Oakland television station asked whether sex ed was a communist plot, more than half of the 1,385 viewers who called in said ``yes.''
Earl N. Carson, 60, of Suffolk, a teacher and administrator in public schools in Western Tidewater for 32 years, believes that sex ed got its start in the 1960s.
Before that, there was no sex ed, he said. ``We always showed them films for health, but we never talked about sex. And at that time, we never had kids talk about sex.''
Sometimes boys would venture a question and he'd answer it honestly, always including a lecture on respect. ``The '60s, that's when things started happening,'' Carson said.
By 1969, two out of three school districts offered sex-education classes, although the quality was uneven.
``Things that were made in the '40s, '50s and earlier were still being shown in the 1960s and 1970s,'' Pernick said. ``There was kind of a cycle. Because the field was controversial, it was under-funded. Because it was under-funded, they couldn't update the material. This made it very difficult for kids to connect with'' what they were seeing.
It was a local problem, too. In 1971, the state rejected Norfolk Schools request for approval of a pamphlet titled ``Sex Education in the Home,'' partly because it was 23 years old.
In 1970, about 50 percent of the nation's teenagers were sexually active. Chesapeake, Norfolk and Newport News had materials approved for teaching sex education in grades five through 12, Hampton for grades seven through 12 and Suffolk for grades seven through nine.
The controversies were still burning. Parents that year pushed the Virginia General Assembly to consider several bills to regulate sex ed in public schools. The State Board adopted a policy flatly stating that local districts should decide whether to teach sex ed and that any sex education program had to be developed with citizen, parent and teacher input.
At the close of the decade, 30 school divisions in Virginia offered Family Life Education courses and 14 had plans on the drawing board. Within a decade, these courses would be mandatory.
In the 1980s, teenage sexual activity began leveling off. But the emergence of AIDS, like the earlier VD epidemic, prompted action. Most states mandated some form of sex education.
The Virginia General Assembly in 1987 directed the State Board of Education to draw up guidelines for a Family Life Education program for kindergarten through 12th grade. Praise and criticism for it came from all directions.
The Catholic Diocese of Richmond objected that the reasons for saying ``no'' to sexual activity were largely negative and wanted to also stress ``the positive attributes of mutually committed marital relations. . . .''
The Virginia Nurse's Association strongly objected to the guidelines on discussion of birth control methods other than abstinence. ``We certainly don't think it's sufficient to encourage students to `discuss these with appropriate adults in your family or community.' ''
The Commonwealth Girl Scout Council of Virginia gave it a nod, as did the Capital District Kiwanis International.
Local parents jammed meeting halls to assail the proposal. One Virginia Beach parent called the guidelines ``a godless manual, 3 inches thick.''
But a 1988 poll found that 73 percent of Virginians supported sex ed. In a heated session, the General Assembly in 1988 mandated that every school district offer Family Life Education, including lessons on human sexuality, the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, human reproduction, contraception and the value of postponing sexual activity until marriage.
In 1913, the Current Opinion writer wondered, ``Has it struck sex o'clock permanently, or will time soon point to another hour?''
Clearly, the clock stopped.
In 1994 and 1995, 27 states considered bills to limit sex education. Virginia lawmakers in 1995 introduced bills to reverse the ``opt-out'' procedure, instead making students ``opt in,'' and another bill to erase the state mandate.
In the age of AIDS, ``a lot of underlying issues are the same,'' Pernick said, ``especially the tensions between providing kids with information to help them make their own decisions, or providing information with the goal to make them make what you consider the right decision.
``The tension,'' he said, ``is always there.'' MEMO: * Sources: ``No Magic Bullet'' by Allan M. Brant; Martin S.
Pernick, professor and public health historian, University of Michigan;
transcripts from U.S. Senate and House hearings, 1918 and 1920; ``Sex
Education in the United States,'' by Lester A. Kirkendall; Sexuality
Information and Education Council of the United States; Rick Prelinger,
film archivist; Virginia Department of Education.
INSIDE: Hampton Roads youths speak frankly about the pressure to be
DAILY BREAK, E1 ILLUSTRATION: PRELINGER ARCHIVES photo
HISTORY OF SEX ED
1892 - National Education Association passes a resolution
supporting moral education in school, claiming, ``Vice and pauperism
are a greater menace to free institutions than even illiteracy.''
1906 - Ladies Home Journal breaks the traditional silence and
publishes a series on venereal disease; 75,000 cancel subscriptions.
1912 - NEA endorses public-school sex education.
1917 - The Army calls in its first big draft quota. Forty percent
1918 - The Parent-Teacher's Association praises the government
production of sex hygiene films.
1919 - U.S. Public Health Service endorses sex ed, saying, ``As
in many other instances, the school must take up the burden
neglected by others.''
1920 - Censors prohibit commercial exhibition of government-made
1922 - U.S. Bureau of Education finds that 46.6 percent of all
secondary schools offer some sex hygiene instruction.
1934 - CBS radio broadcast on public health is canceled when
announcer refuses to agree that he will not mention syphilis or
1937 - The New York Daily News wins a Pulitzer Prize honorable
mention for covering VD.
1938 - American Association of School Administrators endorses sex
1940 - U.S. surgeon general says that most Americans are in favor
of sex ed; a shift in the sex-ed philosophy from anti-sex to
1941-45 - World War II, federal production of sex hygiene films
resumes with widespread public support; the ``girl problem''
1944 - U.S. commissioner of education urges all schools to teach
moral and ethical sexual conduct.
1948 - Alfred Kinsey reports that 44 percent of college men have
had sex before age 20.
1950 - First human sexuality courses are offered in colleges.
1953 - Kinsey reports that 20 percent of college women have had
1960 - The rate of sexually experienced females begins to rise;
by the decade's end, the rate of sexually experienced females under
age 18 rises to 35 percent.
1967 - To appease TV host Ed Sullivan, The Rolling Stones change
the lyrics of ``Let's Spend the Night Together'' to ``Let's Spend
Some Time Together'' when appearing on his show.
1970 - The rate of sexually active women under 18 rises to 47
percent; for males it is 55 percent.
1990 - Family Life Education courses start in Virginia schools.
KEYWORDS: SEX EDUCATION by CNB