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Dec 3, 2009
Sex education in schools gained popularity as the Social Hygiene movement of the Progressive era grew, specifically in 1913 with the establishment of the American Social Hygiene Association (ASHA) (Luker, 2006; Strong, 1972). The association was organized by then president of Harvard University, Charles Eliot, and Miss Grace Dodge among many others, who all believed that sex education in schools could help solve the “social” issues confronting a changing America (Luker, 2006). ASHA was persuasive in getting funders and the public to believe that taking sex education from the home to the schools was necessary and gained financial support from the likes of John D. Rockefeller (Standard Oil), Julius Rosenwald (Sears, Roebuck) and Henry C. Frick (Carnegie Steel), in addition to public support from the YMCA, General Federation of Women’s Clubs, and eventually the National Congress of Parents and Teachers (PTA), the National Educational Association (NEA) and the federal government (sex education of soldiers was one of the first programs implemented) (Carter, 2001; Luker, 2006; Strong, 1972).
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, ideas of male and female sexuality were distinct and different. Men were assumed to have a natural sex drive that should be contained and controlled by abstinence and sexual repression. A popular theory disguised as science said that when a mature man refrained from sexual activity the semen was absorbed through the blood and was carried to the brain where new thoughts and ideas would come to fruition, which “was necessary in order that society might have a constant source of ideals and inventions” (Strong, 1972, p. 130). This way of thinking that connected men’s sexual repression to the vitality of the nation was consistent through the early twentieth century (Strong, 1972). Women’s sexuality was often thought to be nonexistent. Women were not seen as having a sex drive but were passive receivers in the sex act (Carter, 2001; Rury, 1987; Strong, 1972). These perceived differences between men and women, boys and girls, made it so that most sex education classes were divided by gender until the 1940’s- 50’s so as not to “contaminate” the opposite sex (Luker, 2006; Rury, 1987; Strong, 1972).