Doctor, Reverend, Sex Educator

Medicine and Religion in Early Sex Education


  • Kristy L. Slominski


sex education, American Social Hygiene Association, Prince Albert Morrow


From its beginning in the early twentieth century, the American movement for public sex education was characterized by alliances between physicians and Christian reformers. These unlikely partners came together to forge the movement because each group believed that breaking the conspiracy of silence around sexuality would support its goals. For the religious leaders, who were predominantly Protestant, sex education provided a way to spread the message of sexual purity to American youth, with the ultimate goal of preserving Christian morals. For medical professionals, instruction about sexual health offered a method for curbing rampant venereal diseases, especially syphilis and gonorrhea. Within national sex education organizations like the American Social Hygiene Association (ASHA), these groups worked together to develop conceptions of sex educators as moral guardians and protectors of public health within schools, the military, and the community at large. This paper traces the early development of this partnership, which I argue was made possible by the vision of Prince Albert Morrow, whose leadership of the early sex education movement led to the creation of ASHA. The cooperation between religious leaders and physicians within mainstream organizations for public sex education shaped and legitimated the moral claims of American sex education, helping this controversial movement gain a wider acceptance and evade censorship.