What Adolescents Ought to Know: Sexual Health Texts in Early Twentieth-Century America (Studies in Print Culture and the History of the Book)

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9781558498921: What Adolescents Ought to Know: Sexual Health Texts in Early Twentieth-Century America (Studies in Print Culture and the History of the Book)

In 1901, Dr. Alfred Fournier committed an act both simple and revolutionary: he wrote For Our Sons, When They Turn 18, a sexual and reproductive health treatise based on his clinical work at a leading Paris hospital. If this booklet aided adolescent understanding of health, it also encouraged reformers around the world to publish. By 1913, countless works on venereal disease prevention were available to adolescents.

During this period, authors wrestled with how to make still-developing scientific information available to a reader also in the process of maturing. What would convince a young person to avoid acting on desire? What norms should be employed in these arguments, when social and legal precedents warned against committing ideas about sex to print? How, in other words, could information about sex be made both decent and compelling? Health reformers struggled with these challenges as doctors' ability to diagnose diseases such as syphilis outpaced the production of medicines that could restore health. In this context, information represented the best and truest prophylactic. When publications were successful, from the perspective of information dissemination, they were translated and distributed worldwide.

What Adolescents Ought to Know
explores the evolution of these printed materials―from a single tract, written by a medical researcher and given free to anyone, to a thriving commercial enterprise. It tells the story of how sex education moved from private conversation to purchased text in early twentieth-century America.

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About the Author:

Jennifer Burek Pierce is assistant professor at the University of Iowa's School of Library and Information Science and author of Sex, Brains, and Video Games: A Librarian's Guide to Teens in the Twenty-first Century.

Review:

"Any collection strong in adolescent social issues and the history of sex education will find this a fine study."―Midwest Book Review

"[Pierce] has meticulously integrated this study about sex, health, and gender with a study of print and publishing, and scholars and students alike will appreciate the complexity of her insights."―Choice

"Pierce has uncovered hidden facts and portrays them in a condensed, well organized, and easy to follow manner. This book serves as a stern reminder that science is grounded in theory and, as researchers, our goal is to disprove it. However, when our research theory is put into print, the general public reads it as fact, and thus the power of print continues."―Journal of Family & Consumer Sciences

"That Americans became consumers of sex education literature―willing to spend money to purchase texts on sexual health―is a historical development well illuminated by Jennifer Burek Pierce's new book. It adds to the literature on the history of sex education an emphasis on the significance of print: How and why did those pamphlets and books emerge? What made them commercially viable? How did print culture alter the transmission of information about sexual health? What were its local origins and transnational dimensions? Answers to these questions unfold as the author traces the contributions of key figures to sex education in the first half of the twentieth century."―Journal of American History

"[Pierce] convincingly demonstrates that 'the modern practice of reading guidance emerged in connection with medical and reform interests in adolescent reproductive health, before it became the province of experts on children's literature, librarians and publishers' (p. 189). Pierce therefore makes a significant contribution to both our understanding of the history of sex education and the history of print culture in the early twentieth century."―American Historical Review

"This is a story couched in the context of its time―of medical research, religious and moral instruction, politics, race-related matters, and eugenics. Each of the five chapters opens a door to information that suggests there is still more to discover."―Studies in American Culture

"Pierce's book . . . offers new insight into how many early-twentieth-century adolescents were encouraged to obtain and read social hygiene texts in an age of Comstockian censorship."―The Journal of the Guilded Age and Progressive Era

"Pierce's study illuminates a specific development in print culture, one that will interest both students of the history of books and those interested in the history of sexuality."―Taylor & Francis

"What Adolescents Out to Know helps historians understand the process through which reproductive health became a global concern and shows how discussions previously restricted to medical personnel evolved to include the common adolescent reader. . . . Pierce's comprehensive discussion of print culture provides readers with a detailed history of how society reconceptualized social hygiene and reproductive health through the informal education of adolescents."―Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth

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