Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Kristy L. Slominski's "Teaching Moral Sex"

Kristy L. Slominski is the Assistant Professor of Religion, Science, and Health in the Department of Religious Studies and Classics at the University of Arizona. She is a historian of how religion and sexuality have intersected with science and health in the United States. She received her Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she specialized in North American religions and completed a Feminist Studies Emphasis and a Certificate in College and University Teaching.

Slominski applied the “Page 99 Test” to Teaching Moral Sex: A History of Religion and Sex Education in the United States, her first book, and reported the following:
From page 99:
In addition to mitigating criticisms aimed at medical measures, the military used moral education to justify other uneven practices in its sex hygiene program. More specifically, racist assumptions about who was best served by moral education guided the disproportionate use of preventative measures among white soldiers and disciplinary measures among black soldiers, who were segregated into different units. Whereas white soldiers were seen as redeemable, African American troops were often portrayed as a lost cause when it came to venereal disease. Higher rates of venereal disease flourished among black soldiers based on lower entrance standards for their physical exams and substandard medical treatment once enlisted, including stories of reused, unsterilized syringes. Racist stereotypes about unrestrained black sexuality led to limitations on vacation leave and forced treatment with chemical prophylaxis even if the soldiers claimed to be abstinent during their time away from base. At the same time, recreation and entertainment opportunities were severely lacking compared to those available to white soldiers. Moral education about sexuality was likewise imbalanced, in part because of the small numbers of black chaplains and YMCA representatives available to black soldiers. Just over eighty black YMCA secretaries aided the American Expeditionary Force compared to nearly 13,000 white secretaries, and most of these secretaries were not trained to provide sex education beyond distributing pamphlets. Although the number of black chaplains serving in the war rose from approximately twelve to sixty- three over the course of 1918, the rate still remained embarrassingly low.

The cooperative campaign to combat venereal disease through sex education, recreation, medical interventions, and legal measures became known as the “American Plan,” in part to contrast it with the French plan of regulated prostitution. It would also extend the military battle against syphilis and gonorrhea to the American public. Although the engineers of the American Plan considered it morally superior for refusing to believe in the inevitability of prostitution, critics pointed out its similarities with French approaches by calling it neo-regulationism. Resistance came from British social purity reformers and the Purity Federation, an American purity group that had not merged into ASHA and that included leaders such as B. S. Steadwell and, at one point, doctor and Methodist missionary Katharine Bushnell. They opposed the American military’s reliance on prophylaxis, which they viewed as perpetuating soldiers’ visits to prostitutes and upholding a double standard of sexual morality. They also lamented the horrific treatment of women under the American Plan, including the violation of individual rights….
The page 99 test works relatively well for Teaching Moral Sex—I would give this test a B. The page introduces readers to many of the key themes of the book, especially the interaction between moral education about sex and medical approaches to syphilis and gonorrhea in the early phases of sex education. Sex education was largely focused on venereal diseases and prostitution in its early history, and the military was one of the first arenas where early public sex education developed, so the topics on this page are highly relevant to the work as a whole. It mentions major characters whose Christian influences shaped early sex education, including YMCA lecturers, military chaplains, and purity reformers. It is also significant that ASHA (the American Social Hygiene Association) is mentioned here, as it was the national organization that founded and led the movement for public sex education for half a century.

I rated this test a B because page 99 might lead readers to assume that the book focuses more on the racial inequalities of sex education than it actually does. This page provides important examples of how the deeply racist assumptions of white sex educators impacted African Americans. The rest of the book focuses more on white sex educators and how they shaped cultural norms at the national level. Page 99 also does not mention “religion” directly. The main religious influence that shaped movements for public sex education was liberal Protestantism, and this excerpt provides a small window into some of its moral education and beliefs.

Since Teaching Moral Sex covers 150 years of sex education history, this page is more representative of the book’s coverage of early sex education—before family life education of the mid-twentieth century and the rise of comprehensive sexuality education and abstinence-only education in the late twentieth century. In the more recent phases, “public sex education” comes to be associated with public schools, so the longer book explores this trajectory from community-based campaigns to struggles over K-12 curricula.
Visit Kristy L. Slominski's website.

--Marshal Zeringue