Cover image for Talk about sex : the battles over sex education in the United States
Talk about sex : the battles over sex education in the United States
Irvine, Janice M.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Berkeley : University of California Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
xi, 271 pages ; 24 cm
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HQ57.5.A3 I78 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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In this lively book, Janice M. Irvine offers not only the first comprehensive history of the culture wars over sex education but also an important examination of the politics of sexual speech in the United States. Exploring the clash between professional sex education advocates on the one hand and the politicized Christian Right on the other, Irvine vividly demonstrates the crucial role that sexual speech plays in cultural politics. Examining a range of issues played out in living rooms and schools since the 1960s, she shows how a newly emerging Christian Right chose sex education as one of its first battlegrounds, then went on to dominate the public conversation on the subject. Talk about Sex is a rich and fascinating consideration of American sex education's strategic place in the long history of efforts to regulate sexual morality by controlling sexual speech.

Irvine's original argument shows how sex education served as a bridge issue between the Old Right and the New Right. Exploring the political uses of emotion as it relates to sexuality, Irvine demonstrates how this movement draws on the tenacious power of sexual shame and fear in order to galvanize opposition to sex education. This book skillfully demonstrates how--by framing sex education as radical, dangerous, and immoral--the Right has fostered a climate in which it is risky, as former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders found, to speak out in support of sexuality education.

Author Notes

Janice M. Irvine is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Best-known for his very public marriage (and then split) with Roseanne Barr, the plus-sized comic/actor Arnold has achieved periodic recognition on his own, in films like True Lies and now as host for The Best Damn Sports Show Period on Fox Sports Net. This endearingly candid memoir-written as breezy correspondence to his wished-for child-contains several celebrities' worth of dysfunction, trouble and triumph. After enduring abandonment by their mother, Arnold's sister spent time in prison, and his brother's first lover died tragically. Arnold himself has been sober for more than 10 years, but writes that previously he too did jail time and sold stories to a tabloid for drug money. Seeing the comedian Andy Kaufman inspired Arnold to try the stage. Leaving Iowa for Minneapolis, he opened for Roseanne and won a job writing for her show. Roseanne, he writes, "has a genius that's intoxicating"; he's more rueful than hostile toward her. Arnold's self-deprecating enough to tell any story on himself-he calls himself a jackass for letting the wrong guy sign his checks and lose his money; he and Roseanne gained weight when hired by SlimFast for a commercial; after splitting from Roseanne he quickly got engaged and married to a woman who promptly cheated on him with the pool boy. But he celebrates his progress, too: he loves his new job talking sports. He's confronted the man who abused him as a kid. In the final chapters, he gushes about his new love, Shelby. "I'm not really worried that Shelby thinks besides our love we have so little in common," he writes, "it's more important that we try to meet each other's needs." Good luck, guy. Photos not seen by PW. Author tour. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In the war of words over sex education, those trying to restrict it have paradoxically become culturally powerful by talking more-and more explicitly-about sex than their liberal opponents. The Right has risen to power by using emotional, sex-aversive language that has often trumped the barely existent language of sexual affirmation. Moreover, the Christian Right's heavy community activism exploited vacuums caused by the withdrawal of Americans from civic involvement (documented in Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone). Irvine, an academic sociologist (Disorders of Desire), chronicles battle plans, hand-to-hand combat, gay-bashing, mudslinging, strange bedfellows, data use/misuse, and casualties since the 1960s, all backed by exhaustive research and over 75 interviews with both sides. Will the dynamics shift now that anticensorship advocates have entered the fray? Irvine addresses this question while breaking new ground by recounting the Christian Right's own sexuality industry (sex-enhancement guides, curricula, research, counseling, and therapy). Her work complements and updates Jeffrey Moran's broader Teaching Sex. Indispensable for anyone concerned with sexual policy and for social history collections in public and academic libraries.-Martha Cornog, Philadelphia Israel, Betsy. Bachelor Girl: The Secret History of Single Women in the Twentieth Century. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

In this short and well-written book, Irvine (sociology, Univ. of Massachusetts) shows how the bitter battles over "sex education" in the decades since 1970 have been outlining markers of the cultural wars and political partisanship that characterized the era sometimes called "sex o'clock." On the surface, it was a battle over whether to allow or restrict public sexual discussion, assuming that sexual morality could be regulated by regulating sexual speech. In reality, it was a vein of political strength that was well tapped by successful political and religious leaders, and bonded the Old and New Right using the politics of sexual shame. Ironically, the critics of sex education were willing to saturate the media with sexuality in order to gain partisan power. The first half of the book examines the role of sex education in the rise of the right wing. The second half is a cultural analysis of how such national issues and vocabulary influenced the arguments in local battles. Irvine describes the advocacy of informed sexuality but gives more attention to the crusades of the conservative and religious rightists, who were "bigger, better organized and richer." The book supplies context and insights for students of political, cultural, and church history. Summing Up: Recommended. All libraries. J. H. Smith Wake Forest University

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Introductionp. 1
1. Redefining Sex, 1964: A Prologuep. 17
2. Days of Ragep. 35
3. Born-Again Sexual Politicsp. 63
4. The New Sexual Revolutionp. 81
5. Victims, Villains,... and Neighborsp. 107
6. Doing It with Wordsp. 131
7. The Passions of Culture Warsp. 141
8. The Politics of Aversionp. 165
9. If Asked, Don't Tell: A Final Commentp. 187
On Methods and Terminologyp. 201
Appendix Opponents of Comprehensive Sex Educationp. 207
Notesp. 209
Indexp. 267