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Talk About Sex

The Battles over Sex Education in the United States, With a New Preface

Janice M. Irvine (Author)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 294 pages
ISBN: 9780520243293
August 2004
$28.95, £23.00
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.

Chapter 1. Redefining Sex, 1964: A Prologue
Chapter 2. Days of Rage
Chapter 3. Born-Again Sexual Politics
Chapter 4. The New Sexual Revolution
Chapter 5. Victims, Villains, ... and Neighbors
Chapter 6. Doing It with Words
Chapter 7. The Passions of Culture Wars
Chapter 8. The Politics of Aversion
Chapter 9. If Asked, Don't Tell: A Final Comment
On Methods and Terminology

Appendix: Opponents of Comprehensive Sex Education
Janice M. Irvine is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and author of Disorders of Desire: Sex and Gender in Modern American Sexology (1990).
"In Talk about Sex, Janice Irvine provides an intriguing retrospective on the sex education debate. Irvine, a sociologist, puts forth a well-researched socio-historical and political context for understanding the diverse forces arrayed on either side of the issue and how these forces have shaped our nation's education policy and public health agenda with respect to sex education in the public schools. This will be must reading for scholars, sexuality researchers, activists, and public policy and public health planners engaged in efforts to promote education on sex, sexually transmitted diseases, and HIV infection prevention for adolescents in schools."—Ralph J. DiClemente Jama
"This judicious and perceptive book will be read not only by academics but by serious readers interested in sexuality, culture, and public policy. Irvine explores the clash between professional sex education advocates and politicized Christian evangelicals that has played out on the stage of local communities and school systems since the 1960s. She illuminates a significant yet largely unknown story of the politics of sexuality."—Kathy Peiss, author of Hope in a Jar: The Making of America's Beauty Culture

"Irvine's work is a serious and passionate study; it is respectful of its subject while at the same time retaining its critical edge and its political principles."—Margaret Hunt, author of The Middling Sort: Commerce, Gender and the Family in England 1680-1780

"Irvine has written an unusually rich social history that makes a significant contribution to several fields of scholarly inquiry. Her book provides by far the best account we have of SIECUS (Mary Calderone's pioneering organization). It also provides an innovative analysis of the rise of the Christian Right in the '70s and a highly imaginative narrative of the 'sexualization' of Christian evangelicalism and its successful manipulation of collective emotions for political ends."—Martin Duberman, editor of Beyond Gay or Straight: Understanding Sexual Orientation

"One comes away from reading this book with renewed appreciation for the creative potential of words and symbols in framing how we think about something so ordinary, if I may say so, as sex!"—Wade Clark Roof, author of Spiritual Marketplace: Baby Boomers and the Remaking of American Religion

"While there are books that are central in this area, none covers the sex education debates or accomplishes the theoretical moves undertaken here."—Cindy Patton, author of Globalizing AIDS

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