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Weingarten, Karen. “Talking Sex: The Rhetorics of Reproduction, Sex Education, and Sexual Expression in the Modern United States.” Feminist Studies 39, no. 1 (2013): 235–47.;idno=0499697.0039.113.


In this article, the author presents a review of four contemporary books – Robin Jensen’s Dirty Words, Dale Bauer’s Sex Expression, Laura Lovett’s Conceiving the Future, and Johanna Schoen’s Choice and Coercion – to illuminate the historical context in which sex was discussed (or not discussed), “expressed, taught, advocated, and restricted in the United States from the 1860s to the mid-twentieth century.” The author uses her analysis of the books to argue that, contrary to popular historical narratives of a linear transition from “sex-as-taboo to sex-as-free-flowing,” sex was discussed much more widely throughout this time period than conventional wisdom suggests. Looking specifically at the history of sex education, discussions of sex and sexuality in works of fiction, and sex as reproduction and pronatalist policies (the first three books, respectively), the author explores how sex was either explicitly or ambiguously discussed during this time period. The author then uses the final book to explore how people may have responded to the various discourses of sex and sexuality that were presented to them through the avenues discussed in the previous three books. In doing so, the author attempts to complicate the picture of women as victims and identify ways in which they may have tried to control their reproductive lives. The author concludes that our historical assessment of sexual rhetoric shouldn’t be taken at face value, and that the true effect and interpretation of such discourses was just as complicated and non-linear in mid-19th to mid-20th century America as are our contemporary understandings and discussions of sex and sexuality.


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Contraception/birth control   Sex education   Population control   Eugenics