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Devotions and DesiresHistories of Sexuality and Religion in the Twentieth-Century United States$
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Gillian Frank, Bethany Moreton, and Heather R. White

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781469636269

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469636269.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA PRESS SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.northcarolina.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of North Carolina Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in NCSO for personal use.date: 26 September 2021

Sex Is Holy and Mysterious

Sex Is Holy and Mysterious

The Vision of Early Twentieth-Century Catholic Sex Education Reformers

(p.71) Sex Is Holy and Mysterious
Devotions and Desires

James P. Mccartin

University of North Carolina Press

Historians of sexuality have consistently portrayed U.S. Catholics as agents of denunciation and repression, intransigently opposed to the advance of “modern” sexual values and practices. The result of such portrayals is to make Catholics into ahistorical actors, entering the narrative only to give voice to their church’s purportedly unchanging views on sexual morality. This chapter focuses on the early twentieth century reform efforts by a vanguard of Catholic educators, who argued for a new regime of forthright instruction about sexuality. The story of these educators highlights how their approach was shaped by multiple contingencies, from the lingering effects of Catholics’ long-standing status as a religious minority to changing patterns of formal education to shifting ideas about human development. Though they advocated views distinct from those of non-Catholic counterparts, these educators were far from simple reactionaries intent upon prohibiting access to sexual knowledge. Instead, they were reformers who, in the words of Matthew Michel, aimed to overcome the “bane of absolute silence” about sex in Catholic schools and promote in their students “respect for self and high reverence for others” as cornerstones of sexual morality.5 The movement for Catholic sex education thus highlights how a careful investigation that integrates religious history and the history of sexuality has the potential to bring to light new narratives and uncover rich—even surprising—possibilities within two historical subfields that, until now, have seldom intersected in more than a cursory fashion.

Keywords:   Catholic, sex education, heterosexuality, Catholic schools, morality

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