Sexual Revolution
Artist's idea of what happened to society

Accompanying the focus on glamour and leisure in the 1910s and 1920s was a growing public expression of sexuality. While an underworld of prostitution was already in existence, a popular and sexualized urban environment emerged during this period. Part of what made the environment sexual was the mingling of men and women, especially young men and women, with minimal supervision and where people consumed alcohol. (Most recreation had formerly been sex-segregated or linked to family and religion). The growing popularity of the automobile also facilitated increased sexual activity among young people because of the privacy it provided. Motion pictures and theater capitalized on the public's growing acceptance of heterosexual flirtation and imagery, and these media spread ideas and practices originating in cities to smaller towns across the country.

Magaret SangerChallenging conventions of sexual reticence, sex educators and birth control advocates Margaret Sanger and Mary Ware Dennett risked arrest and prosecution under the Comstock Law of 1873, which prohibited the distribution of information about sex, including birth control devices and other "articles of immoral use." Birth control, these women thought, provided the key to women's liberation because it separated demands of reproduction from sexuality. Over time, their actions, along with the behavior of youth on city streets and in public places of recreation, wore down the stigma attached to public discussion about sex and even sexual experimentation before marriage.

Not all attention to sex was affirmative, however; concern about venereal disease grew during the First World War and led to such groups as Parent-Teacher Associations and Young Women's Christian Association (both usually had separate white and black chapters) implementing educational programs and alternative social activities. U.S. Public Health Service researchers found that 40 to 45 percent of senior high schools surveyed in 1920 and 1927 offered sex education to their students, often concentrating on venereal disease prevention. From parents, teachers, and other adults, young women learned how proper behavior could keep them out of trouble; yet many girls rejected such teachings and instead heeded the advice of peers and entertainers to have a good time.

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