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  • Originally published 06/23/2013

    Jonathan Zimmerman: Children are Sexual Creatures

    Jonathan Zimmerman is a professor of education and history at New York University. He is the author of Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory and three other books. In 1985, the founder of modern American sex education gave a controversial speech about erections in fetuses. To Mary Calderone, who had started the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States back in 1964, new evidence about arousal in male fetuses demonstrated once and for all that children were sexual beings.Nonsense, said conservatives. To critics of sex education, childhood was — or should be — a time of sexual innocence. Racy movies, TV shows and magazines made kids prematurely interested in sex. And so did sex education, which robbed them of their natural virtue and replaced it with tawdry thoughts and feelings.I thought of this debate as I read the comments by Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, during the House debate on Monday over a bill that would ban almost all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. According to Burgess, fetuses do not simply experience sexual arousal; they actively arouse themselves.

  • Originally published 05/10/2013

    Jonathan Zimmerman: The Prom -- An American Relic

    Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history and education at New York University. He is writing a history of sex education around the world.In 1954, American Girl magazine published a book of beauty tips for young women. It included helpful suggestions about preparing for the ultimate American beauty contest: the high school prom.“This is the moment to slip into your dress . . . Put your hair in place again, fasten your necklace or bracelet, and step into your pumps,” the book advised. “And wheee! Look now! There really is another you in the mirror. A you that is practically exuding a subtle new fascination, a wonderful femininity.”I’ve been thinking about this passage as I watch my own daughter get ready for prom, which seems like a relic from another age. And maybe that’s the whole point of it. In a time of enormous flux and ambiguity in gender relations, this ritual returns us to a time when men were men and, yes, women were women.The first recorded reference to a prom is from a student at Amherst College, who wrote in 1884 about attending prom at nearby Smith. But as more Americans joined the middle class, prom left the elite precincts of private colleges and filtered into the nation’s burgeoning secondary schools....

  • Originally published 05/09/2013

    Niall Ferguson publishes open letter in "Harvard Crimson"

    Niall Ferguson is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University.Last week I said something stupid about John Maynard Keynes.  Asked to comment on Keynes’ famous observation “In the long run we are all dead,” I suggested that Keynes was perhaps indifferent to the long run because he had no children, and that he had no children because he was gay. This was doubly stupid. First, it is obvious that people who do not have children also care about future generations. Second, I had forgotten that Keynes’ wife Lydia miscarried.I was duly attacked for my remarks and offered an immediate and unqualified apology. But this did not suffice for some critics, who insisted that I was guilty not just of stupidity but also of homophobia. I have no doubt that at least some students were influenced by these allegations. Nobody would want to study with a bigot. I therefore owe it to students—former and prospective—to make it unambiguously clear that I am no such thing.

  • Originally published 03/26/2013

    What the sculpture of Pan reveals about sex and the Romans

    Nothing is more likely to inspire us to see for ourselves than a warning about the effects of looking. Take the media interest this month when it was revealed that the British Museum's exhibition, Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum, is to include a "parental guidance" notice. The reason? An ancient marble sculpture of the god Pan (a part-human, part-goat figure) having sex with a she-goat is not to be segregated, as it has been since its discovery in 1752, but displayed openly with the other exhibits – a liberal move by London, if also one which dulls the object's impact. Getting this story into the news ensures that centuries of censorship are not swept under the carpet, and that Pan, and the show he speaks for, remain "hot property".But the news story also exaggerates this censorship. Far from being forgotten in its first modern home in the royal palace at Portici on the Bay of Naples, the sculpture, which was part of a restricted collection in the cellars, was quickly a celebrity.

  • Originally published 02/06/2013

    Jonathan Zimmerman: The Silly Debate over Ed Koch's Sexuality

    Jonathan Zimmerman is a professor of history and education at New York University. He is the author of “Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory.”Was Ed Koch gay? I don’t know, and I don’t care. And neither should you.When the former New York mayor died last week, we heard all the old cliches about why he should have come out of the closet-or why it was necessary to “out” him. If he were openly gay, the story goes, he would have done more to fight AIDS during the early years of the epidemic. And he would have made it easier for other people to come out, too.But as Koch correctly insisted, his sexual orientation was nobody’s business but his own. And to see why, let’s imagine that Koch wasn't male and gay, but female and straight.Then let’s suppose that Ms. Koch — like 40% of American women — had undergone an abortion. Would it be OK to “out” her for that, too?...

  • Originally published 06/29/2009

    HNN Hot Topics: Gay History

    All across the world LGBT people are celebrating. Here's the background you need if you want to understand what it's all about.

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