Margaret Sanger, "What Every Girl Should Know," 17 Nov 1912.
Published article. Source: New York Call, Nov. 17, 1912 , Margaret Sanger Microfilm C16:0024 .
This is the first article in an 12-part series. For "Girlhood-Part I" see Nov. 24, 1912, for "Girlhood-Part II" see Dec. 1, 1912, for "Puberty-Part I" see Dec. 8, 1912, for "Puberty-Part II" see Dec. 15, 1912, for "Sexual Impulse--Part I" see Dec. 22, 1912, for "Sexual Impulse-Part II" see Dec. 29, 1912, for "Reproduction--Part I" see Jan. 2, 1913, for "Reproduction--Part II" see Jan. 19, 1913, for "Some Consequences of Ignorance and Silence--Part I" see Jan. 26, 1913, for "Some Consequences of Ignorance and Silence--Part II" see Feb. 2, 1913, and for "Some Consequences of Ignorance and Silence--Part III" see Mar. 2, 1913.
Students of vice, whether teachers, clergymen, social workers or physicians, have been laboring for years to find the cause and cure for vice, and especially for prostitution. They have failed so far to agree on either the cause or the cure, but it is interesting to know that upon one point they have been compelled to agree and that is that IGNORANCE OF THE SEX FUNCTIONS is one of the strongest forces that sends young girls into unclean living.
This, together with the knowledge of the rapidly increasing spread of venereal diseases and the realization of their subtle nature, has awakened us to the need of a saner and healthier attitude on the sex subject, and to the importance of SEX EDUCATION for boys and girls.
This need has shown itself so clearly that the question no longer seems to be, "Is there need of instruction?" but, "Who shall instruct?" Shall the mother or teacher instruct? When shall such instruction be given ? In childhood, or in puberty? These are the points now under discussion.
To the writer the answer is simple. The mother is the logical person to teach the child as soon as questions arise, for it is to the mother that the child goes for information before he enters the schoolroom. If, therefore, the mother answers his questions truthfully and simply and satisfies his curiosity, she will find that the subject of sex ceases to be an isolated subject, and becomes a natural part of the child's general learning. A woman does not need to be a college graduate, with a special degree in the study of botany, before she can tell her child the beautiful truth of its birth. But she does need to clear her own mind of prudishness, and to understand that the procreative act is natural, clean and healthful; that all nature is beatified through it, and consequently that it is devoid of offensiveness.
If the mother can impress the child with the beauty and wonder and sacredness of the sex functions, she has taught it the first lesson, and the teacher can elaborate on those teachings as the child advances in school. All schools should teach the anatomy of the sex organs and their physiology, instead of teaching the human body in the neuter gender as has been done up to this time.
The whole object of teaching the child about reproduction through evolution is to clear its mind of any shame or mystery concerning its birth, and to impress it with the beauty, naturalness of procreation, in order to prepare it for the knowledge of puberty and marriage.
There must of necessity be special information for the pubescent boy and girl, for having arrived at the stage in their mental development they no longer take for granted what has been told of them by the parents, but are keen to form their own ideas and gather information independently. It is right, therefore, to give them the facts as science has found them.
There are workers and philanthropists who say there is too much stress put upon the subject of venereal diseases; that the young girl after learning or hearing of the dangers she is likely to encounter in the sexual relation, is afraid to marry and consequently lives a life unloved and alone.
"Your treatment of this subject is dangerous," said a very earnest social worker a few weeks ago. "Such knowledge will prevent our young girls from marrying."
To which I replied that my object in telling young girls the truth is for the definite purpose of preventing them from entering into sexual relations whether in marriage or out of it, without thinking and knowing. Better a thousand times to live alone and unloved than to be tied to a man who has robbed her of health or of the joy of motherhood, or welcoming the pains of motherhood, live in anxiety lest her sickly offspring be taken out of her life or grow up a chronic invalid.
I have more faith in the force of love. I believe that two people convinced that they love each other and desire to live together in marriage will talk as frankly of their own health and natures as they do today of house furnishings and salaries. Their love for each other will protect them from ill-health and disease, and prompt them to procure of their own accord a certificate of health if each has the right information and knowledge.
There are, however, different phases of nature other than venereal disease, the knowledge of which binds and cements the love of two people. These are symptoms of a great social disorder.
Every girl should first understand herself: she should know her anatomy, including sex anatomy: she should know the epochs of a normal woman's life, and the unfoldment which each epoch brings: she should know the effect the emotions have on her acts, and finally she should know the fullness and richness of life when crowned by the flower of motherhood.
This knowledge I shall endeavor to give in the following articles. Fragmentary the articles must of necessity be, for there are volumes written on each subject.
I shall try to free the subjects from technicalities and give the opinions of writers who have made those subjects their life studies and also the facts as I myself have learned them.
It is not my intention to thrust upon any one a special code of morals, or to inflict upon the reader of this page my own ideals of morality. I only presume to present the facts for you to accept according to your understanding.
The first article will deal with the girl during the age when sex first manifests itself, in that most fascination, interesting and puzzling period of a woman's life--the budding period, called girlhood.
Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project