Episode 42 The Birds and The Bees: Sexual Education Through the Ages

There’s a conversation everyone has at some point, about the birds and the bees. Think back to the first time you had that talk. Maybe it was with a parent, maybe a friend, maybe someone else. Maybe it was sex ed class. That’s what this episode dives into.  We go back in time to look at some different sexual practices across ancient history, including Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. Then we discuss the history of sexual education in a formal setting, as it transitioned from the early 1900s into what it looks like today!

Feminist Corner:

  • What was your experience with sex ed? How does it fit into the narratives we’ve talked about this episode?
  • What gender inequalities are reinforced by sex ed programs as they exist now and changes are being made/need to be made to improve sexual health?

Listen to the episode, discuss these questions with friends and family, let us know what you think!

Show Notes:

Ancient Egypt

  • Believed that the very first Egyptian god named Atum, created himself and because he had no wife, he created his sons by masturbating
  • Min, the primary male fertility god, had a permanently erect penis. Men with impotence would make offerings of phallic figures to this god

Ancient Greece 

  • Strong sense of morality and law
  • Focused less on sexual sin but more on an individual’s behavior and how that impacted others
  • Greek gods were adulterous ex. Zeus and Aphrodite
  • Sexual paraphernalia was in plays, statues, even literature
  • Greek boys were not taught to see themselves as either heterosexual or homosexual but rather as having same-sex and opposite-sex sexual desires which could coexist in the same person

Ancient Rome

  • Religion had a big role in Roman life because it was the catholic church that took hold in the last centuries of the Roman Empire
  • They had a set of moral guidelines called the mos maiorum or “the way of the elders” which was their code of good conduct
  • Men were expected to have self-control and women were expected to be chaste.
  • Women who married weren’t expected to get any pleasure from sex

The Middle Ages 

  • Believed that men often died from sexual excess but also too little sex was a problem. 


  • In America, health reformers thought that the ideal man would be able to have discipline over his body, specifically when it came to masturbating. 

Late 1800s and early 1900s

  • Increased interest in organized sex ed
  • In 1913, Chicago became the first major city to implement sex ed for high schools but it didn’t last long as the church got upset
  • STIs ran rampant during WWI and the American government took sex ed seriously


  • Schools began to integrate sex ed into their curricula


  • In the 1930s, the US office of education started publishing materials to train teachers. 
  • In the 40s and 50s, courses about human sexuality started popping up in higher education.
  • In 1964, Mary Calderone, a physician and former medical director at Planned Parenthood, founded the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the US


  • Sex Ed actually gained a lot of scrutiny and bad press because it was “against Christian values” to discuss sexual practices so overtly


  • During the AIDS and HIV pandemic very state passed mandates for AIDS education with out without general sex education. 
  • Conservatives started a movement to rebrand sex education as “abstinence education”


Like the episode? Send us your thoughts and questions!

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