“I had to Promise . . . Not to Ask ‘Nasty’ Questions Again”: African American Women and Sex and Marriage Education in the 1940s
Abstract

Essays by women students saved by (white) Gladys Groves from sex and marriage education courses she taught at 1940s North Carolina black colleges show black women engaging with modern discourses of sexuality and marriage to critique repressive sexual socialization that stemmed from the still-powerful respectability code governing black women’s self-presentation. This article argues that, while these women still hoped to control sexuality, they also found the modern social scientific view useful for claiming the normality of youth sexuality and the legitimacy of women’s desire. Some took on the modern standard of female sexual responsiveness, but more used their new knowledge to critique the punitive treatment of childish sexual curiosity that they and others had commonly undergone. The research is significant because so few sources exist expressing the sexual experience and subjectivity of African American women, given the power of the sexual silence induced by the politics of respectability.


pdf