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Mary Steichen Calderone

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Mary Steichen Calderone

Perhaps one of the greatest unsung sexual thinkers of our time is Mary Steichen Calderone.

Born in Paris in 1904 to American parents, Calderone often said her bohemian childhood and Quaker upbringing helped mold and influence her liberal views on sexuality.

Her outspokenness and passion for sexuality education has benefited more people that can ever be counted.

Calderone, while always progressive in her views about sex actually came late to the professional party.

She returned to school to study medicine at the age of 30 after a divorce.

She received her M.D. in 1939 and went on to receive her Masters of Public Health (MPH) degree in 1942.

During her internship she met and married Dr. Frank A. Calderone, who was no slouch either in the public health arena as he went on to become Chief Administrative Officer of the World Health Organization.

In 1953 Mary Calderone became the Medical Director of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

While medical director Calderone accomplished several important if not controversial projects.

In 1958 she organized a national conference on abortion which was responsible for instigating the movement to make abortion legal.

Her most successful venture at Planned Parenthood was in 1964 when she was successful in overturning the American Medical Association policy that prohibited physicians from giving out information on birth control.

As her work continued, Calderone realized that there was an enormous lack of sexuality education in America.

She also realized that sexuality was not just about a person's genitals or pregnancy prevention, but rather a more complicated aspect of being human.

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Wanting to do more than hand out contraceptives, Calderone resigned from Planned Parenthood in 1964 and founded the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) whose purpose was "to establish man's sexuality as a healthy entity."

Calderone gave hugely successful talks all over the country and SIECUS became a place for professionals such as school administrators, sex educators, social activists, physicians and parents seeking access to information about how to teach sexuality education.

SIECUS boasted a huge library and clearinghouse full of information on sexuality, lesson plans, academic works and teaching tools, most of which are available on their website today.

Perhaps fueled by the sexual revolution of the 1960's Calderone and SIECUS became well known and well respected with a sex positive message.

However, Calderone was not without controversy.

Like many great sexual thinkers, she was monitored closely by those against sexuality education.

She was outspoken on her views that sex education for children should start early and for that she was highly criticized.

At one point those who opposed her referred to her as the "SIECUS Stinkpot" or the "SIECUS Sexpot."

In her time as a sexuality educator, Calderone wrote eight books including The Family Book About Sexuality (1981, with Eric Johnson) and Talking With Your Child About Sex (1982).

Among her many honors, she was named Humanist of the Year in 1974 and was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1998.

Calderone advocated for many who could not advocate for themselves and believed that everyone should have access to treatment for sexual health issues and pregnancy prevention.

More than that she saw sexuality as the quality of life issue that it is and founded SIECUS, an organization that still thrives and carries on her mission today.

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