Date of Award


Document Type

Undergraduate Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (BA)



Advisor/Committee Chair

Kendra Smith-Howard

Committee Member

Michitake Aso


The 1873 Comstock Act outlawed the production and distribution of any materials that were deemed to be obscene or capable of arousing adolescents. Mary Ware Dennett, a women's rights activist and pioneer in birth control and sex education, was one of the many who fell victim to this law. Dennett was arrested in 1929 for distributing her sex education pamphlet, The Sex Side of Life, written for her teenage sons after finding the sex education materials produced by the government to be insufficient. This paper argues that Dennett's pamphlet was scrutinized in United States v. Dennett because it emphasized not only the procreative and health aspects of sex, but also the emotional and physical pleasures of sex, which were topics that were avoided within the government's work. This paper compares The Sex Side of Life to the government's sex education materials from the early 1900s to provide insight into the inadequacies she found within them and to show the specific ways in which the content of her pamphlet differed from the work produced by the government.

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