Mary Calderone; Sex Education Pioneer


A pioneering exponent of sex education, Dr. Mary Steichen Calderone, has died. She was 94.

The co-founder of the Sex Information and Education Council of the United States and for 11 years national medical director of Planned Parenthood, Calderone died Saturday at a nursing home in Kennett Square, Pa. She had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.

After deciding in her 30s to become a medical doctor, Calderone became a leader in the 1950s in shepherding America through what she considered a middle-road course in what was to become the sexual revolution.

Calderone, the daughter of famed photographer Edward Steichen, believed that sex education should be undertaken both in families and in schools and should teach that sex was an integral part of everyone’s personality.


“As soon as a baby emerges in the world, its parents begin educating it about sexual behavior,” she once said. “They may not be aware that they are doing it, but they are doing it nevertheless.

“It’s not a question of educating or not educating. You’re educating, whatever you do. And you owe it to your child not to do it blindly and unconsciously, but with knowledge and a positive attitude.”

A converted Quaker and a Republican, Calderone scoffed at those who referred to her as a “moral degenerate” or, as the right-wing John Birch Society once charged, an “aging sexual libertine.”

“Sexuality is a great and good thing we all share at all ages,” she said. “It is soft and loving and real and true.

“We are all sexual, all of our lives, each in our own unique way at any given moment. Our sexuality may prove to be the second most important thing about us. Having been born with a mind and body is the first.”

A best-selling author, Calderone joined Eric Johnston in 1981 in writing “The Family Book About Sexuality.” In 1982 she and James W. Ramer wrote “Talking With Your Child About Sex.”


She lectured widely throughout the country on birth control and against intolerance of homosexuality and other sexual practices.

“The art of friendship between males in this country is seriously impeded by the almost pathological fear of homosexuality,” she told one audience.

Her own late second husband, Frank, of Sicilian extraction, used to throw his arms around other men and clasp them to him.

“He’s always doing that in the middle of an argument and watching the other man recoil,” she said. “I have to warn him: Frank, never touch an Anglo-Saxon.”

Such lines, and her down-to-earth, realistic way of speaking drew thousands to her. But a Louisiana congressman put a speech vilifying her into the Congressional Record.

Born July 1, 1904, in New York, Calderone chose at her parents’ divorce when she was a child to live with her father. From a very early age, she was extremely articulate.


Later in life, she said it was thanks in part to the Sex Information and Education Council that sex had become a topic people did not fear to discuss.

Asked if such discussion had gone too far, she responded, “Truth can never go too far.”