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Dr. David Hansen

Mentor Department



Viewed as taboo, scholarly work on venereal disease before the 20th century was rare in academic spaces. This gap in research was filled by 19th-century Spiritual Health communities, which sought to combine theology and medical practice for ‘healthier’ living and saw STD treatment as another aspect of this process. However, as their work needed to be spiritually based, research done in this setting was often inaccurate and unscientific.

Spiritual health leaders pressed heavily that disease was a product of moral character. ‘Immoral’ sexual acts, mainly anything done without the purpose of reproduction, were considered a moral failing, which would inevitability lead to poor health by their model. Male sexuality outside of reproduction; specifically self-copulation and male-to-male copulation, were considered especially dangerous to one’s health. Due to a lack of more reliable research, the first standardized science textbooks used in U.S. K-12 schools after WWII relied heavily on sources created by the spiritual health movement to fill in research gaps on sexuality studies. If this is the case, then adults today would subconsciously project 19th- century misinformation when discussing sexuality, identifying a possible link between one's education and their political biases. A guideline was formed to help identify specific links. For a source to be considered relevant to the initial 19th-century studies, it must either directly quote and or source it, mention phrases coined by it, or reverberate sentiments that could be easily linked to it. This project was split into two parts, looking for a connecting factor between the text and the belief. First, writing done by three spiritual health community leaders from the mid-19th century and three STD researchers from the 1950s was compared to search for underlying linguistic similarities. Secondly, a sociological survey was conducted on adults aged 40+ with a control group of adults aged 18-40 educated at the K-12 level in the U.S. The survey consisted of questions regarding the subject's education on sexuality and their current beliefs. Their answers were analyzed under the same guidelines as the studies from the 1950s. While there are a variety of factors playing into current misinformation, the generational impact of the spiritual health movement appears to play a leading cause in the current misinformation cycle plaguing American perspectives on gender and sexuality.

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