Ann Landers Talks to Teen-Agers About Sex

The cover pretty much says it all: this is going to be plain-spoken, straight-talking advice delivered from Ms. Landers with a witty smirk.

Ann Landers Talks to Teeangers...

Background: “Ann Landers” as the world thinks of her was born in 1955, when Esther Lederer took over the long-running, pseudonymous Chicago Sun-Times advice column; Lederer helmed the column until her death in 2002, when the “Ann Landers” name was permanently retired.

In her later years, Landers’ column was generally socially progressive, and she consistently reiterated her support for abortion rights, gay rights, and was quite outspoken in her support for the decriminalization of prostitution.

The advice and newspaper columns collected in this paperback volume from the early 1960s are interesting because they are both of their time and ahead of it. Often in the same paragraph.  Landers writes frankly and non-judgmentally about treatment for venereal disease, but still upbraids teenage girls about minding their good reputations when it comes to sexual matters; she pleads for acceptance and compassion of homosexuality and urges teenagers to reject stereotypes of gays and lesbians, while still accepting the day’s commonly-held belief that homosexuality was a “mental disorder”; and finally, while she admits that the horse is out of the barn when it comes to teenagers and sex, she still insists that the only proper place for sexual activity is within marriage. These collected columns are intended as a pragmatic response to things having already gone wrong, not an endorsement of the looming sexual revolution:

It is unrealistic to assume that healthy, red-blooded high school kids can be together, day in and day out, month after month, – sometimes year after year- and keep their physical urges under perfect control.

The advice reflects contradictory tenor of the era. The times! They are a-changing!:

Unchaperoned, moonlight beach parties, for example, are loaded with dynamite. So are unchaperoned picnics, ski parties, hunting and fishing excursions- anything that brings two people close to nature and takes them a million miles from the eyes of civilization and stills the voice of reason.

What am I saying? That a girl can be nice even though she goes all the way? Yes, the girl can be nice- but the girl is not very bright.

Those who hope to frighten teenagers in line with hell-fire speeches had better wake up and smell the coffee- because the kids aren’t buying.

When a girl marries, she has a right to expect her husband to judge her on the basis of her behavior with him. No man should insist on a white-flower girl unless he is able to bring to the marriage the same credentials of purity.

Accept your sexuality. Don’t try to deny it, and don’t be ashamed of it. It’s good. Damming up tension produces anxiety, frustration and even physical discomfort.

Athletics is one of the healthiest and most satisfying outlets.

Housework, particularly floor-scrubbing, is not only great for the female figure, but it’s good for the soul. And it will help take the edge off your sex appetite.

I could go on like this all day. Sex! It’s awesome! But don’t do it! Scrub the floor instead! Ladies, it’s up to you to keep your guard up! Unless sexual awkwardness on your wedding night isn’t what you’re into, then I guess you can go right ahead! If your husband judges you, then he’s being a jerk.

Confusing!

But how about the more practical and, um, manual means of taking the edge off? Maybe I am unpopular and bad at sports?

I receive surprisingly few letters from teen-agers who are worried about masturbation. The letters expressing deep concern come from ignorant parents.

Medical authorities tell us that masturbation is a normal part of growing up. Masturbation does not cause pimples, acne, a sallow complexion or dark circles under the eyes. Masturbation will not stunt growth, cause sterility or insanity. It is not that young people who masturbate do not later have satisfying sex relations in marriage.

It is well to remember that even though self-manipulation will not cause you to lose your mind as our grandparents thought, it is a negative and childish habit.

Real fulfillment is found only in a love relationship which involves another person. It cannot be found in solitary physical pleasure, that is why God made man and woman.

I think I figured out why teens weren’t writing to get Ann Landers’ blessing on their wank-habits. WHO NEEDS THE CONFUSION?

And about that “God made man and woman”- is that set in stone, or more of a loose guideline?

Is it possible to tell if a person is a homosexual by looking at him? No.

Some homosexuals are artists and some homosexuals affect feminine mannerisms, but so do many normal men. Many male homosexuals appear to be spectacularly masculine.

It is not true that women who excel in athletics, join the armed services, wear short haircuts and flat-heeled shoes tend to be Lesbians.

What can be done for the homosexual who wants to be normal? Very little in the way of a “cure”, but a great deal in terms of adjustment. Psychiatric therapy can, in most cases, give the homosexual some understanding and insight into his condition and accept himself as he is.

Many homosexuals are content as they are and have no wish to change. They are not a problem to society or to themselves.

She closes by addressing her non-gay teen readers:

Be thankful that you have been blessed with healthy, normal sex drives, and remember that not all boys and girls are so fortunate. When you encounter people who are “different”, remember that their lives are probably unbelievably difficult and that they are faced with the enormous problem of adjustment. You can help by understanding.

As problematic as some of this is, “don’t be an asshole” remains timeless advice.

So. 1963! Things are only going to get more confusing in the next few months when the Beatles and their copious girl-hair arrive on these shores. Moulty, can you sing us out?

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3 Responses to Ann Landers Talks to Teen-Agers About Sex

  1. We had this assigned in tenth-grade theology, (c. 1964) with “don’t tell your parents about this” understood (the same kind of warning we got when we were taught about the creation stories in Genesis.). Quite shocking at the time, really.

    • mondomolly says:

      Apparently both Ann and Abby were longtime friends with Fulton Sheen, which just contributes to the perception of the centrality of Rochester in the universe… but might also be why you were assigned this.

  2. Pingback: Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones By Ann Head | Lost Classics of Teen Lit, 1939-1989

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