Prescription for Heterosexuality

Sexual Citizenship in the Cold War Era

By Carolyn Herbst Lewis

240 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-0982-9
    Published: August 2013
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-9954-0
    Published: October 2010

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In Prescription for Heterosexuality, Carolyn Herbst Lewis explores how medical practitioners, especially family physicians, situated themselves as the guardians of Americans' sexual well-being during the early Cold War years. She argues that many doctors believed that a satisfying sexual relationship with very specific attributes and boundaries was the foundation of a successful marriage, a source of happiness in the American family, and a crucial building block of a secure nation. Drawing on hundreds of articles and editorials in both medical journals and popular and professional literature, Lewis traces how medical professionals affirmed certain heterosexual desires and acts while labeling others as unhealthy or deviant.

About the Author

Carolyn Herbst Lewis is assistant professor of history at Grinnell College.

For more information about Carolyn Herbst Lewis, visit the Author Page.


"Recommended. All levels/libraries."--Choice

"A valuable addition to the growing list of studies of domestic and sexual containment." --The Journal of American History

"An elegant book that illuminates the intersection of medicine, sexuality, and citizenship in the Cold War era."--American Historical Review

"Delving into issues rarely examined by historians, Carolyn Lewis argues that physicians helped construct the criteria by which healthy heterosexuality was defined and understood in the Cold War era. She brings a keen analytic eye to this fascinating, well-written, and illuminating study."--Elaine Tyler May, author of America and the Pill: A History of Promise, Peril, and Liberation

"This engaging and well-researched history explores how physicians' advice underwrote postwar gender prescriptions and helped to shape new norms of sex and marriage for Americans. By examining both medical debates and patient norms, Lewis illuminates the interlocking worlds of physicians and those who sought their counsel in an era of experts."--Miriam Reumann, author of American Sexual Character: Sex, Gender, and National Identity in the Kinsey Reports

Multimedia & Links

Follow the author on Twitter @CaroHerbLew.

Read: Carolyn's posts at the blog Nursing Clio, where she is a contributing writer.

Read: In a guest blog post, Lewis addresses the context and reaction to the publication of Alfred Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Female in the 1950s and the difficulty of getting medical professionals to alter their definitions of sexual health and sexual citizenship. Read "Dropping the K-Bomb".