In January 1993, Joycelyn Elders was appointed the first Black surgeon general of the United States. A mere 15 months after her confirmation, she was forced to resign.
While Elders was known for being outspoken about topics like sex education, the breaking point came when she spoke at a United Nations conference on AIDS. When asked about promoting masturbation as an alternative to riskier forms of sexual activity, she replied, “I think that is something that is a part of human sexuality, and it’s a part of something that perhaps should be taught.” Her resignation came soon after.
When I saw Elders speak at the 2017 National Sex Ed Conference, she stood by her initial remark, reiterating that learning about self-pleasure could help to reduce unintended pregnancies and the spread of STIs. While she didn’t necessarily advocate teaching how to masturbate, she felt it was important that students know masturbating is natural.