In the twentieth-century politics has played a vital role in the way disease is perceived by the average person. Every aspect of disease became a political concern with eugenics publically taking on a major role in public policy. Giving credit to eugenics, many Americans began to worry more about their personal genetic traits as well as the traits that they may pass on to their children. Later society became interested with eugenics on a more community-oriented basis. “The downfall of Eugenics came when reformers began to use it as a program of social control, promoting government intervention and coercion in human reproduction.”
Masturbation was once seen as degenerative disease that led to widespread application of the eugenic principles. Masturbation (known then as Onanism) was even introduced to medical students in the early 20th century as a possible cause of degeneracy. “Social, religious, and cultural fears and taboos, portrayed as medical “opinion,” said that masturbation was bad for the human body and psyche, not to mention sinful.” Doctors began to develop many methods of sterilization during this time and these methods were used to stop these degenerates from reproducing. Henry Clay Sharp did his experimentation in an Indiana prison-sterilizing people he termed as “chronic masturbators.” Sharp truly believed that he was making the world a better place and he wanted to take it to the next level.
The next step was to take his sterilization crusade to the Indiana State legislature to increase the scope of his practice to legally force upon other degenerates sterilization. Up until this time, Sharp had been operating without the law on his side. Sharp, in 1902, wrote, “I therefore suggest that you endeavor to secure such legislation as will make it mandatory that this operation be performed on all convicted degenerates. It renders them powerless to reproduce their kind, and it is an undoubted fact that the progeny of degenerates becomes a charge upon the state.” In 1907 Indiana became the first state to legalize forced sterilization. From this point other states quickly followed suit ending with a total of thirty states passing legislation.
Early Women’s Rights and Birth Control activists to further their own agenda also used eugenics. “Eugenics at that time was not only “scientific” but also much more respectable than birth control.” Degenerate children became the one thing no one wanted to have. Society began to informally create a set standard for the ideal family that people should follow in order to have the most genetically fit family. During a time where birth control was unavailable sterilization was the only option in the minds of scientist and doctors to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
The trait of being a criminal or an alcoholic is not genetically transmitted; however, family origin did play a role in later social status. For instance having an alcoholic criminal father that wasn’t able to provide for the...