Chapter 2- Overview of Adult Education

The vast scale of the field of adult education, the diversity of approaches, and the lack of a unifying paradigm, offer some challenges to developing a coherent understanding of the literature. There are multiple domains within adult education that have developed at different rates and in different directions, making a strictly chronological perspective difficult to comprehend; as a result, many authors have divided the field in various ways (Brookfield, 1992). After a review of general topics and trends within adult education, this section describes the trajectory of the model of adult education that I developed and implemented for this dissertation. Others have taken similarly pragmatic approaches to education theory (e.g. Barnett, n/a; Berlak & Moyenda, 2001; Caffarella, 2002; Dumas et al., 2000; Fritz, 2002; Wlodkowski, 1997, 1999; Wlodkowski & Ginsberg, 1995).

Literature Review of Adult Education

Two parallel trends existed within the early development of adult education theory. The first began with Thorndike’s Adult Learning (1928), which was the first published work showing that adults can and do learn. Prior to this, the field of adult education was based on the assumption that adults learn, rather than evidence that demonstrated how they learn. Over the next several years, Thorndike’s Adult Interests (1935) and Sorenson’s Adult Abilities (1938) added to the field and by World War II, there was ample evidence that adults are able to learn and change.

Meanwhile, the exploration of how adults learn was launched with Lindeman’s The Meaning of Adult Education (1926). Lindeman’s observations on the relationships between adult learning and life transitions, the value of the learner’s experiences, and the connections between adult learning and flexible teaching methods led to a series of assumptions that were later supported by research and became the foundation of adult education. Lindeman’s assumptions, as summarized in Knowles et al. (1998) were:

Lindeman’s work sparked a more general inquiry into adult learning as a discipline. From 1929 to 1941, articles published in the Journal of Adult Education began to define the elements of a larger body of theory, but they had not yet been linked by an overarching structure. Instead, the various insights and perspectives were isolated from each other until the social sciences began to provide information on human development. For a more in-depth history of early adult education, see Knowles et al. (1998).

The field of clinical psychology helped shape adult education and continues to influence its theoretical development through its explanatory paradigms. Erikson’s (1963) “eight ages of man [sic]” was one of the first models of developmental stages that included transitions in adulthood. Maslow’s (1970) Hierarchy of Human Needs described how safety supports and allows growth. Rogers (1951) examined the nature of therapy for adults and developed a set of propositions for a theory of behavior and personality. He then adapted these concepts to education and conceived of student-centered learning. This approach was grounded in five postulates that were based on his understanding of personality:

Rogers defined “differentiated perception” generally as understanding that perception and evaluation of facts is rooted in people’s relative positions, rather than in absolute and unconditional terms. Other fields that explore the ways in which people change and live together have also influenced adult education. Developmental psychology has deepened the understanding of physical, mental and emotional changes over the life-span, which has clear implications for adult education. Sociology and social psychology offer useful perspectives on the nature of group dynamics and the behavior of different groups in interaction with each other. Knowles et al. (1998) offer a brief summary of the influences of these fields on adult education.

Houle (1961) classified adult learners into groups based on their understandings of the purposes and values of education. Goal-oriented learners seek information for specific purposes; they often satisfy these needs outside formal education. Activity-oriented learners seek learning partly for the social interaction and interpersonal relationships that emerge from learning; they consistently engage in formal education through courses and groups. Learning-oriented learners seek knowledge for its own sake. Tough (1979) extended this line of inquiry by examining how adults organize their learning. He found that almost everyone he studied undertook “at least one or two major learning efforts a year, and some individuals undertake as many as 15 or 20…” He also found that the benefits and outcomes that adults anticipated varied and that some were immediate and others were long-term, and he noted that pleasure and self-esteem were prime motivators. Through this research, Tough identified three phases of learning which educators could help facilitate in order to assist the learner: deciding to begin (with twenty-six possible steps that Tough identified), choosing the planner (which might be the learner, resources such as books or videos, a group, or an individual such as a teacher or a counselor), and engaging in learning. There have been numerous studies replicating Tough’s findings, although some have shown that for some adults, the level of planning undertaken by the learner is less than that which Tough found. Much of this research is summarized in Owen (2002).

Attempts to create a single model of adult learning began as early as 1949 in the United States, but it wasn’t until the landmark publication of Knowles’ The Modern Practice of Adult Education: Andragogy versus Pedagogy (1970) that an integrative framework was developed. The term “andragogy” was originally coined in 1833 in Germany, although it was not widely used in Europe until the 1950’s. Knowles introduced the term to the United States in 1968, although the publisher misspelled it as “androgogy.” By the time the misspelling was corrected, this version of the term had taken hold and has become widely accepted in the literature. For the second edition, Knowles (1980) changed the subtitle to “From Pedagogy to Andragogy” in order to demonstrate how his conception of the relationship between the two had changed from a somewhat antagonistic relationship to occupying different positions on a spectrum.

The term “andragogy” was originally developed to compare childhood education (pedagogy) with adult education. Traditional European and United States pedagogy can be traced back to the European monastic and cathedral schools designed to teach young boys basic skills. As secular schools developed, the pedagogical model was the only model for education (Knowles et al., 1998; Llewllyn, 1997 . Knowles is generally credited with beginning the process of differentiating assumptions that form the basis of childhood education and those that support adult education. His andragogical model originally began with the following underpinnings:

In 1984, Knowles added as a fifth assumption that adults are more responsive to internally-derived motivations than they are to externally-derived ones, and in 1989, he added a sixth that adults need to know why they need to learn something before committing to learn it.

Within the field of adult education, both the terms “androgogy” and “adult learning” are widely used, often interchangeably. However, in this dissertation, I have chosen to refer to my work as “adult education” rather than “androgogy” for two reasons. First, “andro” is based on the Greek word for men, rather than all people, and I prefer to use a gender neutral term. Second, “agogous” means “leader of,” which I feel is in some tension with my conception of educator-as-facilitator. While the Greeks may have viewed education (pedagogy) as leading boys, presumably to a certain worldview, I believe that referring to my work as “leading men” is inaccurate and prefer to not use Knowles’ term.

While there is no unified and comprehensive theory of adult learning (Brookfield, 1995; Wlodkowski, 1999), Knowles’ assumptions have generated a wide body of literature that explores how to best apply these concepts to the development of practice. According to Brookfield (1995), there have been four major areas of theoretical focus within the field: self-directed learning, critical reflection, experiential learning and learning to learn. Each of these sub-fields has generated its own internal debates, although there is also considerable overlap among them.

Examining self-directed learning in adult learning is challenging because the meaning of the term has been “skewed by those who chose to define it as they wish.” (Brookfield, 1986) According to Owen (2002), this can be attributed to haphazard nomenclature, as self-direction has been referred to as “self-teaching, self-planned learning, independent adult learning, self-directed learning, and self-initiated learning.” (p. 1) In addition, for many educators, the centrality of self-direction in adult education has been uncritically accepted, so examining exactly what it means has been neglected by many (Kerka, 1999).

Knowles (1989) described adults as “self-directing when they undertake to learn something on their own.” (p. 91) This definition casts the teacher into the role of supporting the learner rather than guiding the learner. One of the challenges to developing a more specific definition of SDL is that self-direction within the context of a voluntarily chosen learning project and within the context of a mandated course that is part of a degree program can be very different (Wlodkowski, 1999). In addition, the effect of culture on self-direction can be quite dramatic. According to Triandis (1995), adults from collectivist cultures, which tend to define success in relation to help from others and emphasize harmony within the group, may have difficulty with SDL in educational settings which place a higher premium on individual achievement. Brockett and Hiemstra (1991) attempt to enlarge the definition by viewing SDL as one facet of self-direction in learning, which they conceive of as referring to “both the external characteristics of an instructional process and the internal characteristics of the learner, where the individual assumes primary responsibility for a learning experience.” (p. 24) Since nobody can be autonomous all of the time, Kerka (1999) notes that research on the ways in which group learning and collective self-direction can support individual SDL offers multiple understandings of the meanings of “self-directed.”

SKSM learners are not required to take any specific classes and are able to choose each of their classes in order to build the skills that they each feel they need with support from their advisors, and learners from other GTU schools can choose to attend classes at SKSM based on their interests and needs. Therefore, I believe that all of the learners in Sex and Shame, Spirit and Power had been self-directed in their decision to join the class. In addition, the journal assignments and learner presentations (discussed below) offered flexibility in terms of topic, length and format; thus, they offered opportunities for self-direction throughout the semester.

Because the range of experiences, learning preferences, motivations and goals vary so widely, Wlodkowski (1999) describes one of the primary tasks for instructors of adults as “seeing the learners’ world and what they want from it as the learners see it.” (p. 34) This is consistent with Rogers’ (1969) definition of empathy as “ the ability to understand the student's reactions from the inside, a sensitive awareness of the way the process of education and learning seem to the student.” (emphasis his, p. 111) Wlodkowski extends the use of empathy and describes it as most effective when “(1) we have a realistic understanding of the learners’ goals, perspectives, and expectations for what is being learned; (2) we have adapted our instruction to the learners’ level of experience and skill development; and (3) we continuously consider the learners’ perspectives and feelings.” (p. 34) This description is consistent with Knowles’ assumption because it requires the teacher to understand the learners’ perspectives when they enter the class, where they want or need to go, and how to best help them do so.

This description of the use of empathy within education supports SDL on multiple levels. The first section of Wlodkowski’s definition can be used to examine how well the learners’ educational needs are being met, and many guidelines and techniques for assessment are consistent with this definition of empathy (Caffarella, 2002; Fritz, 2002; P. L. Smith & Ragan, 1999). It can also be used to explore how well teachers understand their learners’ cultures and the effects of cultural differences and oppressions on education (Anyon, 1998; Ladson-Billings, 1995; Luttrell, 1993; McIntosh, 1989; Ogbu, 1995a, 1995b). The large body of literature on the relationships between culture and education demonstrates the value of understanding and working with difference rather than ignoring or neglecting it. (e.g. Adams et al., 1997; Berlak & Moyenda, 2001; Flowers, 2000; Irvine, 1995; Nieto, 1994).

Wlodkowski’s second component of empathy includes understanding the range of diversity in learning styles. Gardner’s (1986, 1993, 1999) work on multiple intelligences demonstrates the many ways in which people learn and create knowledge and wisdom. Many teachers tend to teach in the ways in which they prefer to learn (Stitt-Gohdes, 2001), usually because they are not “skilled in adult learning theory.” (B. L. Brown, 2003) However, Brown also points out that learners sometimes need to learn to adjust their cognitive styles. This is consistent with Gardner’s research that showed that most people are capable of all of the forms of learning. The general consensus is that the more that educators can address a wide range of learning styles, the more effective their teaching will be (Delahoussaye, 2002).

Wlodkowski’s second point can also be used to assess how well the teacher is addressing metacognitive skills. Metacognition is the ability to be aware of and monitor one’s learning process (Imel, 2002). By helping learners develop both self-assessment and self-management of their learning, the teacher can help them understand both what they have learned and how they have learned it. As Imel points out, research indicates that learners with higher metacognitive skills “are more strategic and perform better than those who are unaware.” (e.g. Berardi-Coletta et al., 1995; Justice & Dornan, 2001; Rivers, 2001) By understanding the skills and experiences that learners bring to the classroom, and by using metacognitive inventories, teachers can help learners develop their abilities (Mokhtari & Sheorey, 2002).

Of the metacognitive skills, critical thinking (Brookfield, 1987) and critical reflection (Mezirow, 1990, 1991) have been considered by some to be a distinguishing feature of the adult learner (Stein, 2000). Both Brookfield’s “critical thinking” and Mezirow’s “critical reflection” can be described as the ability to identify, analyze and challenge assumptions, examining the contexts of beliefs and imagining and developing alternatives. This concept is a foundation for Mezirow’s transformative learning, which itself has two possible directions: shifts in meaning schemes (specific beliefs and attitudes) and changes in perspectives (overarching paradigms). However, there has been some critical response to the reliance of these models on rationality and a movement towards a wider understanding of these processes (Imel, 1998). Cranton (1994) suggests that transformative learning should not be the only expected goal of learning since people learn in diverse ways. In addition, Taylor (1998) points out that there are many other unresolved and unexplored issues within the area of transformative learning. For example, Mezirow’s emphasis on individual action and choice has left unexplored many of the questions around how transformative learning relates to social action and emancipatory education. He also neglects the effects of the context in which learning takes place, and in his attempts to universalize the experience of transformation, Mezirow grants status to cultures that prioritize transformative learning as he defines it. Finally, Mezirow has been criticized for his reliance on rationality. Although numerous studies have shown that the role of rationality within reflection and transformation is important, both the intellectual and the affective dimensions of knowing are necessary for transformative learning (Taylor, 1998). Both critical thinking and critical reflection were included in the course objectives and were integrated into the classroom discussions, journal assignments and presentations.

The third area of theoretical focus according to Brookfield is experiential learning. While this concept was an aspect of earlier work in adult education, with the gain in popularity of humanistic psychology in the 1960s and 1970s, it became the nucleus of a movement within the field. Knowles (1970) is especially credited with this trend with his placement of learner experience at the heart of adult education. One result of this development has been the recognition of the value of “informal” life experience as a source of information and learning in addition to the traditional “formal” education (Fenwick, 2001).

Järvinen (1998) divides the major perspectives on the nature of experiential learning within adult education into three categories: the phenomenological tradition of Boud and Schön focuses on the learners’ emotional states and analyzes behavioral patterns; the critical theory tradition of Freire, Mezirow and Habermas begins with the process of critical self-reflection with the aim of exploring the political and social influences that limit development; and the situated and action theory traditions stress cultural action and its analysis. As Fenwick points out, each of these points of view is rooted in varying assumptions about the nature of knowledge, its construction, and the relationship between people and their contexts. These traditional views of experiential learning tend to rely on an intellectual analysis of what experience means, even as they attempt to broaden the definition of education, as described above.

More recently, the overlapping ideas of “situated cognition” and “situated learning” have emerged as alternatives to experiential learning as it has been understood. While there are multiple ways to describe these concepts, there is agreement that learning is a process of “creating meaning from the real activities of daily living.” (Stein, 1998) When the subject matter is situated in learners’ experiences and there are opportunities to develop the skills needed to respond to “real-world” challenges, the participants are able to create their own knowledge in response to the complexities and ambiguities of practice. Since this is highly dependent on the context of learning, the available tools, and the classroom activities, knowing is entwined with doing (Lave (1988) , cited in Fenwick (2001)).

Within this paradigm, both “transfer” of learning and “truth” become problematized terms. The generally accepted definition of transfer of learning refers to the learners’ abilities to apply their classroom experiences to the “real world.” (Caffarella, 2002) However, this assumes that there are contextual boundaries across which learners can carry information. When neither boundaries nor context are seen as sharply bounded, “there are no definite boundaries to cross.” (Sfard, 1988, p. 9) Similarly, the situative perspective views knowledge in terms of relevance within a given situation, what is convenient for whom and how we choose what to do next, rather than in terms of truthhood or falsehood (Lave & Chaiklin, 1993). There are clear parallels with Kvale’s (1996) “pragmatic validation of findings” which suggests that research results can be judged by their relevance to and use by the people to whom it is presented.

An advantage to approaching adult learning from a situative perspective is that by recognizing the individuality of each learner’s experiences, a teacher can begin to take advantages of the opportunities that naturally develop. For example, while the “role of emotions in learning has largely been ignored until recently” (Imel, 2003), there is evidence that the more emotionally engaged a learner is, the more likely she is to learn (Weiss, 2000). This is compatible with Tomkins’ (1963) view that attention is proportional to the level of affective response. Other researchers have suggested including the embodied learner into education through somatic approaches that include recognizing the body as a source of knowledge (Kerka, 2002), and helping people learn through the use of culture- and value-compatible information and working with the emotional stressors that may be present (Kerka, 2003). In addition, situated learning can also encompass working with diverse learning styles, issues of oppression and privilege and the transitions of adulthood which have been described above. By basing many of the assignments and discussions on the learners’ histories, goals and interests, I was able to connect the content of the course to their past experiences more deeply than if I had not incorporated these elements. In addition, in asking the learners to explore and develop new skills, I created opportunities for their current experiences to be sources of information and learning. In these ways, the course was strongly experiential.

The final section of adult education theory that Brookfield identifies is learning to learn, also known as metacognition. Metacognition, the ability to regulate and manage one’s own learning, is fundamentally different from cognition and has been explored in a variety of fields (Rivers, 2001). Research in developmental psychology and neuropsychology ascribe two attributes to metacognition (or executive function, as it is termed within these disciplines). The first is metacognitive self-assessment, or the ability to assess one’s own cognition and the second is metacognitive self-management, or the ability to manage one’s ongoing cognitive development (Flavell et al., 1996). The skills of being able to evaluate and actively manage one’s learning goals, actions, environments and outcomes is a pre-requisite of self-managed learning (Rivers, 2001). The acquisition of metacognitive skills has been shown to be directly correlated to the development of expertise; compared to novices, experts are more aware of meaningful patterns, have a wider range of content knowledge that is more organized, and they demonstrate greater flexibility in their approaches to new situations (Bransford et al., 1999).

There are several implications of metacognition for adult education. For example, adult learners have been shown to more frequently use higher level cognitive strategies than traditionally-aged university learners (Justice & Dornan, 2001). There are also indications that helping adult learners to develop metacognitive skills with respect to new topics fosters a higher degree of motivation and success (Wlodkowski, 1997), and that when learners are asked to explain cognitive processes, metacognitive skills develop more deeply than when they simply describe their processes (Berardi-Coletta et al., 1995). Offering learners instruments to assess their metacognitive skills can help them integrate strategies that may improve metacognition (Mokhtari & Sheorey, 2002), and teachers who model metacognitive skills tend to be more influential in assisting their learners to develop their own abilities (Sternberg, 1998). While there is some research on self-assessment, the majority of the literature focuses on metacognition focuses on self-management (Imel, 2002); however, both areas offer adult education useful tools.

Other researchers have divided the field of adult education into different categories. While there is some conceptual overlap among these different perspectives, an understanding of multiple ways in which the field is understood offers clarity around different aspects of the field. For example, Cranton (1994) grouped adult learning into three categories. Subject-oriented learning focuses primarily on the acquisition of content; consumer-oriented learning relies on having the teacher facilitate the learners’ abilities to meet their needs and desires without exploring where they come from; and emancipatory learning concentrates on helping learners understand the forces that limit them, both internally and externally, and to help them transcend them. Emancipatory learning depends on critical reflection to help learners transform their perspectives and come to new understandings (Freire, 1995; Mezirow, 1991). According to Imel, only emancipatory learning has been considered to be unique to adulthood, although some have contested that claim (Merriam & Caffarella, 1999).

The praxis of education contains two essential ingredients: action, without which education is simply verbalism, and reflection, which makes dialogue possible. When education blends action and reflection, it becomes deeply connected to the participants’ authenticities (Freire, 1995). It is this interplay that frames education as social justice work because it creates a situation in which the participants can deepen their awareness of themselves, each other and the world around them and then act upon their new understandings. It is important to recognize that this process takes different forms for learners than it does for teachers.

According to Mezirow (1991), the process of perspective transformation is one through which people assess how social norms fluctuate since the validity of what is asserted is subject to change. He further argues that since the consensus on which we depend to validate expressed ideas almost never approximates the ideal, during adulthood one can explore the inconsistencies between our experiences and the meaning schemes one has acquired, especially those that have been absorbed through childhood. The act of shedding old notions and learning to create new ones is what makes adult education transformative for the learners. Even if prior beliefs are maintained after reflection, the experience of subjecting them to analysis and exploration, and no longer taking them for granted, is transformative. This process is one way in which education can support transformations for the learners. In addition, the teacher can engage in this process of reflection on, and examination of, meaning schemes and perspectives in order to more deeply join the learners and to model it. In this way, learners and teachers learn, grow and change together. These transformations are a necessary, although not necessarily sufficient, ingredient in social justice work.

Since the learners and the teacher occupy different positions within the classroom, it is reasonable to expect that there are ways in which their opportunities for transformation will differ. The nature of effective teaching offers an educator ways in which to mindfully choose to try on new approaches and techniques, which in turn can lead to new personal perspectives. Lenze and Dinham (1999) expand upon the work of Shulman and his colleagues (Grossman et al., 1989; Shulman, 1986, 1987) to explore the three areas of knowledge that provide the foundation for effective education. First, teachers must be well-versed in content knowledge, i.e. the information to be learned. This includes a field’s organizing principles and assumptions, as well as its explanatory paradigms. Secondly, effective educators are aware of instructional strategies and the processes of learning. Lenze and Dinham called this “pedagogical knowledge,” but it could just as easily be called education theory knowledge since “pedagogy” is a term that is generally used to refer to education of children and youth. At the university level, these two arenas have usually constituted the full definition of teaching: content and process.

Shulman (1986) argues that “pedagogical content knowledge” is more than the sum of the above two categories. Instead, it is the ability to adapt the education theory to the subject since each field lends itself to a specific set of practices. Developing the relationship between the subject matter and education theory is the interdisciplinary work of creating opportunities for learning. This three-part model offers a useful perspective with which to consider adult education since it can be used to explore how a teacher approaches a specific topic. Lenze & Dinham (1999) have further explored pedagogical content knowledge to include four components:

The assumption behind the fourth point is that when teachers are more familiar with learners’ processes and current awareness, the more able they are to help the learners use their resources to understand the material and develop new perspectives. This is consistent with Gardner’s (1986, 1993, 1999) work on multiple intelligences which suggests that when teachers are well-versed in the diversity of learning modalities, they can design curricula that are adapted to the learners, rather than requiring that the learners adapt to the teacher’s style.

As a general rule, people tend to teach in the ways in which they prefer to learn (Stitt-Gohdes, 2001). Within traditional education within the United States, this often leads to a self-reinforcing pattern of teaching practices that rely on acquisition of content and more formal teaching methods (B. L. Brown, 2003). However, there is ample evidence that both learner motivation and success improve when the teaching practices match the learners’ preferences (Stitt-Gohdes, 2003), which suggests that a syllabus will be more effective if it employs as many teaching styles as possible in order to reach as many learners as possible. Thus, effective teaching challenges and requires educators to teach in ways that are less comfortable and familiar to themselves (Kirkpatrick, 2001). Because this process prompts educators to examine and transcend their biases and perspectives, it makes effective education transformative for the teacher. Keeping this process transparent and modeling it for the learners allows the educator to serve as an example that can inspire the learners as they struggle with their own transformations.

As Mezirow (1991) points out, “[s]ocial action work means different things to different people.” (p. 209) He further discusses the differences between assessing the validity of a collective frame of reference, effecting changes in relationships, organizations and/or systems, and how each of them can be considered a social action. While each of these settings differ in terms of scope and scale, the social action flows from both the social dynamic (i.e. the interaction between two or more people) and action (i.e. the manifestation of the personal changes that occur through transformative learning). While not all transformative learning is a social action, when it supports the learners’ abilities to act on the personal changes that it helps them make, it is a social action.

Literature Review of Adult Sexuality Education

While this dissertation does not focus on the use of books and films for adult sexuality education, there are at least two ways in which being familiar with the history of the effects of these media on the field can benefit sexuality educators. First, the development of education media sheds light on contemporary attitudes, while also providing a historical context for the shifting attitudes towards sexuality that continue to affect contemporary United States society. Secondly, since the use of media in education is a well-established practice, familiarity with the characteristics of the currently available resources can help educators make informed decisions when choosing material to supplement their courses, whether in the classroom or as part of a resource guide.

Both of these reasons are especially important when considering the nature of this research. Even though the course developed did not focus on sexual pleasure explicitly, related issues arose during the semester. Indeed, as the class explored different aspects of sexuality, spirituality and shame, various topics related to pleasure, entitlement to sexual satisfaction and the relationship between pleasure and psychological health aose, as did the occasional question about sexual practices. Familiarity with adult sexuality education as it currently exists was a crucial ingredient in my ability to facilitate the discussion at these moments.

Adult Sexuality Education Through Books

The vast majority of research on sexuality education focuses on learners who are youth or young adults, or within problem-oriented contexts such as medical or mental health settings. However, there has been a subtle trend over the last century that sheds important light on the current state of adult sexuality education. During the first few decades of the 20th century, as the field of sexology was beginning to shift from the pathologizing trend of Kraft-Ebbing and others, there arose two different and important influences on adult sexuality education in the United States. The first was the changing relationship people had towards sex, which included shifting gender roles and increased access to information; the second was the influences of a more mobile population, especially through increasing urbanization and an increase in the size of the military. Each of these was also strongly affected by the technological development of film, which allowed sexuality education to reach a wider audience than books, as discussed below.

Between the 1890’s and the 1920’s, the field of sexology began to explore sexuality from a scientific perspective, rather than a religious perspective. For example, Havelock Ellis’ Studies in the Psychology of Sex, Freud’s work on sexual development, and Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis laid the foundations of a new literature that brought sexuality information into the lives of many more people than ever before (Brecher, 1969). Although most of these texts were academic or medical in nature and were written for a professional audience, and for decades they focused on heterosexuality, they often served as educational materials for lack of more accessible information, as did later work by Kinsey and Masters and Johnson.

By way of contrast, one landmark book, Ideal Marriage: Its Physiology and Technique (Van de Velde, 1930) represents a dramatic change in sexuality education in the United States. Ideal Marriage was hardly the first “how to” sex manual, nor was it the most comprehensive. Yet it managed to describe sexual practices for the “post-Victorian victims of Victorian repression, in language which neither alarmed nor repelled them” (Brecher, 1969, p. 83). Van de Velde wrote specifically for married men who, once they had mastered the information, could teach the techniques he described to their wives. Although some of the physiological details are incorrect, many of the sexual practices the book contains are strikingly similar to those currently being published. Part of what made Ideal Marriage such a landmark book is that Van de Velde recognized both that the previous attitudes that regarded sex as inherently evil were shifting, and that sexual response is not automatic; he believed that without accurate information, the delusion that sex will naturally occur where love and affection exist would continue to create disastrous consequences. As a result, Ideal Marriage remained in print in various revisions until the 1960’s, a remarkable lifetime for a sex manual in the United States.

Simultaneously, there was a political and educational movement to teach women about their bodies and sexualities. One well known proponent was Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, who made explicit the connections between sexuality education for women and the ability to control their lives through contraception. One of her later works, Happiness in Marriage, begins with the assumption that when sexual rapture is created through sexual skills, true love between husband and wife can flourish. This is similar to Van de Velde’s work, although it was often lost among Sanger’s political fights over birth control (Melody & Peterson, 1999).

Other writers also pushed the boundaries of what was considered acceptable, such as Joseph Collins’ A Doctor Looks at Love and Life (1926), which advocated masturbation before marriage; Wile and Winn’s Marriage in the Modern Manner (1929), which described wives as companions, not merely as housekeepers for their husband; and Binkley and Binkley’s What is Right with Marriage (1929), with their focus on marriage as a relationship rather than an economic unit. While these popular books were responding to changing attitudes, they also served to communicate those attitudes to a wider audience.

Later sex manuals and guides similarly reflected and extended changing sexual attitudes. As beliefs about gender roles shifted and cultural definitions of marriage, love and sexuality transformed, books such as Love Without Fear (1947), Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, but Were Afraid to Ask (1969), The Joy of Sex (1972) and others became best-sellers (Melody & Peterson, 1999). In the last decade, we have seen an explosion of how-to guides, some of which focus on specific topics such as fellatio, cunnilingus, erotic massage, female ejaculation and anal sex (e.g. Blue, 2002a, 2002b; Brent, 2002; Sundahl, 2003). As these books became more and more available, sexuality information became more consumer-driven, as can be seen in the development of advice columns in Playboy, Cosmopolitan, and other magazines. At this time, there is little academic attention given to these sources of sexuality information, other than critiques of the implicit assumptions they make with respect to gender, sexual orientation, etc (e.g. J. D. Brown, 2002; e.g. J. D. Brown & Keller, 2000; Keller & Brown, 2002).

In addition to the shifting assumptions and beliefs about sexuality, and the effects of these changes on the relevance and accuracy of sex manuals, there is another major explanation for the constant rewriting and republishing of overlapping material. For decades, books on sexuality have not generally been seen as being worth preserving in libraries. Libraries have been at the epicenter of an ongoing battle over censorship, sexuality and the use of public funds. Even when books are donated to libraries, the fight over whether they are appropriate to preserve rages (Cornog & Perper, 1996). As a result, books on sexuality are often destroyed or lost and the thirst for information can often only be met by new publications.

Adult Sexuality Education Through Film

During the post-World War I years, the consequences of unprotected sex began to be felt by the American public in general and the military in particular, new strategies were developed to try to stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (Eberwein, 1999). The national anxiety caused by the high incidence of STDs (called VD at the time) within the military, which neared 20% in 1909 (Brandt, 1987), the fear of the effects STDs would have on military capability, and concern for the consequences of soldiers returning home with untreated STDs all demanded new responses. In addition, as American urban culture developed, sexual customs changed dramatically, both in terms of number of potential partners and in terms of the types of partners available (Chauncey, 1994; Gilfoyle, 1992; Rubin, 1998; Stryker & Van Buskirk, 1996). As a result, educational films designed to both teach and scare were developed for military and civilian audiences. While these films varied in their approaches, they were focused on stopping the spread of disease, rather than sexuality education for pleasure’s sake.

The focus on educational films to prevent undesirable consequences such as STDs and unintended pregnancy continued until the 1970’s, when the film equivalent of the marriage manual began to be developed. These films generally relied on the “authority” of the doctor, who provided a voice-over or other narrative in order to justify the serious nature of the work and separate it from pornography, as well as to provide scientific credibility. This is an approach that can be seen in many recent sex education films for adults, and may serve to justify the film’s existence or validate its utility, especially when the production shares some of the same cinematographic conventions as erotic films (Eberwein, 1999). Currently, there exists a small number of companies producing educational videos and DVDs with a focus on sexual pleasure and fulfillment. Most of these films are for a heterosexual audience, with a smaller number of films with a same-gender or gender-neutral perspective. While most of the films are on general sex techniques, there are some that concentrate on specific topics, just as there are books that focus on individual subjects.

In addition, although contemporary erotic films and videos may not be intended to provide education, many people find that they can provide a type of information not found in many other films designed to be educational. For example, being able to see the wide range of genital anatomy can provide a more accurate idea of what sexual organs look like than can be gleaned from the line drawings in a book (Blue, 2003). This is similar to the information gleaned by readers of erotica, even though that may not have been the aim of the authors.

Adult Sexuality Education in the Classroom

Currently, a growing number of colleges and universities are developing courses in human sexuality; however, they generally focus on the topics and issues that provide a context for sexual pleasure, such as pregnancy, anatomy, and communication, rather than on sexual pleasure itself. In addition to the many textbooks written for the college classroom, there are at least two curricula available for adult sexuality education. The Unitarian Universalist Association has published Our Whole Lives, a series of workbooks for age-appropriate sexuality education for children, adolescents and adults. The volume for adults (Kimball, 2000) and the companion volume that focuses specifically on sexuality and UU values (Frediani, 2000) contain a series of workshop outlines that sexuality educators can use to develop their programs. Meanwhile, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) has developed New Expectations: Sexuality Education for Mid and Later Life, a curriculum that focuses on issues and concerns that are common to mid- and later life (Brick & Lunquist, 2003). This book also contains a series of workshop outlines for facilitators.

While both of these curricula are clearly designed using adult education theory, the principles behind the processes of adult education are not made explicit. This runs the risk of their being used as inflexible scripts rather than as general guidelines. The more a given audience diverges from the group for which these classes were intended, the more challenging it will be for the facilitator to make the information relevant. One participant in the Phase 1 interviews specifically criticized the Our Whole Lives curriculum as a one-size-fits-all approach.

In addition to the college courses and the programs described above that focus primarily on sexuality topics that are part of the context for sexual activity, there is an increasing number of places where adults can find classes and workshops on sexual skills, techniques and practices. For example, the Learning Annex, an organization that offers workshops on many subjects in several United States cities, hosts classes on flirting, sensual dance and dating skills. There are also progressive companies offering sexuality resources and products such as Good Vibrations, a retail and mail order company in San Francisco and Berkeley, California, which offers over eighty workshops each year, covering a wide range of topics directly related to sexual skills. Similar companies, such as Toys in Babeland in New York and Seattle, Erotic University in Los Angeles and Grand Opening in Boston and Los Angeles, also offer such workshops, although on a smaller scale. In addition, there are many communities of erotic affiliation (Queen, 2004) that organize classes and seminars on a number of subjects relevant to their concerns. Many of these educational events take place at annual conventions and conferences while others occur at community gatherings and meetings, either as part of their ongoing educational efforts or as ways to introduce and acculturate new and potential members. Lastly, many conventions, conferences and community gatherings for groups not organized around sexual and erotic affiliations include programs on sexuality topics.

In almost all of these settings, the teachers have little training in adult education. While there is no formal research on this topic, in conversations and through personal observations, I have seen many examples of practices that conflict with current research on effective education practices. When talking with presenters, I have often been told that they design their classes using techniques that they have seen others use; since they are not guided by the principles of effective education, these tools may not work in different settings or with different topics. I have also asked many presenters if they are aware of the existence of research information and education programs that might help them become more effective teachers, and have consistently observed responses of surprise. I believe that this situation is partly due to the lack of awareness adult education as a field of study.

Since I was not able to locate published work on the application of adult education to sexuality, I contacted well-known educators and sexologists to ask if they had ever read or heard about research in this area. Their replies consistently indicated that this is an area that has yet to be developed (Brookfield, 2001; Bullough, 2001; Hall, 2001; Mezirow, 2001).

Go to Chap. 3