The task of writing a history of sex education in twentieth-century Italy is highly problematic. First, among the few studies dedicated to the history of sexuality in Italy, the history of sex education has received little attention. This is not because of a paucity of sources, but rather because, at first sight, the analysis of the sources does not indicate any discernible trends. The apparent homogeneity of the available material represents another problem, for, as far as sexual morality was concerned, both the hegemonic Catholic culture and its main antagonist – communism – adhered to a system of values in which sex had, above all, negative connotations.1 Inter-cultural and intra-cultural divergences existed, but were not expressed clearly. Writing the history of Italian sex education therefore involves deploying a mass of material that seems to endlessly repeat the same concepts and the major challenge (especially for the 1950s and early 1960s) is to read between the lines of the evidence in order to detect signs of change. This study will first locate the issue of sex education in the years 1940-80

against the backdrop of earlier developments. Secondly, it will focus on the debate over whether sexual enlightenment represented a risk for the maintenance of social and moral order or could help to reinforce ‘traditional’ morality. Thirdly, the role of sex education in the preparation for marriage, and the attempt to use information about the male and female physiology to strengthen traditional gender roles, are discussed. According to Catholics, it was, above all, the parents’ responsibility to provide sex education, but a fourth section of the chapter addresses the issue of how schools became more involved during the 1970s. A final section is devoted to an overview of the impact of sex education on the sexual life of Italian men and women.