Ines Vuckovic/Dose

Her feisty, sex-positive views were too much for conservatives in Congress.

Our Unsung Heroes series brings history’s unknown badasses out of the footnotes and into the spotlight.

Though I was only three in 1994, my undeveloped pecker was already a major point of intrigue in my life. Imagine my toddler-size outrage, then, when it was announced that December that Joycelyn Elders, Surgeon General of the United States of America, was forced to resign. The reason? Elders condoned masturbation as a means of reducing the spread of AIDS.

Now, look: I’m a fan of flogging the dolphin even before we introduce avoiding a deadly virus into the equation. But if a little hand-to-gland combat can save lives? I say choke up and let loose the wads of war.

Of course, the conservatives (and handful of liberals) who ousted Ms. Elders eventually found themselves on the wrong side of history. Granted, it was 1994, but their silly beef with Elders included her support for sinful things like:

  • Studying the legalization of drugs. (More than half of our states have, as of this publication, legalized pot in some form.)
  • Supporting comprehensive sex ed and providing public schools with contraceptives. (It works.)
  • Criticizing the Catholic Church for opposing abortion. (Abortion was legalized in the US in 1973; Elders’ qualms with the Church’s position seem almost beside the point.)
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These views made her unpopular with Republicans to begin with. But she sealed her fate in earnest with the following remark at a New York AIDS conference on Dec. 1, 1994:

“I think masturbation is something that is a part of human sexuality and it’s a part of something that perhaps should be taught. But we’ve not even taught our children the very basics.”

Sensationalists took this to mean that she advocated teaching kids how to masturbate. Like, literally teaching them how to jack or jill off.

Elders did clarify in a phone interview with the AP that her remarks were intended to express her support for sex ed, and that because masturbation is part of human sexuality, it would naturally be included as part of a full sex ed curriculum.

But don’t worry about Elders — after leaving public life, she became professor emerita at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, wrote a book, appeared on TV and in movies, and regularly delivers lectures on sex and drugs.

Pants off to you, Ms. Elders.