Dr. Joycelyn Elders speaks at Momentum 2012

I’ve been promising you more tasty morsels from the Momentum conference since I wrote Part 1. Momentum was full of amazing people and ideas from start to finish — and afterwards, because I couldn’t stop thinking about what I had learned and the people I had met.

The high point had to be Dr. Joycelyn Elders — former Surgeon General of the United States under Clinton, 1993-1994. She was born in 1933, making her a vibrant 78 now.

I met her shortly before my “Senior Sex Out Loud” speech. Dr. Elders exited the elevator and sat down across from me, where I was making last minute changes to my notes for my talk that was about to happen. I introduced myself to her and told her about my upcoming speech.

“That sounds very interesting,” she said. “I think I’ll follow you to the room.” I don’t usually get stage fright — I love interacting with audiences! — but I admit my hands shook and my toes tingled at the thought of Dr. Elders — a role model for talking out loud about sex with a “bring it on!” approach to controversy! — would be in my audience. (Read about my speech here.)

Dr. Elders, if you remember, was fired for advocating that schools teach children about masturbation in answer to a reporter’s question.

Later that afternoon, Dr. Elders was part of the closing plenary. I wish you could have been there! Some of her memorable quotes:

  • “80% of men masturbate. 70% of women masturbate. And the rest lie.”
  • “95% of Americans didn’t wait until marriage. We need to teach them to be responsible, rather than telling them, ‘Don’t have sex.’” 
  • “The best contraceptive in the world is a good education.”
  • “The vows of abstinence break far more easily than latex condoms!” 
  • [about sex-positive activism:] “When you’re dancing with a bear, you can’t get tired and sit down.”
  • “We’re sexual beings from the day we’re born until the day we die.”
  • “If you think babies aren’t sexual beings, you’ve never changed a baby boy’s diaper.”
  • “When I am 95 I will still be a sexual person.”

Although her speech at Momentum was not recorded, this video of a speech she gave in 2006 is similar and will show you her intelligence and sassy style.


  1. Allen Petty on April 26, 2022 at 2:30 pm

    The sacking of Dr. Elders was something that saddens me to this day. Her comments which caused such a firestorm were and are so important to the health and development of children, and based on common sense principles from the medical and mental health fields.

    It is lovely that we have had giants such as Betty Dodson work feverishly through the years to advocate for masturbation, but to have the opportunity for the US Surgeon General to use her position to take the shame and guilt out of masturbation was lost opportunity for a generation.

    I have been married to a wonderful woman for over 50 years who has been in memory care for the past decade. I do not wish to involve myself with anyone else. Masturbation has been my pathway to the amazing memories my wife and I have had through the years. I indulge in it daily, without guilt or reservation, but I know for many, it is still frowned upon. It is the sex I experienced first, experienced the most and the last sex I will experience, by choice. It is a beautiful part of life, and Dr. Elders should be celebrated for her stance.

    • Joan Price on April 26, 2022 at 2:35 pm

      I agree 100%, Allen. Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

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