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In which Lindsey talks a little about the Comstock Laws, your Valentines, and the mail.

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Host: Dr. Lindsey Doe

Directing/Filming/Editing: Nicholas Jenkins

Titles: Michael Aranda

Executive Producer: Hank Green
Lindsey: I'm a sexologist now and I enjoy my work. But if you asked seven-year-old me, "What do you wanna be when you grow up?" I would have said, "A UPS driver."

I love mail! Delivering it seems like a dream job. This week I got to kindle my seven-year-old self, sending all sorts of mail around the world. Like these!

I put them in address-padded envelops and took them to the post office, where I was then handed a stack of customs declaration forms to fill out for their international travel.

The form asks what's inside. What's in it? What's in it??

I did want to write "clit" but I went with "art" instead. It would be sad if a custodian of the mail read "clit" and went, "Err?" and opened the package to find out what was inside, slowing down your delivery.

Things like this happen. I'm gonna call it screening, or censoring, and it's usually done for social well-being, like safety, legality. Sometimes it's done for morality.

Take for example the 25,000 Valentines that were refused by the Chicago post office in the late 1800s on the grounds that they were too passionate to be delivered.

Now this was over 100 years ago but the messages of sexual shame and modesty have lingered up until today. This is why even sexologist Dr. Doe writes "art" instead of "clit".

One of the highest spikes in sexual censorship history was the Act for Suppression of Trade in and Circulation of Obscene Literature and Articles for Immoral Use. I know that it sounds like (noise) Shorter name? Comstock Laws.

The year was 1873. Anthony Comstock, for whom the laws were named, was living in New York. I don't think this has anything to do with the villain in BioShock so let's continue.

It's the latter part of the 19th century, a time period known as the Gilded Age, referring to its big-city problems covered in a thin layer of gold and excitement. The problems were that there were more people than there were systems to manage them. Electricity had become a part of daily living, and oil and steel were now economic powers.

There were great waves of immigration and industry but nothing in place to stabilize this wobbly growth spurt. So much chaos going on: waste and pollution in the streets, rampant illness, poverty, corruption, cops being bribed with big money to turn their eyes from the flourishing life of vice, mainly sex. Anthony's intention was to eradicate this vice: cursing, gambling, non-procreative sex.

Note: Anthony was not a gray 69 when he started the crusade against obscenity. He began in his twenties, with the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, an organization aimed at regulating public morality.

The Society is known to have supervised newsstands and bookstores. They held up markets where lascivious information could reach the public. They attacked, they seized, they raided. They did whatever they could to rid the city of indecency, including a congressional push for purity.

In 1873, Anthony's lobbying efforts for anti-pornography legislation passed. This became the Comstock Laws. Anthony was appointed Special Agent of the US Postal Service, where he was given the right to enforce his laws. To govern the mail. With a gun.

Here's a man who's going into brothels in bathhouses, dragging people into the street to be arrested. Why would he go after the postal service? Because the postal service is a federal office, meaning he's not just suppressing vice in New York: he's suppressing vice nationwide, and he did.

Tony could open any envelope or package. He could read the contents, he could destroy them, and he could arrest the sender or the recipient. He confiscated 15 tons of books, 284,000 printing plates and 4 million pictures. This doesn't even include all the letters, brochures, medical journals, and contraception he took.

According to Tony and his comrades, smut needed to stay out of the mail. This to them meant your Valentines, your pornography, your contraception, your information about sexually transmitted infections, and your medical textbooks.

Oh, you're a med student waiting for your book to come in the mail so you can learn about the human parts that you're supposed to cut and mend?

Anthony: No!

L: You want to send a patient information about syphilis?

A: Nope.

L: How about ways to protect himself?

A: No!

L: What about this brochure I have on birth control for a patient who is on her fourteenth pregnancy?

A: Confiscated.

L: But I can get my porn, right?

A: Grrr!

L: Some of you will think that Anthony Comstock is a hero. I'm guessing that more of you think he's an evil baby. Officially, it's all unconstitutional. While the Comstock Laws ran for nearly 100 years, they were repealed in 1965 by the US Supreme Court and people like me who believe that this is not dangerous or immoral.

Stay curious.

This video in no way is meant to attack or demean the USPS or any other mail services. I was treated very professionally while organizing my sexual shipments including the 200 condoms that I sent my friend in Germany.