The social or mental hygiene movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was an attempt by Progressive-era reformers to control venereal disease, regulate prostitution and vice, and disseminate sexual education through the use of scientific research methods and modern media techniques.
The social hygiene movement represented a rationalized, professionalized version of the earlier social purity movement. Many reformers, such as Dr Marie Stopes, were also exponents of eugenics. Inspired by Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection, they argued for the sterilisation of certain groups, even racial groups, in society. This link between racial hygiene and social hygiene can be seen in Australia, where the Racial Hygiene Association of New South Wales is now named The Family Planning Association.
Social hygiene as a profession grew alongside social work and other public health movements of the era. Social hygienists emphasized sexual continence and strict self-discipline as a solution to societal ills, tracing prostitution, drug use and illegitimacy to rapid urbanization.
The movement remained alive throughout the 20th century and found its way into American schools, where it was transmitted in the form of classroom films about menstruation, sexually transmitted disease, drug abuse and acceptable sexual behavior in addition to an array of pamphlets, posters, textbooks and films.