The HIV/AIDS pandemic has entered its thirtieth year; sex trafficking persists as an $8 billion industry (May 2006); unwanted pregnancies and transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) continuously occur due to a lack of simple knowledge. Despite these exigencies, we find our politicians, parents, and teachers still merely quibbling about standards of modesty considered to be essential for maintaining a distorted concept of virtue. There are many questions concerning sexual education in the United States that beg unified answers. Should we increase the depth of sexual education and access to birth control? Or should we emphasize the role of abstinence as the most effective mode of protection while holding back important information about contraception and sex? Sexual behavior, however, has become too conspicuous a topic to let it remain an impenetrable enigma. The belief that sex and love should be left as unexplored mysteries rather than subjects of analysis has played a powerful role in United States’ discussions of sexual education.
The “indefatigable sexual curiosity” exhibited by youth must be met with comprehensive education (Irvine 2002:5). Comprehensive sexual education acquaints youth with techniques of preventing pregnancy and STIs, preventative testing, discussion of sexual orientation, and the psycho‐emotional pros and cons of engaging in intimate relationships. In contrast to the heightened detail in this form of education, “abstinence‐only” programs promote a more parochial version of safe sex that not only discourages the act itself, but disdains discussion about the subtleties of sexuality as well. Abstinence‐only programs tend to provide only cursory information about contraception while often avoiding talk about abortion and homosexuality altogether.
In spite of their very apparent drawbacks, abstinence‐only programs have dominated the educational scene in the United States for the past thirty years. These programs employ “scare tactics” that endeavor to frighten young people from having sex while ensuring they remain ignorant of vital particularities of sexuality. Discourses of sex that have been popularized in the past sixty years are inherently important when addressing sexual education. Therefore, as in many Public Health, Sociological, Anthropological, and Epidemiological papers that discuss sex, I draw on Foucauldian (1976) concepts of discourses and sexuality in order to elucidate how and why the country considers sexuality the way we do.
"Sex and Sexuality in the United States: A Brief History of Culture Wars,"
Spectrum: Vol. 1
, Article 1.
Available at: https://scholars.unh.edu/spectrum/vol1/iss1/1