Toward a Sexual Ethics Curriculum: Bringing Philosophy and Society to Bear on Individual Development

Spring 2010

Source: Harvard Educational Review. Vol. 80, Iss. 1; pg. 81-105. Spring 2010. 

(Reviewed by the Portal Team) 

For over a decade, battles have, raged between conservative Abstinence Only Until Marriage (AOUM) sexuality education advocates and liberal Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) advocates.
While these battles have focused on the inclusion of health information about contraception and whether or not a curriculum must advocate, abstinence as the best and only method to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, these debates have often ignored other important values about sex.

In this article, the author reviews the recent history of these sexuality education battles, criticizes both AOUM and CSE curricula, and discusses how, in CSE's accommodation to AOUM objections, ethical dimensions of sex education may have been neglected in favor of evidence-based practice.

The author argues for including ethical education as part of sex education.
An ethics approach to sex education will help teens develop and express an ethical orientation to sex and teach them not only to look inward and narrowly address the personal choices they will need to make in the future but to understand the ethics these decisions reflect.

It will also help them examine the moralities represented in the world around them, such as those in the media or expressed in our culture's response to rape, sexual harassment, pornography, and prostitution.

The author also argues that sexuality education in a liberal studies tradition should be taught from an interdisciplinary perspective whereby health information is only a part of the curriculum and thinkers from fields such as philosophy and history introduce the moral issues at stake.
This is a vision in which sexuality education is designed to educate the whole teen as a decision maker, a sexual citizen, and an ethical human being.

The author then suggests ways in which the current curricula could teach ethical reasoning and make sex education a form of citizenship education.

The author concludes that the current curriculum should include education about rights, ethics and philosophy, views of sex in society, and religious perspectives, and it can do so under a general discussion of what it means not only to develop a sexual identity as an adolescent but to become a sexual citizen.

Updated: Jul. 13, 2010