Is “Sex Education” an Intelligible Concept?

Authored by: Lauren Bialystok

Handbook of Philosophy of Education

Print publication date:  October  2022
Online publication date:  October  2022

Print ISBN: 9781032000053
eBook ISBN: 9781003172246
Adobe ISBN:


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Sex education engenders persistent value disputes that are amenable to philosophical analysis and argumentative testing. Most philosophers of education have argued for a classically liberal approach to sex education, in which the promotion of student autonomy is paramount. Although liberals are right to endorse “comprehensive sex education,” this chapter argues that our debates about sex education rest on an unintelligible conception of the subject. Using Foucault's genealogy and contemporary educational scholarship it shows that schools are beholden to a sexual epistemology that puts it at odds with pedagogical norms in other subjects. We teach para- and meta-sex education, whereas first-order sex education happens outside classroom instruction. This re-conceptualization can help us appreciate the limits of our political discourse and design more effective liberal curricula.

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