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Columbia University, School of Law




This essay offers some ABCs for a framework for sex education informed by feminist and liberal principles, in contrast to the conservative sexual economy underlying abstinence-only sex education. It embraces affirmative governmental responsibility to foster sexual and reproductive agency and responsibility and stresses the aims of capacity, equality, and responsibility. An adequate program of sex education should also address how gender role expectations and stereotypes may stand in the way of adolescents developing capacities for responsible self-government and acquiring a sense of personal agency with respect to intimacy and sexuality. The Essay then evaluates such a feminist project in light of the sexuality critique of legal feminism - a line of criticism leveled by feminist and post-feminist scholars against feminist legal theorists' work on sexuality. The sexuality critique charges legal feminism with conflating women's sexuality with their subordination and abdicating to other fields the task of developing a positive account of sexuality. The Essay considers some writings by Janet Halley and the anthology, Intimacy (edited by Lauren Berlant). A striking point of convergence and divergence between conservative and critical discussion of sexuality concerns how the institution of marriage channels men and women into the service of orderly social reproduction: social conservatives stress the dangers of not channelling heterosexuality, while critical perspectives elaborate the human toll exacted by such channeling. The Essay contends that a liberal feminist approach to sex education resists both of these grim visions.

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