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Open Access Publications from the University of California

SexEd : : Pedagogy, Pornography, Precocity, and Adolescent Sexual Subjectivity

  • Author(s): McKinney, Carl Lee
  • et al.

Since its invention at the turn of the twentieth century, adolescence has been defined by a problem : sexual maturation prior to the age at which sex is socially acceptable. To address this problem, young people have been subject to particular knowledge intended to protect and maintain their sexual innocence. They have become the focus of an intense scientific scrutiny that generates sexual knowledge about them, which in turn informs and shapes sexual knowledge created for them. Adolescents learn about sex and are constituted as sexual subjects through this knowledge. SexEd examines the production of adolescent sexual knowledge in the United States. Tracing a system of discourses, institutions, and practices through which this knowledge is produced reveals the underlying logic by which a normative ideal of adolescent sexual innocence is maintained. Construed by cognitive, psychological, neurological, and biological sciences as inherently at risk of making irrational and impulsive sexual decisions, adolescents are subject to both the prophylactic knowledge of the 'facts of life' they are taught in school, and to representations of sex in the media that are shaped by regulations meant to keep them from being 'harmful to minors'. Extracting sex from the complex of 'bodies and pleasures' in which it is practiced into these scientific, pedagogic, and media discourses produces abstract sexual knowledge that reproduces particular values, norms, and ideals as sexual 'truths', while also delegitimating the embodied experiences and situated knowledge of youth. SexEd argues that the logic of protecting the young by such a tactical deployment of sexual knowledge is flawed, and shows how efforts to do so are being undercut by youth participation in a pornographic and confessional culture enabled by new media technologies. Adolescents are knowing participants in the production of sexual knowledge to which they are subjects, yet they are often unaware of how to engage the abstract information, ideas, and images that comprise this knowledge in ways that make them relevant and meaningful in their own lives. SexEd calls for a critical sexual pedagogy that helps young people negotiate and effectively participate in the sexual discourses to which they are subject by teaching sexual media literacy

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