Sexuality Research and Social Policy

, Volume 11, Issue 3, pp 211–224 | Cite as

“Who’s to Blame?” Constructing the Responsible Sexual Agent in Neoliberal Sex Education

  • Sinikka Elliott


Based on ethnographic observations in two high schools, this paper analyzes how sex educators deploy the neoliberal discourse of personal responsibility in their comprehensive and abstinence-only lessons. I focus not just on the explicit and intended messages of personal responsibility but also the hidden and evaded lessons that are imparted in the classroom. The findings demonstrate that sex educators rely on and reproduce gender, race, class, and sexual inequalities in their lessons in personal responsibility that put forth a version of the good sexual citizen as self-sufficient, self-regulating, and consequence-bearing, what I call the responsible sexual agent. Yet, in their hidden and evaded lessons, sex educators also underscore the extent to which people’s lives are intertwined with and reliant on others, suggesting the discourse of personal responsibility is inadequate for capturing the complexities and realities of people’s intimate lives. The findings point to the importance of examining the translation and negotiation of neoliberal sex education policy at the classroom level.


Sex education Sexuality Gender Race Personal responsibility Neoliberalism 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology and AnthropologyNorth Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA

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