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What's Missing?: Discourses of Gender and Sexuality in Federally-Funded Sex Education Open Access

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This work performs a critical discourse analysis of federally-funded abstinence-only and comprehensive sex education curricula in order to understand how, through the implementation process, sex education policies construct gender and sexuality. Both the policy debates and the policy infrastructure revolve around the question of outcomes -- which approach to sex education is most effective? -- and as such, the policy landscape dichotomizes abstinence-only and comprehensive approaches and renders invisible the functioning of gender within them. By examining the construction of gender and sexuality in six commonly-used, federally-funded curricula, (three abstinence-only and three comprehensive), this research demonstrates that, consistent with policy debates, what is included in the two types of federally-funded sex education is very different, but what's missing from these programs is more alike than the policy environment suggests. The curricula all fail to convey discourses of positivity around sex; similarity around gender; mutuality around relationships; and men's responsibility around parenting and sexual assault prevention. I therefore argue that, regardless of whether curricula are abstinence-based or comprehensive, they all fail to teach equitable, empowering versions of gender and sexuality.

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