Talk About Sex: The Battles Over Sex Education in the United States
Janice M. Irvine
University of California Press, $24.00 (paper)

When Sex Goes to School: Warring Views on Sex and Sex Education Since the Sixties
Kristin Luker
W.W. Norton, $25.95 (cloth)

Teaching Sex: The Shaping of Adolescence in the 20th Century
Jeffrey Moran
Harvard University Press, $16.95 (paper)

Sometime in the mid-1990s I attended a workshop on basic video techniques at the public-access cable station in Chicago. I had come with another sex educator and activist from the Coalition for Positive Sexuality, a direct-action sex-ed group, in hopes of producing public-service announcements. CPS envisioned itself as providing near-peer sex education for teens (though some of us were rather long in the tooth to be near peers). Many of its founding members were very young veterans of Act Up demonstrations; and all were concerned about the lack of a coherent sex-ed curriculum in the Chicago Public Schools. (That the Coalition for Positive Sexuality and the Chicago Public Schools shared an acronym delighted us.) CPS sponsored a number of projects, some officially sanctioned—like sex-ed workshops at local colleges—and some guerilla—like distributing condoms along with a bright-green informational booklet titled “Just Say Yes!” and pasting posters designed by member artists on city streets and in subway cars (“Cum Prepared!”).

For that Saturday video class, people with all manner of commitments had come from all corners of the city, including several women from churches—church programming being a mainstay of public-access cable. When our turn came to identify our project, one of these women nodded approvingly: I hope you’re educating them about abstinence. Well, yes, we replied, we discuss abstinence as one choice among many. That’s what “Just Say Yes!” means—yes to abstinence, or to sex with others, or to sex with yourself—a consensual, reflective, informed, safe-as-possible yes. From the expression on her face it was clear that this was not what she had in mind. Abstinence as a choice among choices was precisely the weaselly liberal (or, even more disturbing, radical) proposal that appalled many conservative parents.

This muted skirmish took place on the conflicted terrain of sex education. Though sexual education dates back to Progressive Era “social hygienists” and their efforts to combat venereal disease and prostitution, the current vitriol is of more recent vintage, emerging in the late 1960s. Deeply disturbed by the sexual revolution, and agitated further by the comprehensive sex-ed curricula recently implemented in some school districts, traditionalists began to mobilize in such groups as MOMS (Mothers Organized for Moral Stability), SOS (Sanity on Sex) and MOTOREDE (Movement to Restore Decency). They rallied against sex ed and the funding of sex-ed programs by the National Education Association in a series of convulsive disputes in 1968 and 1969. Since then, sex ed has offered Americans a symbolic arena for persisting cultural combat, the terms of which have shifted over the past 40 years.

A number of recent books have charted this transformation, among them Janice M. Irvine’s Talk About Sex, Jeffrey Moran’s Teaching Sex: The Shaping of Adolescence in the 20th Century, and Kristin Luker’s When Sex Goes to School: Warring Views on Sex—and Sex Education—Since the Sixties. All three share the view that the “sex in the schools” dispute is (in Moran’s words) “less a dispute over the curriculum than a ritual dance to signify a broader range of social and sexual attitudes.” Because sex-ed debates are, strikingly, almost always debates about sex ed in public schools—the last notionally communal bastion of American subject-formation—they unsurprisingly reflect conflicting ideas about the place of religion, parents, experts, and curricular reform. Perhaps most important, sex-ed debates allow—or reveal—a rhetorical convergence of fears: about young people and about sex.

Ever since G. Stanley Hall first theorized “adolescence” as a developmental category, in 1904, adolescent sexuality has been giving Americans trouble—or, more precisely, has offered Americans a screen onto which to project their troubles. As Moran emphasizes, the long 20th-century history of sex ed has been inextricably linked to the concept of adolescence: sex ed has always been about young people’s moral and political formation as well as their health. Keen to manage adolescent as well as pre-, non-, and extramarital sexuality, social hygienists early in the last century linked the sexual education of adolescents to public health, equating moral and physical hygiene. This link has persisted in all the permutations of sex ed since.

In the ’50s, sex ed typically appeared as one small precinct of “family-life education,” aimed primarily at training young people for monogamous, rigidly gendered, companionate marriages in a booming consumer culture. In 1964 Mary Steichen Calderone launched SIECUS—the Sex Information and Education Council of the United States—whose agenda reflected Calderone’s own combination of libertarianism and commitment to family. SIECUS recommended a comprehensive, K–12 sex-ed curriculum, featuring age-graded information about growth and development, reproduction, contraception, masturbation, and sexual response. The founding of SIECUS—along with Roe v. Wade (1973), panic over teen mothers in the ’70s and ’80s, and the emergence of the AIDS epidemic in the ’80s—appears as a watershed in most histories of late-20th-century sexual education.

By the late ’60s, SIECUS and its advocacy of value-neutral pluralistic sex education had become a target of the ascendant right as a challenge to normative sex roles and family structure (this despite Calderone’s own pronounced misgivings about the sexual revolution and feminism). Indeed, Irvine argues that “opposition to sex education was a bridge issue between the Old Right and the New Right.” The emergent majority was silent no more, and it was all worked up besides.

Consider Gordon Drake, a Christian Crusader and John Bircher, who posed the following question in his best-selling anti-sex-ed pamphlet of 1968: Is the Schoolhouse the Proper Place to Teach Raw Sex? With its striking combination of faux-folksy archaism (“schoolhouse”) and inflammatory language (“raw sex”), Drake’s title deployed a provocative rhetoric that continues to be effective. Savvy conservative activists like Drake found in sex ed a gift that kept on giving—a means for creating and sustaining a volatile moral panic about sex, adolescents, and supposed liberal perfidy.

By the ’80s conservatives pushed sex-ed discussions to a new place: the question now (as Irvine tells us) was not whether a sex-ed curriculum should be offered, but which one. A new battleground was emerging: “comprehensive” vs. “abstinence-only” sexual education. This distinction, though wobbly in practice, is significant: comprehensive sexual education communicates information about contraception and usually includes value-neutral discussion of abortion, sexual orientation, and other controversial topics; abstinence-only curricula promote abstinence as the only acceptable standard for youth—indeed for anyone not in heterosexual marriage—and mention contraception, if at all, only to emphasize failure rates.

With Ronald Reagan’s election, the seeds that conservative agitators had sown bore fruit: the 1981 Adolescent Family Life Act, or AFLA. Sometimes called the “Chastity Act,” AFLA denied funds to most programs that provided abortions or abortion counseling and mandated abstinence-only education in the sex-ed programs it did fund. Abstinence-only curricula proliferated after Surgeon General C. Everett Koop’s 1986 report on AIDS. Ironically, the report had called for explicit sex education (including discussion of homosexuality), but the promise of a widening of sexual discussion was overtaken by phobias, with sex—not to mention gays—once again linked to disease and destruction. New conservative groups arose to promulgate the abstinence-only message, supported with curricula such as “Sex Can Wait” and “Me, My World, My Future.” Indeed, conservatives became as talkative about sex as the most vocal of the old-style sex-ed proponents, ratcheting up their fear-mongering to shame and shut down advocates of a comprehensive sex-ed approach.

Abstinence-only-until-marriage programs got a tremendous boost from Bill Clinton, whose 1996 Welfare Reform Act included a provision, Title V, setting aside $250 million dollars for state initiatives promoting sexual abstinence outside of marriage as the only acceptable standard of behavior for young people. The current administration has ramped up funding still more: as the Waxman Report noted, “The federal government will spend approximately $170 million on abstinence-only education programs in fiscal year 2005, more than twice the amount spent in fiscal year 2001.”

In When Sex Goes to School, Kristen Luker has filed the most recent report on the sex wars. A sociologist who has published extensively on abortion, contraception, and the politics of teen pregnancy, Luker here bypasses the official discourse of national organizations, focusing instead on the less potted idioms and semi-articulated logic of parents who found themselves active in sex-ed debates. She interviewed participants in local school-district disputes for over 20 years and in four communities with particularly pronounced conflicts (two in the West, one in the rural South, one in the urban Northeast).

Focusing on activist parents and their life narratives, Luker’s account does not address the particulars of sex-ed curricula, the historical contingencies of local disputes, and the public rhetoric propelling these debates: for the last, a reader might go to Moran and Irvine. While they show how school districts have become an effective local arena for staging battles in the ongoing national culture wars, Luker, stationed in those districts, shows us how muddled citizens work their way into (if not always through) sex-ed debates. Ascending from case studies to generalizations, Luker’s book complements the more top-down analyses of Moran and Irvine; their work in turn is needed to make the fullest sense of the climate in which Luker’s informants have been debating, and to understand the vast network of national organizations to which embattled parents might turn for talking points, curricula, and support.

Luker’s analysis jibes in many respects with Moran’s and Irvine’s; like them, she argues that sex-ed disputes have continued by other means the battles over the meaning of the ’60s. Unlike them, she aims to bring this news to the general public. Thus her occasional recourse to a cloying folksiness: for example, a chapter titled, “Boundaries, Life, and the Whole Darn Thing.” Clearly Luker wants to contribute to a national conversation—and this may constrain some of her book’s analytic power. To write an accessible, readable book about sex-ed debates is no small achievement, but Luker’s book, in its final chapters, at least, seems more symptomatic than diagnostic: confronted with strong, though often sub-articulate, polarization among her informants, Luker falls back on a weakly accommodationist “Let’s learn from both sides!” approach—about which more later. Luker keeps her own politics off-stage, though she does remark that she mainly considers sex a zone of pleasure, not danger.

Luker discerns in the rise of abstinence-only curricula “the tracks of a counterrevolution, one that attempts to turn back the events of the 1960s.” She argues that sex-ed debates reveal the great divide between what she calls “sexual conservatives” and “sexual liberals.” This is, as she reminds us, a fairly recent formation; we are barely one generation into a new socio-sexual regime, in which widely available contraception and legal access to abortion, however embattled, have made it possible to dissociate sex from reproduction. Luker emphasizes that “virtually everyone I talked to grew up as sexual conservative, because that was effectively the only option”: her informants grew up before Roe, amidst a prevailing double standard, with contraception at best unevenly available and clouded in embarrassment.

Today’s activist pro-sex-ed parents are, in the main, children of the ’60s, and their polarization reveals a broader national predicament (think Bill Clinton vs. Ken Starr, or indeed vs. George W. Bush). Luker’s main contribution is to direct our attention to the formation of sexual conservatives and sexual liberals, and how they understand themselves. Luker takes pains to show the routes by which a person might become a sexual conservative: many are indistinguishable from their liberal antagonists in terms of background, experience, socioeconomic status, and religious affiliation. She strikingly distinguishes between “‘birthright’ sexual conservatives” (those who felt their parents’ values were basically right-on) and “‘born-again’ sexual conservatives” (who experimented, regretted, and retrenched).

As Luker notes (and as Irvine and Moran extensively document), local sex-ed disputes have often served as the crucibles in which sexual conservatives discover themselves to be such. It’s not that conservative parents go looking for sex-ed controversies but that they crystallize as conservatives precisely through such controversies. Luker’s research also suggests that these newly self-identified conservatives often seek out conservative churches, rather than being created by them.

Luker lays out the fault lines running through sex-ed debates: conservatives emphasize gender difference and the mysteries of sex while liberals mute difference and demystify bodies and sexual acts. For conservatives, sex is “sacred”; for liberals, sex is “natural.” Her analysis seems spot-on, if unsurprising, and in line with other studies of late-20th-century conservative and liberal ideology more broadly considered.

In her most trenchant remarks, Luker notes the complex intersection of economics and gender in these debates. Her sexually conservative, activist women tend to be those who thought they were in one sex-marriage game and found themselves to be in another. “Revolutions have winners and losers,” Luker writes, “and in this case [the sexual revolution] the losers were women who looked forward to marriage and family as the most enticing and life-affirming future.” Men no longer had to promise marriage to get sex, and the women raised within the old socio-sexual regime found themselves less able to bargain for the lives they wanted. “My interviews indicated clearly the declining fortunes of women who would prefer to be married mothers but who have fewer resources than before to make that happen,” Luker writes. As Luker sums up her own and others’ research, “When a new technology [in this case, contraception and abortion] allows some women to reduce their dependency on (and their preferences for) marriage and intimate relationships, those who can’t or don’t want to are disadvantaged.” The destigmatization of premarital sex, increasing normalization of single parenting, and relative ease of divorce: these in combination have eroded the status of marriage as well as traditional gender roles and expectations. Luker’s research suggests that, in these communities at least, the strongest supporters of abstinence-only curricula tend to be these embattled defense-of-marriage women, as well as the usual run of evangelical pastors.

Luker writes, less convincingly, that abstinence-only advocates are not anti-sex but rather pro-marriage, that they reject absolutely the post-’60s decoupling of sex and marriage. Such glosses run the risk of recycling informants’ claims rather than analyzing them: few people announce they are anti-sex tout court.

More astute is Luker’s attention to the ambiguous status of information in these controversies. Conservatives and liberals agree that information “levels the playing field”; they diverge on whether that’s bad or good. Conservatives view information, particularly sexual information, as a potential threat to children that must be managed, preferably within the home, while liberals regard the dissemination of information, sponsored by the state or the school, as a boon. Here we confront in one of its many forms the unfinished project of the Enlightenment: the liberal optimism that information produces good decision-making runs up against the neo-Calvinist conviction that we are all fallen, capable of evil, requiring strong guidance and protection.

Related to this issue of information, but unexplored here, is an issue of citizenship: children are dependent citizens, teens less so. How to socialize minors? And what role should schools play in that project? (To see how one activist teen brilliantly addresses these questions, rent the documentary The Education of Shelby Knox.) The family-and-religion nexus fueling these debates points to a privatizing tendency in the United States, and not only in schools: one might argue—and indeed the French and the Swedes don’t bother to, it seems so obvious—that the state has an interest in sponsoring sexually well-informed subjects. Luker’s proposal, for a dual curriculum (abstinence-only and comprehensive curricula offered side by side, apparently separate but equal), comes as an almost comically liberal solution, one that the conservatives vividly detailed throughout this book would have to reject. Wouldn’t all that talk about masturbation and condoms and perhaps clitorises and orgasms and homosexuals seep through the halls down to the abstinence-only wing?

Luker also recommends a “teach the conflicts” approach: “Why not put the hidden agenda on the table and tell young people and their parents that Americans today hold two very different views about sexuality, views rooted in very different notions of the relationship of sexuality to marriage?” Again, one can’t help but see this as a typically “liberal” proposal, vitiated by Luker’s own diagnosis of sexual conservatives’ hostility to the dissemination of information. Isn’t the whole point to keep the agenda hidden? (One might argue, following Irvine, that the conservative agenda is to keep the sex-ed debate active, open, loud, and hysterical—to fan anxieties, fuel hostility, and create panic: no one in American public life speaks so fervently, frequently, and luridly about sex as conservatives. Yet to give conservative parents their due—which Luker more than does here—they are not simply tools of cynical national agitators: they see themselves as sponsoring and protecting their children, and consider comprehensive sex ed a profound violation.)

Luker’s modest proposals bring to mind the words of Gayle Rubin, the anthropologist and sex–gender theorist: “Whenever there is polarization, there is an unhappy tendency to think the truth lies somewhere in between.” Rubin’s critique of an “emergent middle” (here developed in the context of antiporn vs. libertarian feminist debate) is especially pertinent to Luker’s book. Luker’s refusal of critique undermines her book, threatening to limit its remit to the feedback loop of culture-war chatter. There is no way to reconcile conservative and liberal mandates within public-school sex education: they are mutually exclusive moral economies, with any compromise noxious.

All the Sturm und Drang that Luker reports obscures the crucial fact that the jury is still out on whether sex ed of any stripe achieves what its advocates say it does. Indeed, a recent article reviewing 21 abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula in the Journal of School Health suggests that such curricula are not sex-ed curricula at all:

A strong argument could be made that abstinence program goals and strategies (role modeling, service learning, parental involvement, discussions of ethical behavior) mirror more closely the goals and strategies of the current character education movement in the United States, than the purposes and methods of sexuality education.

Even if sex ed isn’t about what it says it’s about, it is worth considering what the stated rationales for sex ed—of all curricular varieties—continue to be.

Liberals have long hung their hats on the conviction that schools are ideal sites for social reform, including the reform of sexual behavior; and more recently, abstinence-only educators have bought into that vision as well. Yet multiple factors have converged to transform what Göran Therborn in Between Sex and Power (2004) calls “the sex-marriage complex,” and sex ed is a pretty small wrench to throw into this overwhelming social machinery. As John Dewey long ago observed and radical educators have elaborated since, the hidden curriculum is often more powerful than any official one; children get sexual information in all manner of ways. This does not relieve adults of the burden of thinking hard about how and where they might want to educate young people about erotics, sexuality, and reproduction—but we should be aware that triumphalist claims (indeed any claims) from either side of the current sex-ed wars remain unsupported by research, and that most sex-ed programs (even those ostensibly “comprehensive”) devolve when implemented in this climate into half-baked, half-hearted ventures, defensively taught.

More important, these writers under discussion suggest, rightly in my view, that a utilitarian-consequentialist rationale for sex ed (to invoke a philosophical discourse they do not) cannot counter a conservative rationale grounded in duty, right, or moral law. The value-neutrality of pluralistic sex education leaves advocates wide open to attacks in terms of “values”: most citizens will not absolutely detach sexual behavior from morality, and many continue to invoke religion as opposed to or alongside public health as the or a proper framework for transmitting sexual knowledges.

Blithely appealing to public health and models of harm-reduction, invoking what Moran calls “the myth of reform,” advocates of comprehensive sex education as much as conservatives often finesse the question of the efficacy of their curricula, asserting rather than demonstrating that, for example, comprehensive sex ed has contributed to the delay of first intercourse, or the reduction of teen pregnancies, or abortions. And in fact it is not at all clear that sex ed itself has changed or will ever change behavior in any statistically significant way.

But why not cede efficacy as your ground? What do you want from sex ed?

Sex pervades our culture. How to think about it, and how to have intergenerational conversations about it, remain urgent questions. At this point sex-ed disputes—with their ritual, formulaic incantations, excitations, and impasses—seem like an elaborate way not to think about sex and education.

“The time has come to think about sex.” So wrote Gayle Rubin in “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality.” Every time is a time to think about sex, and some might say that that’s all Americans do—from Bill Clinton’s cigars to Paris Hilton’s videos to Plan B to Viagra to Girls Gone Wild. But there’s a difference between sex on the brain and sex as an object of thought.

Luker astutely observes that the main problem with American teenagers and their sexuality is that they are American, not that they are teenagers. Americans across the board are very bad at managing their sexualities, pregnancies, marriages, and children: our sexual-disease rates, abortion rates, and divorce rates are shockingly high for a so-called developed nation. Focusing socio-sexual debate through the lens of “child” or “youth” or “teen” sex ed keeps alive the moral panic around adolescents; it also allows adults to dodge (as well as pursue by other means) enormous sexual conflicts and ignorance across all age groups. One subject it allows us to dodge, as Luker suggests, is the “competing roles of pleasure and duty in American society.” It is striking that in her book not one advocate of comprehensive sexual education justifies his or her commitment on the grounds of pleasure. And pleasure-phobia is the hidden link for conservatives, Luker cannily observes, in resistance to discussions of masturbation as well as homosexuality: “In fantasy gay sex is about pleasure and pleasure alone.”

Sex-ed debates are a way of not thinking about sex. The old aim of conservatives (indeed, of most adults) was expressly to minimize the amount of air time, mental space, and bodily energy that youth could devote to sex. Those who opposed any form of sex education—a stance, as we have seen, less common since the late ’80s—opposed such with good Foucauldian instincts: sex ed was simply a way of putting sex into discourse—and thus into minds, nervous systems, and bodies. Discourse is a form of power-knowledge. And one main strand of opposition to comprehensive sex education stems from the conviction that talk leads to action; information stimulates expression; more talk, more sex; earlier talk, earlier sex. Advocates of sex ed have too rarely addressed this concern, yet it seems to me a completely reasonable one: one aim of sex radicals, for example, is precisely to make available, visible, and discussable a range of sexual options and practices that otherwise lurk in the wings or remain invisible. Thus Pat Califia, one of the sharpest, most controversial writers and sex radicals of the past 30 years, made plain in 1980 the implications of a radical enlightenment commitment:

There is a paucity of accurate, explicit, nonjudgmental information about sex in modern America. This is one way sexual behavior is controlled. If people don’t know a particular technique or lifestyle exists, they aren’t likely to try it. If the only images they have of a certain sexual act are ugly, disgusting, or threatening, they will either not engage in that act or be furtive about enjoying it.

This is not the kind of thing to reassure concerned parents, and Califia doesn’t give a flying fuck. Califia flew under bold, anti-normative libertarian colors: “The family, conventional sexuality, and gender are at the top of my hit list. These institutions control the emotional, intimate lives of every one of us.”

Califia’s infernal trinity—family, conventional sexuality, and gender—are exactly what Luker’s sexual conservatives wish to defend, and indeed what many sexual liberals hold most dear as well. Califia’s writings—reissued in 2000 with a new preface—offer a strong antidote to liberal bromides and to the mainstreaming of former deviance and perversion, most notably homosexuality: Califia had no patience with gay normals, bourgeois sentimentality, womanism, antiporn feminism, or paternalism, and Califia shared with other sex radicals a profound mistrust of the state. No looking for gay marriage here, that is to say, though Califia, like many other radicals, has consistently argued for the equal sexual and civil enfranchisement of all regardless of sexual orientation or gender.

From one angle, Califia’s work—which early on featured defenses of man-boy love—is a gift to right-wingers, full of material and positions so apparently outlandish as to make former Senator Rick Santorum drool. From another, Califia’s sex-positive embrace of critical sexual thinking, wherever it might lead, remains if not a model an incitement.

Califia’s stringent critique points up the ideological blind spots in work such as Luker’s—work that claims to analyze but at crucial junctures reproduces social beliefs and convictions. Luker maintains, for example, that “a key point of this book is that we often don’t know our deepest values.” Her book seems rather to demonstrate that her informants are extraordinarily articulate about their deepest values; what they can’t do is historicize or theorize them, or have higher-order conversations about them.

Luker tells us that she suspects the “key mystery” that conservatives wish to protect and liberals want to dispel “is that men and women in the bedroom, as elsewhere, share one humanity but two genders.” From another angle this is not mystery but mystification. You don’t have to embrace a blasé transactional model of sex to find such hymns to mystery problematic. Human mysteries will keep on coming; no need to do such heavy lifting. If it is the nature of capitalism to strip mystery from all formerly held sacred, to relocate mystery in gender can be seen as a hopeless as well as a rearguard action. And we might reflect, too, that is not clear that homosexual sex is any less mysterious than heterosexual sex; for many women and surely for some men, the mystery of their sexual lives is their own bodies. The sexual presence of another—of whatever gender—introduces an irreducible mystery.

One wishes that Luker had consulted Califia, or Rubin, or Therborn, or any number of other writers on the political economy of sex: she would not then be content to rest her argument on gender fundamentalism. As Califia argues,

Strict gender division is so important to the majority of people’s sexual pleasure that they want to disguise it as nature or biology, so nothing will threaten to change it. The differences between men and women are seized upon, encouraged, artificially exaggerated, and even lied about to create a distance and a tension that give heterosexuals something to struggle with, a strange territory to explore, a mystery to apprentice themselves to and celebrate. A belief in sex differences and a dependence on them for sexual pleasure is the most common perversion, if we define perversion as allowing imagination, intelligence, and choice to create sex for pleasure, as opposed to restricting ourselves to instinct, hormones, and religion, and limiting sex for procreation.

In such passages it as if Califia were writing the script for right-wing opponents, for “limiting sex for procreation” is the increasingly explicit aim of a certain segment of right-wing activists no longer content to wage war on abortion, feminists, gays, and sex ed: as Russell Shorto wrote in “Contra-Contraception,” in The New York Times Magazine (May 7, 2006), the right to contraception—even for married couples—is now under assault.

Sex, particularly explicitly non-reproductive sex, will continue to give Americans trouble. Sex entails—and will most likely always entail—all manner of risks: emotional, physical, mental, economic. And the arguments on both sides on the sex-ed wars have been circumscribed by the language of risk. Conservatives emphasize sexual danger and sexual risk, and they work hard to preserve their gender asymmetries. The systematic reduction of risk—of STDs and most importantly pregnancy—created more gender equality around sex in the ’60s and ’70s, but the AIDS pandemic brought risk discourse back to prominence in all forms of sex education, strikingly narrowing the parameters of discussion even while normalizing talk of condoms. As early as 1984 Califia was warning against the reactionary constriction of sexual-ethical horizons and discourse: “AIDS is no excuse for abandoning an attempt to think critically . . . about traditional morality or to experiment with new ways of living and loving.” Explicit discussion of and tutelage in safer-sex practices continue to be important—and not just for youth, or for gay men. But instead of ceding talk of values to conservatives, advocates of a truly comprehensive sex ed should try more seriously to ground their arguments in terms of justice and happiness.