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Prophylactic Sexuality Education, “Young People” and Sexual Futures

The principal focus of sexuality education continues to be prophylactic – designed to prevent harm or disease. Adults and young people associate sexuality education with prevention – prevention of unintended pregnancy; gender based violence; child abuse; homophobia; HIV, and, sexually transmitted infections (STIs).  While all of these issues are rightly concerns of sexuality educators, they are also embedded in the understanding that sexuality education of young people is essentially a problem of constraint. This prophylactic focus has a long history which is reinforced by chrononormative understandings of young people and sexuality. These temporal norms, reinforced by the state, reinforce the notion that young people need to follow certain scripts in relation to sex, sexuality and gender. In this discussion of young people and sexuality education the focus is on different ways of imagining young people’s sexual futures. How can sexuality education work with young people to imagine sexual futures outside the constraints of this mphasis on prophylactics? What could such a sexuality education look like that upset the strictures of prevention and chrononormativity? In what spaces might it flourish? How can sexuality education work with young people to imagine different types of sexual futures? Inspired by Elisabeth Freeman’s Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories (2010: xv), my focus is on futurities which are “out of synch with state-sponsored narratives of belonging and becoming”. This paper is speculating futures “…in ways that counter the common sense of the present tense” of “young people”, and sexuality education.

Professor Mary Lou Rasmussen is located in the School of Sociology at The Australian National University. She is part of the ARC Discovery Project Queer Generations, investigating the experiences of two generations of LGBT young people Australia. She is also leading another ARC funded Discovery project entitled WAM - Worldviews of Australian Millenials, which is researching young Australian's perspectives of religions and non-religious worldviews. Her research focuses on building transdisciplinary understanding of education about sexuality and gender across diverse lifeworlds, taking account of issues related to sexual citizenship, cultural and religious difference and technologies of sexuality, education and health. She is co-editor, with Louisa Allen, of the forthcoming Handbook of Sexuality Education (Palgrave).

Mary Lou Rasmussen