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Danger and Disease in Sex Education:The Saturation of ‘Adolescence’ with Colonialist Assumptions

Danger and Disease in Sex Education:The Saturation of ‘Adolescence’ with Colonialist Assumptions


The United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) Millennium project argues for the importance of sexual and reproductive health in the achievement of all Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Sex education programmes, aimed principally at the youth, are thus emphasised and are in line with the specific MDGs of reducing the incidence of HIV and improving maternal health. In this article, I analyse recent South African sex education and Life Orientation (a learning area containing sex education) manuals. Danger and disease feature as guiding metaphors for these manuals, with early reproduction and abortion being depicted as wholly deleterious and non-normative relationships leading to disease. I argue, first, that these renditions ignore well-designed comparative research that calls into question the easy assumption of negative consequences accompanying ‘teenage pregnancy’ and abortion, and, second, that the persistence of danger and disease in sex education programmes is premised on a discourse of ‘adolescence’. ‘Adolescence’ as a concept is already saturated with the colonialist foundation of phylogeny re-capitulating ontogeny. Individual development is interwoven with collective development with the threat of degeneration implied in both. This interweaving allows for the instrumentalist goal of sex education in which social changes are sought through changing individuals’ sexual attitudes and behaviour.
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