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"The ravages of permissiveness": sex education and the permissive society

By James Hampshire and Jane Lewis


In this article we explore how sex education in schools has become an adversarial political issue. Although sex education has never been a wholly uncontroversial subject, we show that for two decades after the Second World War there was a broad consensus among policy-makers that it offered a solution to public health and social problems, especially venereal disease. From the late 1960s, this consensus came under attack. As part of a wider effort to reverse the changes associated with the ‘permissive’ society and legislation of the late 1960s, moral traditionalists and pro-family campaigners sought to problematize sex education. They depicted it as morally corrupting and redefined it as a problem rather than a public health solution. Henceforth, the politics of sex education became increasingly polarized and adversarial. We conclude that the fractious debates about sex education in the 1980s and 1990s are a legacy of this reaction against the permissive society

Topics: DA Great Britain
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Year: 2004
DOI identifier: 10.1093/tcbh
OAI identifier:
Provided by: LSE Research Online
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