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
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