Author (Your Name)

Melyn Heckelman, Colby College

Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis (Open Access)


Colby College. Anthropology Dept.


Mary Beth Mills


This thesis is the product of my five weeks of ethnography in three classrooms in Waterville, Maine and the surrounding area, in addition to individual and group interviews with both students and the educators themselves. It seeks to understand why, in a culture so saturated with images of sexuality and naked bodies, the teachers I observed were largely unwilling or unable to discuss human sexuality in public schools as anything more than a public health issue. Since the 1960s sex educators have been fighting to teach about contraceptives. Recent longitudinal studies have confirmed what proponents of comprehensive education have been arguing for years—abstinence-only sex education does not work. The overwhelming majority of American parents support comprehensive sex education and funding for abstinence-only education programs, though still significant, is waning (Irvine, 2002). However, this victory does not mean that sex education curricula should remain static. It is time to reconsider sex education in our public schools, and ask what it is exactly that we are trying to accomplish and if it is truly a comprehensive sexuality education that we are providing. I hope to provide my reader with an understanding of the pedagogical approach I observed in Waterville, Maine and what it means for the way teenagers in these public school systems understand their sexual bodies and what they can do with them. Having only studied three classrooms in depth, I cannot say with any certainty that my findings are fully generalizable. What I believe, however, is that if the construction of sexuality I witnessed in these central Maine classrooms has anything in common with the bulk of classrooms in the United States, then comprehensive sexuality education has a long way to go before it becomes truly comprehensive, or even, educational.


language, sex, moral socialization, reproductive education, public schools

Included in

Anthropology Commons