Care of the Sexual Self: Askesis As a Route to Sex Education

Dissertation, Marquette University (2019)


In adolescent sex education, the contemporary debate has developed into two camps: the paternalistic view and the liberal view. I argue that both sides of the camp have been too focused on actions and behavior and are assuming a heteronormative background. This dissertation argues that the way to take care of the self is through exercises, techniques, self-discipline, and self-cultivation—what the ancient Greeks called áskēsis. By applying áskēsis to sex education, students will gain the character of taking care of the sexual self and have a robust outlook of themselves via sexuality. After looking at countless syllabi, I reduce three different moral foundations that underlie existing sex education programs. The first are paternalistic sex education programs. However, empirical research shows that gender discrepancies and heteronormativity are presented as inevitable. The second model is what I call liberal-consequentialist sex education, which emphasizes avoiding negative consequences such as unwanted pregnancies and STIs. This model is an improvement since it empowers students with essential knowledge such as anatomy and sexual mechanics. But this model is still limited because it fails to discuss many forms of sexuality and gender while embracing heteronormativity. The third model is what I call liberal-deontological sex education, which teaches sexual consent. While this model definitely improves on the previous two models, there is still something lacking. Most importantly, this model fails to address the gender inequality at the root of the problematic power dynamics. For example, if to receive consent is to garner a yes, then all men have to do is manipulate woman to get that yes. These three models focus on a person’s behavior, but sexuality is much deeper. Therefore, we need another model that implements áskēsis. For simplicity, I analyze áskēsis to three components: the sexual emotions, the sexual mind, and the sexual body. A comprehensive sex education program helps students train the moral sexual character by disciplining whether those components are coming from their authentic character, or if these ideas were simply societal expectations. This model, thereby, helps students question their own social mores and help formulate their sexual subjectivity.

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Author's Profile

Shaun Miller
Salt Lake City Community College

References found in this work

Paternalism.Gerald Dworkin - 1972 - The Monist 56 (1):64-84.
On Liberty.John Stuart Mill - 1956 - Cambridge University Press.
On Liberty.John Stuart Mill - 1956 - In Steven M. Cahn (ed.), Exploring Philosophy: An Introductory Anthology. Oxford University Press. pp. 519-522.

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