In Western societies, contemporary childhood has become the most intensely governed period of personal existence. It is a period of extreme surveillance in which the child has become the target of social, political, educational and legal regulations that constitute children as the powerless and dependent Other in relation to adults in society.

Kerry H. Robinson, Innocence, Knowledge and the Construction of Childhood: The Contradictory Nature of Sexuality and Censorship in Children’s Contemporary Lives, 2013, 5.


While there’s a dominant perception that prevails that sexuality is irrelevant to young children, social practices demonstrate a different narrative – one in which there is an emphasis upon dismissing children’s desires and curiosity about sexual knowledge, or keeping them contained, often through myths and misinformation. The media is perpetuating the narrative that our culture is becoming morally corrupt and that this corruption is linked to sex. The media is not the only institution that is allegedly corrupting youth through exposure to sex. Educational institutions are also under fire.

In this module, we will interrogate the following questions:

  • What are the origins for our current ideas about sexual immorality? 
  • Why and how is sex linked to morality? 
  • Who gets to label others as immoral? Who gets labeled? 
  • Who is seen as vulnerable to the dangers of sexual corruption?
  • Do children have or even get to have a sexuality? 
  • What role do concepts such as consent, rights, respect, well-being, and health play in the formation of children’s understanding of sexuality?

It is important to point out that the discourses of childhood and childhood innocence are intertwined and work simultaneously to reinforce the power relationships between children and adults, which is socially constructed and variable across different socio-cultural contexts. In other words, the meaning of childhood and the child are socio-culturally defined by adults and for adults and this understanding determines how a child should behave, what a child should know, and how and when a child should come to know it.

Learning Objectives

By the end of this module, you should be able to:

  • Recognize how innocence as a discourse is a powerful tool to establish social and cultural hierarchies
  • Understand how sex and sexuality are linked to discourses about morality
  • Understand how and why children’s sexuality is constructed through a heterosexual, normative lens
  • Define informal social control, downward social comparison, symbolic boundaries

Moving Forward

Each module contains a big idea + lesson, assigned resources, and a summary page. Visit each section below by clicking or tapping the images.