Communication Studies, Department of


Date of this Version



Quarterly Journal of Speech 102:4 (2016), 353–375.

doi: 10.1080/00335630.2016.1209548


Copyright © 2016 National Communication Association; published by Routledge/Taylor & Francis. Used by permission.


Moving from opposition to participation, the Adolescent Family Life Act (1981) and the development of abstinence education marks the conservative movement’s pivot to a rhetorical strategy of tolerance that enabled it to coopt the public culture of sex discourse. Working from Herbert Marcuse’s theory of “surplus repression,” I argue that the New Right seized the liberationist argument for open public discourse about sexuality to sublimate libidinal desires into a national project of familial (re)productivity. The AFLA is significant in the rhetorical history of sex education because it demarcates the transition to a productive form of biopolitics that sought to manage sexuality by instrumentalizing rather than censuring bodily desire. Conservative sex talk illustrates how Eros—transgressive, creative, and erotic desires—is channeled into the discursive production of hyperfunctional subjects invested in their own subjugation.