/Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll in Politics of Sin 
Graphic by Bell Jackson

Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll in Politics of Sin 

Dr. Andrea Eckelman, professor of political science at the University of Montevallo, begins one of her classes with this question: “How is it, in a nation, founded on principles of individual liberty, individual responsibility and freedom, that we consistently—or the government consistently—seeks to restrict those freedoms?” 

This is the underlying question of her class, The Politics of Sin, a class that focuses on how government policy regulates behavior. 

Eckelman became motivated to teach The Politics of Sin after teaching a class on social policy at the University of Houston. The class had two portions that Eckelman focused on: social policy, such as healthcare, welfare and education, and social regulatory policy, which investigates the regulation of behavior. 

Once at UM, with space to expand her classes, Eckelman decided to break down her social policy class previously taught at Houston.  

“In a social policy class, you can spend an entire semester on healthcare, you can spend an entire semester on education,” Eckelman said, “If nothing else, I’ll take those three—education, healthcare and welfare—make them their own class and then develop this more, like, morality politics class. And, so, that’s how it got started.” 

Topics such as the economy and education are widely discussed in political science classes, but Eckelman also appreciates the recognition of lesser-known policy decisions.  

“Understanding the policy process, and understanding where these topics differ from the ones you tend to hear more about. Right? We hear a lot about the economy, what’s going on with the economy. We talk a lot about education, and the state of education. All very important, but at the same time, there’s a lot of behavior-regulating going on.” 

One of Eckelman’s focuses in the class is, “Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, the sex part, and sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, the drugs part,” she said. While the phrase typically refers to the lifestyle of rockstars, Eckelman uses it to break down individual topics of regulatory policy. 

When looking at regulatory policy about sex, Eckelman says she features topics such as abstinence-only sex education, sex trafficking and sex work, abortion and family planning and child marriage. For drug-related regulatory policy, prohibition, the War on Drugs and the opioid crisis are all points of analysis. 

The class’s formal breakdown includes, as well as a midterm and final exam, two reflection papers and a policy brief. The reflection papers give students a chance to reflect on the new knowledge that they have learned in the class, and whether their beliefs or opinions have adjusted based on new material. 

The goal of the policy brief is, “to think like a researcher trying to communicate this information to a lawmaker, to a policymaker,” said Eckelman. Students are able to choose a topic that sparks interest or meaning to them for the brief, such as gambling or the use of marijuana. 

“Ultimately, you do a presentation but you also create a policy brief, which is the kind of handout you would hand, like if you were to go down to Montgomery, and walk into our representative’s office and say ‘I care very much about gambling in the state of Alabama, and here is my research on that,’” she said. 

With the policy brief, students are able to directly simulate what it is like to be a part of the process that creates policy. For Eckelman, she sees sex, and the regulation of sex, as her favorite topic of regulation in the class. 

“My favorite is talking about regulation of sex, and sort of the historical background,” she continued, “Historically, how have we treated sex broadly?”  

As for students, she notes that recent policy changes have made a mark on campus, specifically the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which in 1973 made access to an abortion a constitutional right. The amendment was overturned in 2022 with Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. 

“Given the general mood on campus and with students in the wake of Dobbs, I think that, perhaps, abortion and family planning might be one of the more impactful subjects this go-around,” Eckelman said. 

However, despite favorite topics of interest, which can differ from student to student, Eckelman justifies that the class as a whole is beneficial to all students.  

“I would say that nearly every topic we cover in this class, someone will encounter at some point in their life,” she said.  

Understanding how previous policies have evolved and failed, such as the failure to completely prohibit the use of alcohol during prohibition, is key to understanding current policy and how future changes may affect the standings of today. Eckelman believes that taking The Politics of Sin is also a way to investigate government systems in general. 

“Sure, you can live your life without diving into these policies, but understanding how we have gotten to the point that we are at is really important. I think it’s also important, for just, broader questions about our government,” said Eckelman.  

“These are just really worthwhile considerations and questions to ask ourselves,” she added. 

The Politics of Sin will be offered every third spring, with the next availability coming in 2027. 

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Lucy Frost-Helms is the copy editor of The Alabamian. She’s majoring in social science and minoring in philosophy. She enjoys being a goober, eating chicken salad for breakfast, watching “National Treasure” and telling you that she will “definitely pay you back for that.” Lucy has the worst memory of all time and will forget major, important details of stories you tell her.