Evaluations of comprehensive sex education programs show that these programs can help youth delay onset of sexual activity, reduce the frequency of sexual activity, reduce number of sexual partners, and increase condom and contraceptive use. Importantly, the evidence shows youth who receive comprehensive sex education are NOT more likely to become sexually active, increase sexual activity, or experience negative sexual health outcomes. Effective programs exist for youth from a variety of racial, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds.
1. Researchers studied the National Survey of Family Growth to determine the impact of sexuality education on youth sexual risk-taking for young people ages 15-19, and found that teens who received comprehensive sex education were 50 percent less likely to experience pregnancy than those who received abstinence-only education.
2. Researcher Douglas Kirby for the National Campaign to End Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy examined studies of prevention programs which had a strong experimental design and used appropriate analysis. Two-thirds of the 48 comprehensive sex education programs studied had positive effects.
a) 40 percent delayed sexual initiation, reduced the number of sexual partners, or increased condom or contraceptive use.
b) 30 percent reduced the frequency of sex, including a return to abstinence.
c) 60 percent reduced unprotected sex.
3. The other programs were early childhood interventions. Of the effective, comprehensive sex education programs:
Abstinence-Only Programs Are Inaccurate, Ineffective and May Even Cause Harm
While there is ample research to prove that comprehensive sex education programs give young people the tools they need to protect themselves from negative sexual health outcomes, there is little if any evidence to show that flawed abstinence-only programs are effective – even at achieving abstinence among teens.
1. A congressionally mandated study of four popular abstinence-only programs by the Mathematica found that they were entirely ineffective. Students who participated in the programs were no more likely to abstain from sex than other students.
2. Evaluations of publicly funded abstinence-only programs in at least 13 states have shown no positive changes in sexual behaviors over time.
3. In December 2004, the U.S. House of Representative’s Committee on Government Reform led by Rep. Henry A.Waxman released a report showing that 80 percent of the most popular federally funded abstinence-only education programs use curricula that distort information about the effectiveness of contraceptives, misrepresent the risks of abortion, blur religion and science, treat stereotypes about girls and boys as scientific fact, and contain basic scientific errors.
4. Among youth participating in “virginity pledge” programs, researchers found among sexually experienced youth who were re-pledging abstinence, 88 percent broke the pledge and had sex before marriage. Further, among all participants, once pledgers began to have sex, they had more partners in a shorter period of time and were less likely to use contraception or condoms than were their non-pledging peers.
5. No abstinence-only program has yet been proven through rigorous evaluation to help youth delay sex for a significant period of time, help youth decrease their number of sex partners, or reduce STI or pregnancy rates among teens.
Public Opinion on Comprehensive Sex Education versus Abstinence-Only
Public opinion polls consistently show that more than 80 percent of Americans support teaching comprehensive sex education in high schools and in middle or junior high schools. In one poll, 85 percent believed that teens should be taught about birth control and preventing pregnancy; in another, seven in 10 opposed government funding for abstinence-only programs.Support for comprehensive sex education also cuts across party lines.In a poll of 1,000 self-identified Republicans and Independents, 60 percent of Republicans and 81 percent of Independents think that public schools should teach comprehensive sex education.
Young People Need Comprehensive Sex Education
The health and future of every adolescent is shadowed by risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV, as well as by risk of involvement in unintended pregnancy.
1. The rate of STIs is high among young people in the United States. Young people ages 15-24 contract almost half the nation’s 19 million new STIs every year; and the CDC estimates that one in four young women ages 15-19 has an STI.
2. Expert’s estimate that about one young person in the United States is infected with HIV every hour of every day.
3. Nearly 15 percent of the 56,000 annual new cases of HIV infections in the United States occurred in youth ages 13 through 24 in 2006.
4. African American and Hispanic youth are disproportionately affected by the HIV and AIDS pandemic. Although only 17 percent of the adolescent population in the United States is African American, these teens experienced 69 percent of new AIDS cases among teens in 2006. Latinos ages 20 – 24 experienced 23 percent of new AIDS cases in 2006 but represented only18 percent of U.S. young adults.
5. A November 2006 study of declining pregnancy rates among teens concluded that the reduction in teen pregnancy between 1995 and 2002 was primarily the result of increased use of contraceptives.19 However, new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) show that teen birth rates are again on the rise.
6. The NCHS reports a five percent national increase between 2005 and 2007 in teenage birthrates in the U.S; from 40.5 to 42.5 births per 1,000 young women aged 15-19.
7.Approximately one in five teens reports some kind of abuse in a romantic relationship, with girls who experience dating violence having sex earlier than their peers and being less likely to use birth control and more likely to engage in a wide variety of high-risk behaviors.
Research clearly shows that comprehensive sex education programs do not encourage teens to start having sexual intercourse; do not increase the frequency with which teens have intercourse; and do not increase the number of a teen’s sexual partners. At the same time, evaluations of publicly funded abstinence-only programs have repeatedly shown no positive changes in sexual behaviors over time. Young people need honest, effective sex education – not ineffective, shame-based abstinence only programs.