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What the Research Says…

Comprehensive Sex Education

 
Comprehensive sex education addresses the root issues that help teens make responsible decisions to keep them safe and healthy.  These programs use a holistic approach to provide young people with complete, accurate, and age-appropriate sex education that helps them reduce their risk of HIV/AIDS, other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and unintended pregnancy.  Although strong evidence has shown the effectiveness of these programs, there is currently no federal funding dedicated to this critical component of education.
What is Comprehensive Sex Education?
Comprehensive sex education includes age-appropriate, medically accurate information on a broad set of topics related to sexuality including human development, relationships, decision making, abstinence, contraception, and disease prevention. They provide students with opportunities for developing skills as well as learning. These programs:
 
  • provide young people with the tools to make informed decisions and build healthy relationships;
  • stress the value of abstinence while also preparing young people for when they become sexually active;
  • provide medically accurate information about the health benefits and side effects of all contraceptives, including condoms, as a means to prevent pregnancy and reduce the risk of contracting STIs, including HIV/AIDS;
  • encourage family communication about sexuality between parent and child;
  • teach young people the skills to make responsible decisions about sexuality, including how to avoid unwanted verbal, physical, and sexual advances; and
  • teach young people how alcohol and drug use can effect responsible decision making
 
Comprehensive Sex Education Reduces Risk Behaviors
In November 2007, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy released Emerging Answers 2007, an authoritative and comprehensive review of research findings on the effectiveness of HIV and sex education programs. This review of rigorously evaluated programs showed many positive results, including:[1]
 
  • “Two-thirds of the 48 comprehensive programs that supported both abstinence and the use of condoms and contraceptives for sexually active teens had positive behavioral effects.” Many either delayed or reduced sexual activity, reduced the number of sexual partners, or increased condom or contraceptive use.
  • None of the comprehensive programs hastened the initiation of sex or increased the frequency of sex.
  • Comprehensive sex education programs worked for all youth populations: “Comprehensive programs worked for both genders, for all major ethnic groups, for sexually inexperienced and experienced teens, in different settings, and in different communities.”
  • Programs that were implemented with fidelity in the same type of setting and with similar youth were found to be just as effective as the originally evaluated program. Therefore, it was found that programs could be replicated and widely disseminated to youth across the country.
 
A 2007 review of 80 studies that measure the impact of comprehensive sex and HIV education programs on the sexual behaviors of young people throughout the world, and published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Adolescent Health, found the programs to be effective at reducing risk behaviors:[2]
 
  • Two-thirds of the programs significantly improved one or more sexual behaviors.
  • Many programs either delayed or reduced sexual activity, or increased condom use.
  • At least 10 interventions had long-term behavioral effects lasting two or more years; some lasted as long as the effects were measured—three or more years.
 
Comprehensive Sex Education Prepares Youth to Make Healthy Choices
The evidence is strong that sex education programs that promote abstinence as well as the use of condoms do not increase sexual behavior.  A series of studies show that the lessons learned in comprehensive sex education programs are critical for healthy decision making during the teen years and beyond.
 
  • Studies show that when teens are educated about condoms and have access to them, levels of condom use at first intercourse increase while levels of sex stay the same.[3]
  • Other research has found that teens that practiced contraception consistently in their first sexual relationship are more likely to continue doing so than those who used no method or who used a method inconsistently.[4]
  • According to a study by researchers from Guttmacher and Columbia University published in the January 2007 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, approximately 86% of the decline in teenage pregnancy in this country between 1995 and 2002 was due to dramatic improvements in contraceptive use, including increases in the use of individual methods, increases in the use of multiple methods, and substantial declines in nonuse. Just 14% of the decline could be attributed to a decrease in sexual activity.
    • Abstinence played a greater role in decreasing pregnancy among younger teens aged 15–17, but even among this age group (in which sexual activity declined a healthy 17% between 1995 and 2002), only 23% of the decline in teen pregnancy could be attributed to decreased sexual activity.
    • Among 18–19-year-olds, there was no change in sexual activity during this period; accordingly, the pregnancy rate decline among this group was entirely attributable to improved contraceptive use.[5]
 
Leading Medical Professional Groups Support Comprehensive Sex Education
Leading public health and medical professional organizations all stress the need for sexuality education that includes messages about abstinence and provides young people with information about contraception for the prevention of teen pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, and other STIs. Some of these supporters include:
 
American Medical Association                    American Academy of Pediatrics      
American Psychological Association            American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
The Institute of Medicine                               Society of Adolescent Medicine
American Nurses Association                      American Public Health Association
 
  • For example, the American Medical Association “urges schools to implement comprehensive, developmentally appropriate sexuality education programs” and “supports federal funding of comprehensive sex education programs that stress the importance of abstinence in preventing unwanted teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, and also teach about contraceptive choices and safer sex.[6]
 
Comprehensive Sex Education is Supported by the Vast Majority of Americans
Americans strongly support comprehensive sex education that both promotes abstinence and prepares young people to protect themselves when they do become sexually active.[7]
 
  • According to the results of a 2005-2006 nationally representative survey of U.S. adults published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, more than eight in 10 of those polled support comprehensive sex education.[8]
  • A survey conducted by the Kennedy School of Government, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and National Public Radio found that over 90% of parents of middle school and high school students believe it is very or somewhat important to have sexuality education as part of the school curriculum. The vast majority of those polled also stated that federal government funding should be used to fund more “comprehensive sex education programs that include information on how to obtain and use condoms and other contraceptives” instead of programs that have “abstaining from sexual activity” as their only purpose.[9]
  • A majority of voters in nearly every demographic category, including Democrats, Republicans, and independents, as well as Catholics and evangelical Christians, support comprehensive sex education.[10]
 
 

Updated October 2009



[1] Kirby D, Emerging Answers 2007: Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Washington, DC: The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 2007.
[2] Kirby D, et al. Sex and HIV Education Programs: Their Impact on Sexual Behaviors of Young People Throughout the World, Journal of Adolescent Health, 2007 (40):206–217.
[3] Mark Schuster, et al. Impact of a high school condom availability program on sexual attitudes and behaviors, Family Planning Perspectives, 1998, 30(2):67-72 & 88. And Mauldon J and Luker K, The effects of contraceptive education on method use at first intercourse, Family Planning Perspectives, 1996, 28:19-24 & 41.
[4] Jennifer Manlove , et al., Contraceptive use and consistency in U.S. teenagers’ most recent sexual relationships, Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 2004, 36(6):265-275.
[5]John Santelli, Laura Lindberg , Lawrence Finer, and Susheela  Singh, Explaining recent declines in adolescent pregnancy in the United States: The contribution of abstinence and improved contraceptive use?, American Journal of Public Health, 2007, 97(1):150-156.
[6] Policy Statement, H-170.968 Sexuality Education, Abstinence, and Distribution of Condoms in Schools, American Medical Association, accessed 04 January 2007, <http://www.ama-assn.org/apps/pf_new/pf_online?f_n=browse&doc=policyfiles/HnE/H-170.968.HTM>.;
See SIECUS Fact Sheet In Good Company for more examples and complete citations:
<http://siecus.org/_data/global/images/In%20Good%20Company-SIECUS-%2010.07.pdf>.
[7] See SIECUS Fact Sheet Public Support for more information.
<http://siecus.org/_data/global/images/Public%20Support%20Fact%20Sheet-SIECUS-10.07.pdf>.
[8] Amy Bleakley, PhD, MPH; Michael Hennessy, PhD, MPH; Martin Fishbein, PhD, Public Opinion on Sex Education in US Schools, Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine,. 2006;160:1151-1156.
[9] Sex Education in America: General Public/Parents Survey (Washington, DC: National Public Radio, Kaiser Family Foundation, Kennedy School of Government, 2004).
[10] Peter D. Hart Research Associates, Inc., “Memorandum: Application of Research Findings,” (Washington, DC: Planned Parenthood Federation of America and National Women’s Law Center, 12 July 2007), accessed 2 October 2007, <http://www.nwlc.org/pdf/7-12-07interestedpartiesmemo.pdf>.
 

 

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