In response to the frequent lack (or insufficiency) of information from the home and the inaccuracy of much of what children hear from peers, other social institutions in the United States, especially schools, are attempting to provide sex education. However, the quality and extent of school-based sex education programs vary considerably. Most efforts to provide sex education in schools have utilized one of two principal approaches: compre­hensive sex education and abstinence-only programs. Comprehensive sex education treats abstinence as merely one option for youths in a curriculum that provides broad-based information about such topics as sexual maturation; contraception; abortion; strategies for effective decision making and for saying no to unwanted sex; STIs; relationship issues; and sexual orientation. In abstinence-only programs, youths are instructed to abstain from sex until marriage, and discussions of contraception are either prohibited entirely or per­mitted only to emphasize the alleged shortcomings of birth control methods.

Various surveys reveal that while an overwhelming majority of parents and other adults support including comprehensive sex education in schools, only a minority of U. S. schools offer comprehensive sex education courses (Constantine et al., 2007; Trevor, 2002).

Public school sex education programs are often hampered by pressures from well – organized and highly vocal minorities opposed to such education. In response to these pres­sures, some school systems completely omit sex education from their curricula, and others attempt to avert controversy by allowing only discussion of "safe" topics, such as reproduc­tion and anatomy. A recent national survey revealed that, in spite of limitations often placed on school-based sex education, most teens indicated they had received’formal sex education before age 18 years that either covered saying no to sex (females, 87%; males, 81%) or pro­vided information on methods of birth control (females, 70%, males, 62%); 65% of females and 53% of males received education on both topics" (Centers for Disease Control, 2011g, p. 417). Unfortunately, the interpersonal aspects of sexuality were often omitted from sex education programs. We discuss the adverse impact of abstinence-based sex education in American public schools in the Sex and Politics box, ‘Abstinence-Only Sex Education."

In contrast to the dismal record of abstinence-only sex education, as outlined in the Sex and Politics box, numerous studies provide strong evidence that comprehensive sex education programs that stress safer sex and provide accurate information about various contraceptive methods actually increase the use of birth control, reduce teenage pregnancies, reduce high-risk sexual behavior, do not hasten the onset of intercourse (and in some cases actually delay onset), do not increase the frequency of intercourse, and do not increase the number of an adolescent’s sexual partners (in some cases they reduce partner number; Cavazos-Rehg et al., 2012; Kirby, 2002; Masters et al., 2008; Schaalma et al., 2004; Smith, 2005). Leading researchers in the field of sex education recently concluded that "comprehensive sex education has demonstrated its effectiveness in reducing negative sexual outcomes such as teenage pregnancy and STIs, whereas abstinence-only programs have not" (Masters et al., 2008, p. 90).

SEX &

POLITiCS

Abstinence-Only Sex Education

Summary

Sexuality During Childhood and Adolescence

CHAPTER 12