Does Sex Education Work





Does Sex Education Work?


The question is no longer should sex education be taught, but rather how should it be taught. Over 93% of all public high schools currently offer courses on sexuality or HIV. More than 510 junior and senior high schools have school-linked health clinics, and more than 300 schools make condoms available on campus. The question now is, are these programs effective, and if not, how can we make them better?
Kids need the right information to help protect them-selves. The US has more than double the teenager’s pregnancy rate of any western industrialized country. Teenagers have the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s) of any age group, with one in four young people contracting an STD by the age of 21. STD’s, including HIV, can damage teenagers’ health and reproductive ability. And there is still no cure for AIDS.
HIV infection is increasing most rapidly among young people. One in four new infections in the US occurs in people younger than 22. In 1994, 417 new AIDS cases were diagnosed among 13-19 year olds, and 2,684 new cases among 20-24 year olds. Since infection may occurs up to 10 years before and AIDS diagnosis, most of those people were infected with HIV either as adolescents or pre-adolescents.
Knowledge alone is not enough to change behaviors. Programs that rely mainly on conveying information about sex or moral precepts-how the body’s sexual system functions, what teens should and shouldn’t do-have failed. However, programs that focuses on helping teenagers to change their behavior-using role-playing, games, and exercises that strengthen social skills-have shown signs of success.
In the US, controversy over what message should be given to children has disadvantaged sex education programs in schools. Too often statements of values (“my children should not have sex outside of marriage”) come wrapped up in misstatements of fact (“sex education doesn’t work anyway”). Should we do everything possible to suppress teenage sexual behavior, or should we acknowledge that many teens are sexually active, and prepare them against the negative consequences? Emotional arguments can get in the way of an unbiased assessment of the effects of sex education.
Other countries have been much more successful than the US in addressing the problem of teen pregnancies. Age at first intercourse in similar in the US and five countries have teen pregnancy rates that are at least less than half the US rate. Sex education in these other countries is based on the following components: a policy explicitly favoring sex education; openness about sex, consistent messages throughout society, and access to contraception.
Reducing the Risk, a program for high school students in urban and rural areas in California, used behavior theory-based activities to reduce unprotected intercourse, either by helping teens avoid sex or use protection. Ninth and 10th graders attended 15 sessions as part of their regular health education classes and participated in role-playing and experimental activities to build skills and self-efficacy. As a result, a greater proportion of students who were abstinent before the program successfully remained abstinent, and unprotected intercourse was significantly reduced for those students who became sexually active.
Postponing Sexual Involvement, a program for African-American 8th graders in Atlanta, GA, used peers (11th and 12th graders) to help youth understand social and peer pressures to have sex, and to develop and apply resistance skills. A unit of the program also taught about human sexuality, decision-making, and contraceptives. This program successfully reduced the number of abstinent students who initiated intercourse after the program, and increased contraceptive use among sexually experienced females.
Healthy Oakland Teens (HOT) targets all 7th graders attending a junior high school in Oakland, CA. Health educators teach basic sex and drug education, and 9th grade peer educators lead interactive exercises on values, decision-making, communication, and condom-use skills. After one year, students in the program were much less likely to initiate sexual activities such as deep kissing, genital touching, and sexual intercourse.
AIDS Prevention for Adolescents in School, a program for 9th and 11th graders in schools in New York City, NY, focused on correcting facts about AIDS, teaching cognitive skills to appraise risks of transmission, increasing knowledge of AIDS-prevention resources, clarifying personal values, understanding external influences, and teaching skills to delay intercourse and/or consistently use condoms. All sexually experienced students reported increased condom use after