14.10 Wrapping Up: Returning to Sex Education

What do you know about sex education?

What happens when children are taught about copulation and sexual intimacy? What are the consequences to not teaching sex education? What are the impacts of so-called “comprehensive sex education” compared to so-called “abstinence-only” sex education? Comprehensive sex education involves age-appropriate instruction that explains that abstinence from sex is the least risky sexual behavior, but also includes information on birth control, sexually transmitted infections, healthy relationships, and other topics. “Abstinence-only” programs limit information on contraception and sexually transmitted infections and promote the expectation of abstaining from sex until marriage. So what are the outcomes of these two approaches to teaching sex education?

Figure 14.3 The relationship between teen pregnancy rates (per 1000 individuals) on a state-by-state basis in the USA. From the article (by Stanger-Hall and Hall, 2011): “Among the 48 states in this analysis (all U.S. states except North Dakota and Wyoming), 21 states stressed abstinence-only education in their 2005 state laws and/or policies (level 3), 7 states emphasized abstinence education (level 2), 11 states covered abstinence in the context of comprehensive sex education (level 1), and 9 states did not mention abstinence (level 0) in their state laws or policies.”

In an analysis of published studies, researchers (Chin et al., 2012) found that children who received comprehensive sex education compared to those who received no sex education had lower sexual activity, lower numbers of sex partners, lower incidences of unprotected sex, lower pregnancy rates, and increased use of contraceptives. Children who received abstinence–only education had lower sexual activity, but no difference in number of sex partners, unprotected sexual activity, frequency of contraceptives, or pregnancy when compared to those who received no sex education. In other words, abstinence-only sex education has only slightly different outcomes than no sex education at all.

Storks delivering babies and finding infants under cabbage leaves make for adorable imagery. However, you will probably not be surprised that the authors of this text are convinced (by the above data and numerous other studies) that children need more information than these fables to make healthy decisions about their sex lives, to protect themselves, and to engage in healthy relationships.

As we conclude this chapter and prepare for in-class discussion, be sure to return to the chapter’s goals and objectives.

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The Evolution and Biology of Sex by Sehoya Cotner and Deena Wassenberg is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.