Sex ed varies by state, and research shows what works

Dive Brief:

  • Research has found abstinence-only sex education is not effective at preventing unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, and youth risk surveys have indicated students are actually less likely to have sex, get pregnant or contract an STD if their schools offer comprehensive sex ed.
  • District Administration reports Boston Public Schools is among those that starts a comprehensive program in elementary school, based on the National Sexual Education Standards, that includes early discussions of hygiene, puberty and positive friendships and later discussions of reproductive health, contraception, sexual decision-making, dating violence, gender identity, sexual preference and consent.
  • In Arizona, where families have to opt into sex ed, 80% of Tempe Union High School families participate in a program that offers basic information to students about contraception and HIV/AIDS risks while also covering issues like date rape and domestic violence.

Dive Insight:

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 24 states and the District of Columbia required schools to teach sex education as of March 1, 2016, and 20 states require that if sex education is provided, it has to be medically, factually or technically accurate. The majority of states, 35, allow parents to opt their children out of sex ed, but Arizona is only one of four that requires parental consent to opt in.

While young people ages 15 to 24 represent just one-quarter of the sexually active population, they account for half of all new sexually transmitted infections. Even though many people still support abstinence-only sex education or prefer to have these conversations handled by parents, many districts now consider it their responsibility — as part of an effort to prepare students for life after high school — to offer more comprehensive sex ed.

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Filed Under: K12 Policy & Regulation