Posted by: emjb | December 21, 2007

Sex ed in school doesn’t make kids have sex

…in fact, it makes them delay it. And I don’t mean strict “abstinence ed” either. Via Feministing, news of a CDC study that shows:

…teenage boys who had sex education in school were 71 percent less likely to have intercourse before age 15, and teen girls who had sex education were 59 percent less likely to have sex before age 15.

Sex education also increased the likelihood that teen boys would use contraceptives the first time they had sex. . . But sex education appeared to have no effect on whether teen girls used birth control, the researchers found.

Additionally, black teenage girls who received sex ed in school were 91 percent less likely to have sex before age 15.

That 91% figures is pretty amazing.

Now for those who have always opposed sex ed* on the principle that sex magically won’t happen if you don’t talk about it, this poses a dilemma. Do you change your tactics to do something that actually helps teenagers postpone sex? Or do you go “lalalalalalala” and pretend that abstinence-only programs work, despite lots and lots of evidence to the contrary? In other words, what’s more important: being anti-sex-ed, or helping kids?

When kids are ignorant about sex, or only get told weird, negative, one-sided and inaccurate things about it (the way most abstinence-only programs do), bad things happen. Pregnancy rates go up, STD rates go up, and an awful lot of lives get affected.

This is a big issue with me, because what I see is adults letting kids down in a monumental way, because they are uncomfortable with the knowlege that their kids will one day have sex. Being so squeamish or scared to tell your kid about sex or let someone else do so that you keep them in ignorance is BAD PARENTING. Because what your kids don’t know can really hurt them. They need knowledge to protect themselves, because ignorance surely won’t. It’s like putting them behind the wheel without teaching them to drive. Irresponsible.

It’s about control, too. By the time sex becomes an issue, your kid is not under your direct supervision 24/7 anymore. They are at friends’ houses, at school, at parties, on band trips. They are going to have to make decisions about sex without you around to make them be responsible–so if you don’t teach them how to think for themselves and how to protect themselves beforehand, you’ve missed your chance. And you can tell them your preferences for what they do, but ultimately, you can’t make them adhere to those preferences, and as a parent, you have to accept that. Once your teenage son and his girlfriend announce a pregnancy, punishment is a moot point. The best you can do is try to teach him beforehand why he should try to stay out of that situation, for his sake and hers. And then, you have to let them go, and hope for the best. Which is terrifying. But that’s parenting. And for me, if some other adult is able to back up what I teach my son about respect and responsibility, that’s even better.

*All comprehensive sex ed programs I’ve ever heard about, by the way, do tell you that abstinence is in fact the best way to avoid pregnancy, disease, and other complications. Telling someone how condoms work does not equal telling them that they need to have lots and lots of sex, right now.



  1. Amen, amen and amen. Kids need and deserve honest, straightforward information — all information — scientific information (not ‘If you have sex, your legs will fall off) about their sexuality. And it needs to be all aspects of sexuality, including- gasp – HOMOSEXUALITY. I know it’s hard to believe, but there are teens who are gay — and know it. But that’s the subject of another rant. 🙂
    However, just being slightly defensive, there were some very good high quality abstinence only program that really sought to make a difference in a young person’s life, not just preach to them about sex. In fact, I know of a damn good one until about 9 months ago……..(hmmm – 9 months ago – nah too easy.)

  2. Hee. I knew you might post….but I’m pretty sure your program was an exception. No Abstinence Avenger for you.

  3. It’s one of the great tragedies of my life that we never got to see that Abstinence Avenger poster. Sigh.

  4. I spoke too soon! Sweet glorious day!!!

  5. Omg….I had SO forgotten about that!!! Okay – THAT will call for another round of electroshock therapy! AAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!! In a lot of ways, I’m glad that chapter in my life is closed.
    Alas alack the Abstinence Avenger is going to have to find some other place to play…..good God, Teen Aid is still around. Heaven help us all.

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