By age 18, 65% of young women and 68% of young men have had intercourse.1
To make good decisions and protect themselves, young people need accurate information about sex.
What schools teach in sex education class matters: nearly half of all teenagers say they get information about how to talk about sex from sex education classes.2
Abstinence-only or abstinence unless married programs teach that:
- abstinence is the only option for unmarried people
- sex outside of marriage is mentally and physically harmful
- abstinence is the only way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
Recipients of federal abstinence-only program money3 must agree not to provide any information that is inconsistent with the abstinence-until-marriage message.4 Therefore recipients often:
- provide no information about condoms or other contraceptives except to mention their failure rates
- ignore topics including HIV and AIDS, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, and abortion
Abstinence-only programs create a hostile environment for LGBT youth:
- Many curricula only mention LGBT people and same-sex sexual activity in reference to promiscuity or disease.
- Abstinence-only programs ignore the fact that same-sex couples exist and as of yet can’t legally marry.
- The lives, experiences, and sexuality of LGBT people are erased by abstinence unless married messages.
Abstinence-only programs create a hostile environment for youth from “non-traditional” families:
- Students with LGBT, unmarried, or divorced parents are led to believe that their families don’t count and are responsible for society’s problems.
- Students are taught that having a child out-of-wedlock is harmful to the child, the parents, and society.
Abstinence is an important part of any educational program about sex, but young people also need information about other choices.
Abstinence-only programs are not effective:
- There are no credible studies indicating that abstinence-only programs keep young people from becoming sexually active.5
Real sex education programs:
- teach that abstinence is the most effective method of preventing pregnancy and STDs, including HIV
- discuss pregnancy and disease prevention
- discuss condom use and other contraceptives
- discuss a wide range of topics including LGBT people, parenting, sexual abuse, and family diversity
- empower young people to make healthier choices about sex
Studies have shown that comprehensive sex education:
- is more effective than abstinence-only education
- tends to delay sexual intercourse
- increases condom and other contraceptive
- use for teens that become sexually active6
There is broad support for real sex education:
- 82% of parents in the U.S. believe that all aspects of sex education, including information about birth control and safer sex, should be taught in high school.7
- Nine out of ten teachers believe that high school students should be taught about contraception.8
Professional organizations like the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Education Association, and National School Board Association support comprehensive sex education. For more information see Lambda Legal’s “What Others Are Saying” fact sheet.
Two-thirds of school districts in the U.S. have a district wide sex education policy. Of these, 14% have a comprehensive sex education policy, 51% portray abstinence as the preferred option, and 35% have abstinence-only programs.9
Half (53%) of all school superintendents say their community is “generally silent” about their district’s sex education policy.10
Do you know what your school district is teaching about sex?
1. The Alan Guttmacher Institute, Facts in Brief: Teen Sex and Pregnancy (1999), http://www.agi-usa.org/pubs/fb_teen_sex.html
2. Henry J. Kaiser Family Found., Sex Education In America: A Series of National Surveys of Students, Parents, Teachers, and Principals, Summary of Findings, 2 (2000).
3. States that receive federal abstinence-only program money create statewide programs, or make grants to education agencies, community-based organizations, and school districts.
4. Section 510, Title V of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. § 710).
5. Douglas Kirby, The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, Emerging Answers: Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy, Summary, 8 (2001); Barbara Devaney et al., Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., The Evaluation of Abstinence Education Programs Funded Under Title V Section 510: Interim Report, 1 (2002).
6. Id. at 16.
7. Kaiser Family Found., Sex Education in America, supra note 2, at 32.
8. Alan Guttmacher Institute, 4 Guttmacher Report on Public Policy 10-11 (2001), citing Jacqueline E. Darroch, et al., Changing Emphasis in Sexuality Education in U.S. Public Secondary Schools 1988-1999, 32 Fam. Plan. Persp. 204-211, 265 (2000).
9. Alan Guttmacher Institute, Fact Sheet: Sexuality and Abstinence Education Policies in U.S. Public School Districts citing DJ Landry et al., Abstinence Promotion and the Provision of Information About Contraception in Public School District Sexuality Education Policies, 31 Fam. Plan. Persp. 280-86 (1999).
10. See id.