Sex Education in Schools

According to CDC data, less than half of American middle school students received sex education in 11 core topic areas, while about 4 out 5 high school students received sex education in 8 core topic areas. Sex education is mandated in 21 states and Washington, D.C. State laws in 26 states require abstinence be stressed and in 11 states abstinence must be covered in the curriculum. Twelve states have passed laws that require medically accurate information be provided in sex education classes. 

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High rates of sexually transmitted disease and teen pregnancy have led states to enact a wide range of sex education programs in schools.

  • Twenty-one states and Washington, D.C. mandate sex education in public schools.
  • Twenty-six states stress and 11 states cover abstinence in schools.
  • Twelve states require medically accurate information be taught in schools.1
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reviewed the curriculum of sex education in public schools in 2010 for 11 core topic areas for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders and eight core topics for high school freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors.
  • The percentage of students who were taught the 11 topics in sixth through eighth grades ranged from 12.6 percent in Arizona to 66.3 percent in Hawaii.
  • The percentage of high school students who were taught the eight topics ranged from 45.3 percent in Alaska to 96.4 percent in New Jersey.
  • Eleven states—Alabama, Arizona, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Washington—showed statistically significant lower rates of sex education from 2008 to 2010 for students in grades six through eight measured on the 11 topic areas. No state showed statistically significant higher rates from 2008 to 2010.
  • One state, Alabama, showed statistically significant lower rates for high school students measured on eight topic areas from 2008 to 2010. Two states, Idaho and Nevada, showed statistically significantly higher rates of sex education.2
Decreasing HIV, STD and pregnancy rates suggest the important role sex education plays in promoting teen health.
  • The current rate of teen pregnancy is historically low at 39.1 births per 1,000 females. The U.S. rate, however, is still more than three times higher than Canada, Germany and Italy.3
  • Nearly half of the 19 million new STD infections reported in the U.S. are among 15- to 24-year-olds.4
  • According to the CDC, an estimated 8,300 adolescents in the 40 states that provided data had HIV in 2009.5

Core Sex Education Topics 

The 11 core topics areas for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders are:
  • Differences between HIV and AIDS
  • How HIV and other STDs are transmitted
  • How HIV and other STDs are diagnosed and treated
  • Health consequences of HIV, other STDs and pregnancy
  • Benefits of abstinence from sex
  • How to prevent HIV, other STDs and pregnancy
  • How to access valid and reliable health information, products and services
  • Influences of media, family, and social and cultural norms on sexual behavior
  • Communication and negotiation skills
  • Goal-setting and decision-making skills
  • Compassion for people living with HIV and AIDs
The eight core topic areas for high school students are:
  • Relationship among HIV, other STDs and pregnancy
  • Relationship between alcohol and other drug use and risk for HIV, other STDs and pregnancy
  • Benefits of abstinence from sex
  • How to prevent HIV, other STDs and pregnancy
  • How to access valid and reliable health information, products and services
  • Influences of media, family, and social and cultural norms on sexual behavior
  • Communication and negotiation skills
  • Goal-setting and decision-making skills

References:

1 Guttmacher Institute. "Sex and HIV Education." May 2012. 

3 Sondik, Edwards J., Jennifer H. Madans, and Charles J. Rothwell. "Teenagers in the United States: Sexual Activity, Contraceptive Use, and Childbearing, 2006–2010 National Survey of Family Growth." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Oct. 2011.
4 Center for Disease Control and Prevention. "Sexually transmitted disease surveillance 2009." Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2010. 
5 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Sexual Risk Behavior: HIV, STD, & Teen Pregnancy Prevention." July 12, 2011. 
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