Should Sex Education Be Taught At School?


Carissa Ring, Author

Teenagers of our generation are sexually active. There is no way to sugar coat it. According to the CDC, “An estimated 55% of male and female teens have had sexual intercourse by age 18.” The way children are educated about sexual health has always been up to debate. Is it the school’s responsibility to teach children sexual education or is it the parent’s job?

 Comprehensive sexual education is only required in 29 states. These programs teach students that remaining abstinent is the best way to avoid STDs and teen pregnancies. Some programs take a stricter, abstinence-until-marriage approach, where the teachers will stress remaining a virgin until you are married. The curriculum also discusses the medical information about STDs and the dangers it causes teens. Sexual education will discuss the basics of reproductive health as well as lessons on consent. This then will lead into units about healthy sexual relationships where students are taught about violent relationships and how to seek help when they are in one. 

Graph showing the states that require sex education.

Individuals who support teaching teens sexual education in school argue that without early sexual education children won’t know what is happening to their bodies. UNESCO supports this claim,”… only 34% of young people around the world can demonstrate accurate knowledge of HIV prevention and transmission…two out of three girls in some countries have no idea of what is happening to them when they begin menstruating.” This lack of knowledge leaves teens vulnerable to dangerous sexual behaviors and sexual exploitation, as they aren’t fully aware of the consequences. Learning about sexual education can often cause the students and even the teachers to feel uncomfortable. However many argue that the understanding of the risks that early sexual behaviors are far more important than the discomfort surrounding the topic. Sexual education is often seen as taboo but Michelle Linschoten the Director of Education at Washington University believes that being properly educated about the topic will give you a new respect for yourself and your body, “I think that’s really why it’s (sexual education) so important because a lot of us have shame, stigma, and maybe general discomfort around sexual health, our own sexuality, how do we talk about it. And so, education is so important to empower us to know ourselves, know what we want and understand and respect each other.” 


People also argue that sexual education is important for students to learn because they cover major topics such as consent and healthy relationships which are essential for students to be educated on as they such for a partner. The Advocates for Youth believe these skills are crucial, “ A lack of these skills can lead to unhealthy and even violent relationships among youth: one in 10 high school students has experienced physical violence from a dating partner in the past year.” During sexual education programs, teachers will teach teens how to say no to sexual activity. Consensual sexual activities are also discussed. Individuals argue that students need to be educated on consent in hopes to lower the amount of teens forced into sexual activity or involved with sexual violence. “Eight percent of high school students have been forced to have intercourse,” while “One in ten students say they have committed sexual violence,” a study from the Advocates for Youth found. 

Women in Quebec protesting for proper sex education for children.

Statistics don’t lie. People who support teaching students sexual education will often use statistics to prove, what they deem, the effectiveness of the program. When researcher Douglas Kirby conducted a study on the active sexual education programs at school he found ⅔ had positive results. “40 percent delayed sexual initiation, reduced number of sexual partners or increased condom or contraceptive use. 30 percent reduced the frequency, including return to abstinence. 60 percent reduced unprotected sex.”

Many of the people who disagree with sexual education being taught at school are the parents of the children, particularly those in religious groups, as the program goes against their values. They say that providing their children with knowledge of sex and sexual activities encourages their children to take more risks pertaining to their sexual health. The primary caretaker of children are their parents, so their voice is the most important, many argue. When 1,700 parents were surveyed on the BabyChild website, 59% disagreed with the program, “Of those who disagreed, the most frequently cited reason was “it is inappropriate to teach children about sex” (41%), followed by “it should be the parent’s choice to teach their own child,” (28%), “there is no need for children to know about sex” (27%) and “the lessons may encourage children to ask more about sexuality and sex” (22%).”

Parents in Washington protest against the proposed bill, which will require schools to teach students sexual education.

Parents also disagree with sex education because of the severity of some programs. What some find, extreme criteria, abstinence until marriage. The states that stress abstinence until marriage have seen no positive results from the program. Parents of students find it non beneficial to preach abstinence only when over half of teens have had intercourse by 18. They insist these practices don’t educate teens on how to deal with pregnancies and HIV’s. Professor John Santelli of the Population and Family Heath at the Mailman school backs up these concerned parents, “ While abstinence is theoretically effective, in actual practice, intentions to abstain from sexual activity often fail. These programs simply do not prepare young people to avoid unwanted pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases.” Statistics gathered by the Public Wealth of Columbia show that those who go through the abstinence until marriage program don’t remain abstinence until marriage, “The gap between the age at first sex and first marriage is 8.7 years for young women and 11.7 years for young men.”

Schools need to have sexual education programs. The benefits are far too great to pass up the program. Discussing the range of topics in sexual education would teach every teen someone knew and helpful for them to apply to their sexual life. If a parent is uncomfortable with putting their child through sexual education, they should simply pull them out. However, I think that schools should only be allowed to discuss the dangers of forcing the idea of abstinence on teens. A little more than half of America’s state require sexual education, and I would like to see that number reach 50.