≈ Youth Sex Education

The teaching of sex education in schools is not uniform, and neither are parents’ views on where, when and how their children should be taught about sex.

Some people believe that sex education should be comprehensive, include education on LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) issues1 and healthy relationships, and start with teaching babies about consent2 and the proper names for their body parts.3 Some people believe it is not the school’s job to teach students about sexual topics4 or have their kids learn subjects they determine to be too graphic,5 and some think abstinence-only should be taught.

“Sex education in middle and high school is widely supported by parents regardless of their political affiliation.”6 What 89 percent from the report supported included “a wide range of topics in sex education including puberty, healthy relationships, abstinence, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and birth control in high school.” Some teens get their sex education from the internet, with some of that education coming from porn, and some websites and apps have emerged with the goal of teaching sex education to teens.7 Some teens take on educating other teens about sex through peer-led sex education.8

Not only should sex be taught, according to a 2018 report by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), comprehensive sexuality education is a human right for “all children, adolescents and youth – as an essential component of quality education.”

Although many say sex education is important, there is disagreement of what should be taught by whom and when.

The sourced articles below provide a starting point on the subject of youth sex education.

  1. LGBTQ-Inclusivity Requirements And How They Interact With Parental Opt-Out

    “The California Healthy Youth Act permits parents/guardians to opt-out of ‘all or part’ of comprehensive sexual health instruction. However, schools are not allowed to permit parents/guardians to selectively opt their students out of lessons that are focused on LGBTQ content, while leaving them in the classroom for other sexual health instruction. Doing so would violate the non-discrimination provisions of the Education Code discussed above and would open districts up to significant liability for discrimination.”

    Online Resource, aclusocal.org, accessed on 6/14/2018

  2. Comprehensive Sexuality Education

    “Sexuality education is a life-long process of acquiring information and forming attitudes, beliefs, and values. For over 40 years, SIECUS has been a leader in the fight to ensure that everyone has access to information and education about their sexuality. SIECUS provides countless resources to help educators, advocates, and parents secure supportive public policies, provide high quality education, and help our youth become sexually healthy.”

    Online Resource, siecus.org, accessed on 6/12/2018

  3. Policy Resources

    “Each month, we create these brief synopses to help parents, educators, and advocates stay up-to-date and informed on events and decisions on Capitol Hill and across the country. The following is a list of recent policy updates related to comprehensive sexuality education. To see all our policy updates, go to our Policy Updates page.”

    Online Resource, siecus.org, accessed on 6/5/2018

  4. Sex Education: A National Survey on Support Among Likely Voters

    “A national sample of 1,001 respondents age 18 and over weighted to be representative of the U.S. population … An overwhelming majority of likely voters think it is important to have sex education in middle [89%] and high school [98%].”

    Planned Parenthood Federation of America, plannedparenthood.org, 5/29/2018

  5. How To Teach Your Child About Consent From Birth

    “Parenting experts agree that there is merit to using verbal cues, body language, and other strategies that teach children about consent from the time they’re babies. … Jeanette Raymond, PhD, a clinical psychologist and family therapist, agrees that the way parents communicate with their children—and even with a non-verbal infant—has a downstream effect.”

    Maressa Brown, parents.com, 5/17/2018

  6. Gillian Anderson To Star In Netflix Dramedy ‘Sex Education’

    “Sex Education is a British coming-of-age series that follows Otis Thompson (Butterfield), a socially awkward high school virgin who lives with his mother, a sex therapist (Anderson). Surrounded by manuals, videos and tediously open conversations about sex, Otis is a reluctant expert on the subject who sets up an underground sex therapy clinic at his high school.”

    Lesley Goldberg, hollywoodreporter.com, 5/17/2018

  7. Think Tank: States Aren’t Teaching Consent In Sex Ed

    “The Center for American Progress recently released an analysis of what it called ‘the current state of sex education standards’ across the U.S., focusing on discussions of consent and healthy relationships in those teaching standards. Analysts at the think tank considered state laws in 24 states and Washington, D.C., that require sex education in public schools and found that not all states address those topics in their sex education standards.”

    Megan Trimble, usnews.com, 5/15/2018

  8. Forget Abstinence Only: Let’s End Government Sex Ed Completely

    “Last month, a federal judge blocked the Trump administration from ending certain Teen Pregnancy Prevention grants early. The administration’s logic was that the programs—initially planned to end in 2020, then moved up to 2018—were ineffective at preventing teen pregnancies. So now the Trump administration has released new rules for how teen pregnancy prevention efforts will be funded by the Department of Health and Human Services. … The family, rather than the government, is the building block of society, and in personal matters strong families will always yield better results than a strong state.”

    Tyler Arnold and Liz Wolfe, theamericanconservative.com, 5/11/2018

  9. Sex Education Standards Across The States

    “On April 20, 2018, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced that the Teen Pregnancy Prevention (TPP) Program—a grant program created by the Obama administration in 2010 to reduce teen pregnancy rates in the United States—will provide funding only to organizations promoting abstinence-only approaches. Until this point, the TPP Program funded evidence-based prevention initiatives—including education on contraception, dating violence, and the value of healthy relationships. It likely contributed to a substantial decrease in teen pregnancy rates from 2007 until 2015, with a record decrease of 9 percent between 2013 and 2014.”

    Sarah Shapiro and Catherine Brown, americanprogress.org, 5/9/2018

  10. It’s 2018. It’s Time To Update Sex Ed.

    “It’s critical that we implement sanctions against perpetrators of sexual harassment and that we increase men’s awareness of what is and is not acceptable. But this movement also highlights the need for thinking more seriously about how we teach children and teens about these issues.”

    Lorena Garcia, edweek.org, 5/8/2018

  11. “Sex Ed Sit Out”: Parents To Protest Sex And Gender Ideology In Schools

    “‘Why are our tax dollars going to pay for resources that teach dangerous and promiscuous behaviors which most parents find morally abhorrent and the CDC has stated are a health risk?’ asks Johnston. ‘We are fed up. Enough is enough.'”

    Mary Jo Anderson, catholicworldreport.com, 4/20/2018

  12. Why We Need Inclusive Sex Education

    “The benefits of inclusive sex education extend beyond just learning about STI prevention. LGBTQ inclusive sex education could teach about the safest practices of chest-binding or it could discuss LGBTQ friendly resources and how issues, like intimate partner violence, might look different in an LGBTQ relationship.”

    Zipi Diamond, glaad.org, 3/28/2018

  13. New Name, Same Harm: Rebranding Of Federal Abstinence-Only Programs

    “In February 2018, the Title V abstinence-only program (which expired briefly in September 2017) was renewed for two more years at $75 million annually under the new name of ‘sexual risk avoidance education.’ … Additionally, the program specifies information that must be withheld from students, requiring that ‘the education does not include demonstrations, simulations, or distribution of contraceptive devices.'”

    Jesseca Boyer, guttmacher.org, 2/28/2018

  14. Opt-In Sex Ed Bills Hurt Young People

    “This year, state legislatures are coming up with new and dangerous ways to target LGBTQ young people. After years of efforts to push transgender young people out of public life through bars on restroom and locker room use, lawmakers have taken a new tact this year with efforts to limit discussion of the existence of LGBTQ people in educational settings.”

    Chase Strangio, teenvogue.com, 2/21/2018

  15. Trump Administration Sued Over Ending Funding Of Teen Pregnancy Programs

    “LiFT is the only sex education program available in her rural community of Shelton, Wash., she says. But come July, LiFT will be gone. The Trump administration cut off the grant funding for it when the Department of Health and Human Services eliminated the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program. LiFT is sponsored by Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands, one of 84 organizations losing federal funding that was supposed to last until 2020.”

    All Things Considered, npr.org, 2/15/2018

  16. Parents On Explicit Sex Ed: Get Real!

    “Politicians aren’t the only ones who can stop Planned Parenthood. Just ask the parents of Cumberland County, North Carolina. When they found out that the country’s biggest abortion provider had been put in charge of their kids’ sex education, they pitched a fit. And then, to cheers, they pitched the curriculum too!”

    Online Resource, frc.org, 2/14/2018

  17. How Sex Education Is Evolving In The #MeToo Era

    “When it comes to #MeToo movement, the sexual misconduct allegations against comedian Aziz Ansari are hazy. There wasn’t a hard ‘no’ from the woman who accused him of aggressive sexual behavior. But according to the report on babe.net, there also wasn’t consent. … This is Debra Hauser’s take: ‘My guess is they both could have used some good quality sex education.’ Hauser is president of Advocates for Youth, the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit behind San Diego Unified’s new sex education curriculum. … Her organization’s curriculum, called ‘Rights, Respect, Responsibility,’ challenges those ideas about gender and talks broadly about everything from sexual orientation to masturbation. Hauser said the goal is to prevent the kind of guarded communication and fuzzy boundaries that have come to light in the #MeToo movement by laying the groundwork — beginning as early as age 5 — for healthy sexual relationships in adulthood. … ‘The stated intent sounds so good — to develop healthy attitudes about sexuality,’ said former San Diego Unified parent Judy Neufeld-Fernandez. ‘In reality, (Advocates for Youth) is putting students in harm’s way by promoting porn as normal and exposing kids to graphic content not suited to their stage of development.'”

    Megan Burks, KPBS News, kpbs.org, 1/29/2018

  18. UN Issues More Progressive Guidelines On Sex Education

    “Advocates welcomed the revised guidance, which they described as more ‘inclusive,’ covering gender and LGBTQI issues in more detail than the 2009 version. But some also expressed fears that the U.N. guidelines would fall on deaf ears in some countries unless accompanied by additional financing to support advocacy around the importance of CSE.”

    Sophie Edwards, devex.com, 1/25/2018

  19. For Some With Intellectual Disabilities, Ending Abuse Starts With Sex Ed

    “Because one of the best ways to stop sexual assault is to give people with intellectual disabilities the ability to identify abuse and to know how to develop the healthy relationships they want. … And then there’s the one thing that really complicates romance for people with intellectual disabilities: those high rates of sexual abuse.”

    Morning Edition, npr.org, 1/9/2018

  20. Fighting Abstinence-Only Sex Education

    “Not only does abstinence-only until marriage sex education not reduce pregnancy rates, STI infection rates, nor postpone commencement of sexual activity, it increases teen pregnancy rates and STI infection rates. Abstinence-only until marriage programs are not neutral or benign ‘options,’ they are actively harming young people. While that funding dramatically decreased during the Obama administration, the Trump administration has expressed interest in including AOUM funding for fiscal year 2018 and beyond.”

    Online Resource, atheists.org, 11/15/2017

  21. Research: “We Talked About Sex.” “No, We Didn’t”: Exploring Adolescent and Parent Agreement About Sexuality Communication

    Abstract: “Family communication about sex can protect adolescents from risky behavior, like early sex and sex without protection. However, adolescents and parents often disagree about whether they talked with each other about sexual issues, limiting the protective effects of communication. Few studies explore these disagreements. This study included 27 pairs of early adolescents and parents. Adolescent and parent interviews were coded for agreement in reports of sexuality communication. Adolescents’ interview themes were compared across levels of agreement between adolescent–parent dyads. Adolescents who highly agreed with their parents were more likely than those who did not to describe positive parental approaches to sexuality communication and awareness of parental perspectives, while no group differences were found for responses to parents’ viewpoints. Study findings highlight the importance of sex education programs that support adolescent–parent sexuality communication, particularly for middle school students.”

    Jennifer M. Grossman, Prioty F. Sarwar, Amanda M. Richer & Sumru Erkut, Wellesley College, American Journal of Sexuality Education, Taylor & Francis Ltd, tandfonline.com, 11/14/2017

  22. How To Teach Young Kids About Consent

    “The trick is that, when parents teach this lesson, they also need to model appropriate behavior. This is often the hardest part. The fact is that parents are often really bad at respecting their children’s physical boundaries. But here’s the deal: If a kid doesn’t want to be hugged, kissed, tickled, or wrestled, don’t hug, kiss, tickle, and wrestle them.”

    Patrick A. Coleman, fatherly.com, 11/5/2017

  23. Should Sex Ed Teach Abstinence? Most Americans Say Yes

    “The role of sex education is as important as ever, but the debate among American adults about the right approach to sex education—particularly between teaching safe-sex vs. abstinence—has been ongoing.”

    Online Resource, barna.com, 9/5/2017

  24. The Power Of Inclusive Sex Education

    “Studies have shown abstinence-only education is better than no sex education at all in terms of getting teenagers to delay sex. But advocates for LGBTQ-inclusive sex ed say directly speaking to kids about the realities of relationships for homosexual and transgender kids is important for harm and risk reduction, too.”

    Jeanne Sager, theatlantic.com, 7/17/2017

  25. Parents’ Views On Sex Education In Schools: How Much Do Democrats And Republicans Agree?

    “Overall, parents were very supportive of including all six key sex education topics included in the survey in both middle and high school: puberty, healthy relationships, abstinence, birth control, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and sexual orientation.”

    Leslie Kantor and Nicole Levitz, journals.plos.org, 7/3/2017

  26. ‘You shouldn’t be making people feel bad about having sex’: exploring young adults’ perceptions of a sex-positive sexual health text message intervention

    Abstract: “Young adults are disproportionately affected by negative sexual health outcomes, such as sexually transmitted infections. One strategy for reducing such negative outcomes involves the use of comprehensive sexual health education. As comprehensive sexual health education programmes are adopted, there is a need to evaluate the messaging approaches that might best connect with young people. Sex-positive approaches, which describe sex as a healthy practice and personal choice, are becoming popular, but whether this strategy works has not been tested from a message design perspective. This study examines the reactions of young adults to sex-positive or sex-negative messages, framed as a gain or loss, designed for a text message-based intervention. Participants quantitatively evaluated 24 messages on their mobile phones. Gain frames were preferred over loss frames, and sex-positive messages were rated as more believable and persuasive. An interaction between the two concepts was also found. Results highlight how sex-positive messages that focus on the benefits of certain behaviours tend to resonate better with young adults. Implications for health educators and practitioners are discussed.”

    Jared Brickman and Jessica Fitts Willoughby, Washington State University, Sex Education: Sexuality, Society and Learning, Taylor & Francis Ltd, tandfonline.com, 6/12/2017

  27. School Year Ends With Questions About How To Best Teach Kids About Sex

    “Complaints about a sex education program taught in schools by Thrive St. Louis — a Christian organization consisting of clinics that use controversial tactics to discourage women from having abortions — prompted a semester of packed school board meetings, letters to administrators from civil rights groups and emails from angry parents.”

    Michele Munz, stltoday.com, 5/27/2017

  28. This App Could Bring Sex Ed To All Students

    “But reducing teen pregnancy is not the only important thing. Learning about sex and relationships can potentially teach a number of self-care and interpersonal skills too.”

    Emily Matchar, smithsonianmag.com, 5/15/2017

  29. Sex-Positive YouTubers Are Giving Kids The Sex Talks We Wish We’d Had

    “Adolescents are increasingly turning to the internet to fill in the gaps. While it’s a great resource, it can be difficult to navigate when you don’t know what you’re looking for. Some teens turn to porn to provide the answers, but porn is often filled with unrealistic portrayals of sex. Googling one’s queries tends to lack the care and wisdom of a teacher whose presence can put a worried mind at ease.”

    April Hautea, mashable.com, 5/7/2017

  30. Sex Education: Teens Teaching Teens

    “Twelve of the studies found students who participated in peer-led sex education programs improved their knowledge about sexual behaviors and consequences. A total of 13 studies measured students’ attitudes toward sex, and eight found ‘significant’ improvements. … While peer-led education programs offer a promising approach in changing knowledge and attitudes, they require more rigorous scientific study to demonstrate success in changing behavioral outcomes before they can be considered ‘evidence-based.'”

    The Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, psychologytoday.com, 3/29/2017

  31. The Way We Teach Sex-Ed Is Old And Ineffective. Here’s How To Fix It.

    “How can students take a leadership role in their own sex-education? Through peer-led sex-ed. A recent review of 15 peer-led sexual-health education programs shows that peer-to-peer sex-ed can be successful at improving teens’ knowledge and attitude about sexual health  —  which is good news, considering that many teens don’t think adults are doing the best job. And just as with social-media apps, new peer-to-peer training programs are popping up all around the country.”

    Stephanie Auteri, theweek.com, 2/19/2017

  32. Influential Conservative Group: Trump, Devos Should Dismantle Education Department And Bring God Into Classrooms

    “The five-page document produced by the Council for National Policy calls for a ‘restoration of education in America’ that would minimize the federal role, promote religious schools and home schooling and enshrine ‘historic Judeo-Christian principles’ as a basis for instruction. … It also says states should encourage K-12 public schools to post the Ten Commandments, teach Bible classes, recognize holidays such as Easter and Christmas. promote instruction ‘from a Judeo-Christian perspective’ and remove ‘secular-based sex education materials from school facilities.'”

    Emma Brown, washingtonpost.com, 2/15/2017

  33. The Lies You Were Told In Sex Ed

    “Most sex ed classes are reportedly taught by health teachers, many of whom, according to a report from the Guttmacher Institute, are largely unprepared for the job, with many educators lacking sufficient information, refusing to teach certain ideas, or simply being uncertain on what they’re even allowed to teach.”

    Lily Puckett, teenvogue.com, 1/17/2017

  34. Teaching Children The Real Names for Body Parts

    “Sandy K. Wurtele, a professor of psychology and an associate dean at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs, was the lead author on a 1992 research study showing that preschoolers in Head Start knew the correct names for other body parts, but referred to their genitals by a wide array of slang terms, from the familiar (my peepee, my weewee) to the more baroque (my coochie, my piddlewiddle). In this study, children learned the correct names better from their parents than from their teachers. Ideally, parents should start teaching those terms even before their children can talk, naming the genitals just as they name other body parts in the inevitable daily round of small-child body care and grooming and, yes, diapering and potty time.”

    Perri Klass, MD, nytimes.com, 11/1/2016

  35. History Of Sex Education In The U.S.

    “Until the 1960s and 1970s, the goals of social hygiene and moral purity activists eclipsed broader sexual health concerns in the public health arena. Their narrow goals were to prevent sexually transmitted infections, stamp out masturbation and prostitution, and limit sexual expression to marriage … From the 1960s on, support for sex education in schools began to gain widespread support. However, beginning in the 1980s, a debate began in the United States between a more comprehensive approach to sex education, which provided information about sexual health — including information about contraception — and abstinence only programs. Education about sex and sexualtiy in U.S. schools progressed in these two divergent directions.”

    Planned Parenthood Federation of America, plannedparenthood.org, 11/2016

  36. The Sex-Ed Queens Of Youtube Don’t Need A Ph.D.

    “For young people raised with abstinence-only education in school and unfettered pornography online, these internet sex gurus offer a third option — access to other young people who feel comfortable talking about sex. This is sex ed by and for internet natives: It is personal, energetic, unfiltered and not entirely fact-checked.”

    Amanda Hess, nytimes.com, 9/30/2016

  37. Mott Poll Report: Beyond Sex Ed: Parents Want More Health Topics Covered In School

    “Health education is required for most middle and high school students in the United States. Typically, health classes cover general wellness topics (such as nutrition and physical activity) and risk behaviors (such as sexual activity and substance use). In May 2016, the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health asked a national sample of parents of children in middle or high school about their preferences for health education in school. … Over two-thirds of parents say that traditional health topics definitely should be covered at their child’s grade level: physical activity (76%), drug and alcohol abuse (75%), healthy eating (71%), and sex education/pregnancy prevention (70%). Most parents report that these topics are currently taught at their child’s school.”

    Online Resource, mottpoll.org, 9/19/2016

  38. School Board Votes To Support State Mandate For Parental Opt-In For Sex Ed Classes

    “Many speakers in support of the current opt-in policy said a change would circumvent their rights as parents. Advocates of the opt-out policy called that a red herring. … Despite her vote to support the current policy, District B Trustee Chris Garvey asked administrators to consider policy changes that could help the 1,838 students who never return a permission slip. She also urged the community to consider the disparity in teen pregnancy rates, with higher levels concentrated in inner-city neighborhoods.”

    Neal Morton, reviewjournal.com, 9/9/2016

  39. New Vatican Sex Ed Program Outrages Socially Conservative Catholics

    “Petition organizers say the program’s numerous faults include teaching boys and girls in the same classroom, ‘not mentioning a healthy sense of shame when it comes to the body and sexuality,’ and using gay icon Elton John as an example of a gifted and famous person, while failing to mention his activism. … Indianapolis-based sex therapist Kathy G. Slaughter called the criticism ‘misplaced and overblown’ and said some of her fellow Catholics are upset by anything that doesn’t take the strongest possible ‘abstinence only’ approach to sex.”

    Sabrina Eaton, cleveland.com, 8/24/2016

  40. Why Pediatricians Should Teach Sex Ed

    “Pediatricians should discuss sex ed with young patients and their parents, according to a new report by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The report denounces abstinence-only education as ‘ineffective’ and says that studies have shown that all children should receive ‘developmentally appropriate’ sex education from a variety of sources: not just parents and teachers, but also health-care providers.”

    Laura June, thecut.com, 7/19/2016

  41. Sex Ed In Kindergarten?

    “Before cranky readers start griping, yes, we have done and are continuing to do age-appropriate, biologically accurate, morally informed sex education with our kids. They are learning about these things from their parents, within a Christian moral framework. We don’t believe in avoiding the topic, or euphemizing it, or giving the kids the idea that sex is some weird thing to be ashamed of. But I do not trust public schools in this post-Christian society to do it right. The fact that we are even talking about sex ed for kindergartners is, well, morally insane.”

    Rod Dreher, theamericanconservative.com, 4/29/2016

  42. 5 Things LGBTQ Students Won’t Learn In Health Class

    “It’s clear that sex ed across the country is lacking, especially for LGBTQ students — so Teen Vogue turned to the experts to fill in the gaps. Here’s what they say LGBTQ students won’t learn in health class, from safe sex to coming out, and more.”

    Brittney McNamara, teenvogue.com, 3/22/2016

  43. When Did Porn Become Sex Ed?

    “The statistics on sexual assault may have forced a national dialogue on consent, but honest conversations between adults and teenagers about what happens after yes — discussions about ethics, respect, decision making, sensuality, reciprocity, relationship building, the ability to assert desires and set limits — remain rare.”

    Peggy Orenstein, nytimes.com, 3/19/2016

  44. Obama Kills Funding For Abstinence-Only Sex Education

    “In 2007, a study from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy released Emerging Answers 2007, a report authored by leading sexual health researcher Dr. Douglas Kirby, discussing what programs work in preventing teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. The report found strong evidence that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs do not have any impact on teen sexual behavior.”

    Vera Papisova, teenvogue.com, 2/17/2016

  45. The CDC Gives U.S. Schools Low Marks In Sex Ed

    “The CDC report found that, for every age group, the least likely topics to be taught were how to get and use condoms.”

    Meg Anderson, npr.org, 12/10/2015

  46. A Call To Action: LGBTQ Youth Need Inclusive Sex Education

    “The research also showed that LGBTQ youth have a limited number of trusted adults they feel comfortable talking with about sexual health, so they frequently seek information online or from peers. Much of the sexual health information online is neither age-appropriate nor medically accurate, and peers may be misinformed. Sex education ought to help close this gap. Both public health organizations and the vast majority of parents agree and support LGBTQ-inclusive sex education.”

    Online Resource, hrc.org, 12/2/2015

  47. How Sexuality Educators And Parents Can Be Collaborators Rather Than Adversaries

    “Perhaps even more important than how parents and administrators feel about the curriculum is how the students themselves feel. Just as educators should make the effort to work with parents and administrators, the relationship they have with their students should be equally collaborative.”

    Steph Auteri, aasect.org, 10/2015

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Footnotes

1. hrc.org, 12/2/2015

2. parents.com, 5/29/2018

3. nytimes.com, 11/1/2016

4. theamericanconservative.com, 5/11/2018

5. christianpost.com, 4/9/2018

6. “Parents’ views on sex education in schools: How much do Democrats and Republicans agree?,” researchgate.net, 7/3/2017

7. nytimes.com, 9/30/2016

8. psychologytoday.com, 3/29/2017