Foundations of Education and Instructional Assessment/Sociological Influences/Sex Education

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Sex Education in Today's Schools

Amanda Burke

Learning Targets [edit | edit source]

  • Define abstinence-only sexual education.
  • Define comprehensive sexual education.
  • Define Title V of the Social Security Act.
  • Understand the controversy concerning sexual education.

Teenage Statistics

  • 46.8% of high school students admit to having sex
  • 6.2% of those had sex before age 13
  • 14.3% of all sexually active students have had 4 or more partners
  • 3 out of 10 teenage girls become pregnant at least once before age 20
  • 1 in 2 sexually active teens will contract an STD by age 25
  • Half of all new HIV infections occur in teenagers
  • 40% of all older teens believe the birth control pill or shot protects them against HIV/STDs

(SADD Statistics, February 2007).

Introduction to Sexual Education [edit | edit source]

Sexual education is a very controversial topic in our public education system. It has been called by many names including, sex ed, family life, and family planning. The goal of this program is to educate today's youth with the facts about sexual health. From the statistics on the right, posted by SADD in 2007, it is easy to see that teenagers are more sexually active than ever before. Children and teens are exposed to sex everyday in the form of movies, television, advertisements, magazines, and the internet. With this large scale exposure it is easy to understand the statistics. Teens feel pressured to become sexually active at a much earlier age, and pregnancy rates and STDs are on the rise. The need for education of today's youth is apparent, but the question is who should be teaching our children about sex? Should it be the parents, the child’s religious organization, or the schools? Each person will probably answer this question in a different way, but most people seem to agree that sexual education should be taught in school. "A 1999 survey conducted by Hickman-Brown Research Inc. found that 93 percent of all Americans believe sex education should be taught in high schools, and 84 percent believe it should be taught in middle or junior high schools (Masland, 2008). So why is it so controversial if 93 percent believe that it should be taught? The answer to that question isn't if it should be taught, but what type of sexual education should be taught.

A Brief History of Sexual Education [edit | edit source]

The idea of sexual education is not new. The National Education Association (NEA) began calling for teacher training in sexual education as early as 1912, but the first step was the introduction of a family life program in 1953(Pardini, 1998). This was followed by the production of five pamphlets called the "sex education series," which was published as a joint effort between the NEA and the American Medical Association, in 1955 (Pardini, 1998). These programs and pamphlets continued through the 1980's despite growing opposition from religious organizations and others. Up until the 1980's, sexual education classes were taught in a more comprehensive manner. In 1986, due to a recognized AIDS epidemic, "U.S. Surgeon General C Everet Koop issued a report calling for comprehensive AIDS and sexuality education in public schools, beginning as early as the third grade" (Pardini, 1998). This spiked some of the most highly debated issues concerning sexual education. The same groups that had opposed these classes through the 60's and 70's claimed that teenagers would be more sexually active if they were given more knowledge about birth control methods, and this comprehensive style of learning would serve as more of an encouragement than a deterrent. The push began for an abstinence-only program. There are no federal laws that require sexual education to be taught in public schools. It is left up to the state to decide if and what kind of program will be offered, however in 1996, "Title V, § 510(b) of the Social Security Act (now codified as 42 U.S.C. § 710b), commonly known as Title V" was provisioned by the federal government (Wikipedia, 2008). This was a welfare reform law that guaranteed federal funding to states who were willing to teach abstinence-only programs in their schools. This gave states the option to participate to receive the funding or they could choose to continue with comprehensive education and receive no funding. Title V has been extended repeatedly, but there has been a strong push for something new. The Responsible Education About Life (REAL) Act has been proposed which will offer federal funding for programs that teach not only abstinence but comprehensive information about birth control (Wikipedia, 2008). To locate state specific laws please visit The Education Commission of the States, Sex Education Laws in the States at [1]

Abstinence-Only Sexual Education [edit | edit source]

Abstinence-only sex ed, is centered around the idea that teens should not engage in any sexual activity outside of marriage. "Critics [of this program] say some of the most popular of these programs rely on scare tactics to get their message across and sometimes include inadequate and inaccurate medical information (Pardini, 1998). It has been said by many that abstinence-only programs only focus on the failure rates of birth control methods in an attempt to scare teens into refraining from sexual intercourse. This type of program does not provide birth control, such as condoms, to the students, or provide any information about how to properly use birth control methods. Abstinence is seen as the only sure fire way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases from occurring in teenagers. This has been the preferred method by many states since the early 1980's, and is also backed by federal funding.

Comprehensive Sexual Education [edit | edit source]

Comprehensive, or abstinence-plus sexual education, provides information about the different forms of birth control available in attempt to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. This is done in addition to teaching that abstinence is the only way to be one hundred percent protected. Comprehensive sex ed also covers topics such as sexuality, masturbation, and homosexuality. "Critics [of this program] say such curricula increase teen sexual activity, although studies show otherwise" (Pardini, 1998).

Elementary School Sexual Education [edit | edit source]

One aspect of sexual education, that is often overlooked, is the elementary years. Many states include sex ed or family life for elementary aged children. These programs usually cover such topics as good touches and bad touches, reproductive anatomy, correct terminology, puberty and menstruation, and similar information. Many states offer the option for parents to opt their children out of thess sensitive classes. It is important to recognize that sexual education does not only refer to secondary schools.

Controversy Concerning Sexual Education [edit | edit source]

Controversy still surrounds sexual education, although it is widely accepted that this is a needed curriculum in today's schools. "Ninety-three percent of public school teachers in five specialties-biology, health education, home economics, physical education, and school nursing--who teach grades 7-12 report that their schools offer sex education or AIDS education in some form (FAM,1989.) It is safe to assume that that number has grown over time. Educators have been effective in implementing and maintaining a sexual education program, but the question still remains which program is the most effective? Some argue that abstinence-only is the most effective program. It encourages today's youth to refrain from sexual activities, and withholds information about effective birth control methods. It is thought by many that this will scare teens into abstaining from sex. Those for abstinence-only argue that giving more information about birth control and proving that methods other than abstinence are effective, will only make teens more sexually active. Those in support of comprehensive education have proven that teens make more responsible choices when presented with the correct knowledge about what forms of birth control are available to them. This has resulted in a decrease in teen pregnancies and STDs in schools using a comprehensive program. Supporters of the comprehensive style of sex ed have often argued that teens will have sex anyway, and by not providing them with the proper knowledge, educators are putting them at a greater risk for becoming pregnant or contracting an STD.

The Future of Sexual Education and Today's Teachers [edit | edit source]

What is the future of sexual education? The United Stated is, once again, beginning to lean more towards the comprehensive style of sex ed. The proposed REAL Act would allow for federal funding of new comprehensive programs too. Even as early as 1989, "virtually all the teachers [said] that school sex education should cover sexual decision-making, abstinence and birth control methods" (Forrest, 1989). Until the 1980s a comprehensive program was the norm. A study was conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of various sexuality programs on groups of students compared to control groups. In discussing the results the following was said of the comprehensive program, "Young people throughout the country tend to become more permissive toward premarital sex as they grow older. While the control groups became more permissive, the sexuality students in the longer, more comprehensive programs did not. This suggests the programs had a conservative effect on their attitudes" (Kirby, 1984). That was 1984, before the internet and the great technology boom. These growing influences, and the general acceptance of sex in society, have had an even greater effect on students. Technology gives them access to any kind of information they want. It is the school's responsibility to make sure they are getting correct and responsible information from qualified teachers. As educators we must recognize that times have changed, and be willing to embrace changes in curriculum that might arise from the new proposed act. States that once found themselves teaching abstinence-only programs may be quickly introduced to a more comprehensive plan. By keeping ourselves educated and up to date, we are helping our students. Sexuality is a natural part of every human being. The reality is most teens will not stop having sex, getting pregnant, or contracting STDs, but we can help combat these problems by providing today's students with the most effective programs available and helping them make better choices. Typically sex ed is taught by a health instructor, school nurse, or other specialized teacher in secondary schools, but even an elementary school teacher may find themselves covering early sex ed topics in their lesson plans. As educators, it is important to understand the history, facts, and the future of sexual education in today's schools.

Questions [edit | edit source]

1. What Act provides federal funding to states for comprehensive sexual education programs?
a.All of the Above
b.NEA Act
c.REAL Act

2. A school that teaches about the proper use of condoms is using which type of sexual education program?
a.Abstinence-only Sexual Education
b.Comprehensive Sexual Education
c.Plus Education
d.Refrainment Sexual Education

3. Abstinence is?
a.Being sexually active with four or more partners
b.Opting out of a sex ed program.
c.Refraining from marriage until your 18.
d.Refraining from sex outside of marriage.

4. A school nurse presents the risks and failure rates only, of various birth control methods. This is what type of sexual education?
a.Abstinence-only Sexual Education
b.Comprehensive Sexual Education
c.Obstetric Sexual Education
d.Sexuality-based Sex Education

Answers: 1.c 2.b 3.d 4.a

References [edit | edit source]

Forrest, JD, Silverman J. (1989 Mar-Apr.)What public school teachers teach about preventing pregnancy, AIDS, and sexually transmitted diseases. Fam Plann Perspect. 21(2), 65-72. Retrieved September 21, 2008, from PubMed database.

Kirby, Douglas. (1984.)Sexuality Education: An Evaluation of Programs and Their Effects. Santa Cruz. Network Publications. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED277955.)

Masland, Molly.(2008.)Carnal Knowledge:The Sex Ed Debate. Retrieved September 21, 2008 from MSNBC. Website:

Pardini, Priscilla. (2002.)Federal Law Mandates Abstinence-Only Sex Ed. Retrieved September 20, 2008, from Rethinking Schools Online. Website:

SADD. (2007.) Statistics. Retrieved September 20, 2008, from Students Against Destructive Decisions. Website:

Wikipedia.(2008.)Abstinence-only Sex Education. Retrieved September 20, 3008 from Wikipedia. Website:

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