Sex Education: How Well Does It Work?

June 23, 1989

Report Outline
Special Focus


The teaching of sex education is now the norm in most high schools in the United States. For the most part, however, sex education courses do not seem to prevent teenage pregnancy, reduce teenage sexual activity or increase the use of contraceptives. Nevertheless, there may be good reasons that sex education should continue.

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In the America of the late 1980s, sex education is no longer confined to locker rooms and back alleys—or even to the privacy of the home. Now, according to a major national survey by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, four-fifths of the states either require or encourage the teaching of sex education in the public schools, and nearly nine in 10 large school districts in the United States support such instruction.

But what passes for sex education in U.S. public schools, the institute reported, is often a cursory discussion of human biology and “family life” issues. Most sex education classes place less emphasis on pregnancy prevention than on preventing the spread of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. In fact, many sex education programs include no instruction in birth control methods at all, focusing instead on the importance of abstaining from sexual relations.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Sex Education
Sep. 16, 2005  Teen Sex
Jul. 10, 1998  Encouraging Teen Abstinence
Jun. 23, 1989  Sex Education: How Well Does It Work?
Aug. 28, 1981  Sex Education
Mar. 23, 1979  Teenage Pregnancy
Oct. 30, 1957  Sex Education in Schools
Elementary and Secondary Education
Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence
Students and Social Life