Comprehensive Sex Education

I posted this link on Facebook the other day. You should definitely read it, it's Elizabeth Smart's view on abstinence education. After posting it I got a question about what the alternative is, and when I read the comments left by other readers, I noticed that a lot people seem to oppose comprehensive sex education.

I get that. If we give our kids the knowledge aren't we empowering them to have sex? In my adolescent development class, we discussed this topic in great detail and I would like to share what the research says.

An article by Lindberg and Maddow-Zimet (2012) reveals that giving our youth comprehensive sex education does not increase the likelihood of them engaging in sexual activities, nor does it result in an earlier onset of sex. What it does increase is the level of protected sex, which lowers the number of STDs and unplanned pregnancies in youth. This same article states that sex education in general does not have an effect on if or when youth participate in sexual behavior. Comprehensive ed gives them the knowledge to make informed decisions about contraceptive use and partner selection, while enabling them to ask questions. Abstinence education fails to do so. In fact, youth who have an abstinence only education feel less comfortable asking questions about sex (Culp-Ressler, 2013). Additionally, if they are victims of sexual abuse, they are less likely to come forward and discuss what happened. They are also less capable of describing the abuse as they don't know the appropriate terms (Culp-Ressler, 2013). 

Beyond the school system, parental involvement is a huge factor in an adolescent's sexual behavior. As stated above, neither comprehensive nor abstinence education affects the if or when of a youth's sexual onset. However, there is an aspect that affects that very thing: communication. When parents teach children about their beliefs and values, a decrease in sexual behavior is seen. One research study looks at the importance of a parent's involvement in their child's sex education. Rue et al. (2012) looked at abstinence programs that included take home assignments. These assignments were designed to foster developmentally appropriate discussions about sex between parent and child, leading to smarter decisions about sex. I believe that if parents and children can discuss sex in an appropriate manner, their children will feel more comfortable coming to them with questions. In my class we learned that good parent-child relationships are correlated with fewer pregnancies, higher levels of abstinence, postponing sex, having fewer sexual partners, and higher levels of contraceptive use. 

I understand and respect that we are all entitled to our own opinions. I just know that a lot of the time I form my opinions on matters before I know what the research says. I wanted to get some of the research on sex education out there in the hopes that some of you can use it to help form your own opinions. I also encourage you to look at the research for yourself so you can get a broader scope than what I touched on here. I focused more on the pro-comprehensive side, and, as this is simply a blog post and not a research paper, I only used three sources, though many more are available. It is always a good idea to do your own research before coming to a conclusion on a topic.


Culp-Ressler, T. (2013). How teaching kids to accurately identify their genitalia can help prevent sexual crimes. Retrieved from

Lindberg, L.D. & Maddow-Zimet, I. (2012) Consequences of sex education on teen and young adult sexual behaviors and outcomes. Journal of Adolescent Health, 51 332

Rue, L., Chandran, R., Pannu, A., Bruce, D., Singh, R. & Traxler, K. (2012) Evaluation of an abstinence based intervention for middle school students. Family and Social Studies Worldwide, 104 32-40