Sex Education and Teen Sex

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Sex education has become a standard part of the curriculum of schools throughout America. The goal is to teach teenagers to practice "safe sex" -- that is, to use condoms or other birth control devices -- and so reduces the chance that they will become pregnant or become infected with a venereal disease.

Occassionally supporters of sex education will argue that such programs reduce teen sexual activity. But more often they strongly oppose the idea of suggesting that teens should abstain from sex outside marriage, as this would violate the "separation of church and state". Besides, they explain, teens are going to have sex regardless of what their parents or teachers tell them, so the only practical thing to do is to try to reduce the damage when they do have sex.

Does sex education result in more or less teen sexual activity? Even if it does not reduce the total activity, does it at least result in teens practicing more "safe sex"?

Planned Parenthood conducted a landmark study of this subject back in 1986. Planned Parenthood is, of course, one of the leading advocates of more and earlier and more explicit sex education, and so if their study is at all biased, it would surely be on the side of the benefits of sex education.

In reporting the results of their study, they pointed out that teens who had gone through what Planned Parenthood considered a "comprehensive" sex education program were significantly more likely to use birth control. Thus, they trumpeted, comprehensive sex education is a resounding success.

By the way: They defined "comprehensive" sex education as a program that included at least four of six categories: biology of reproduction, coping with sexual development, different types of birth control, preventing sexual abuse, abortion, and where to get contraceptives. As three of the six are abortion and birth control (note its mentioned twice), for a program to be labeled "comprehensive" it had to discuss birth control and/or abortion.

Assuming that the numbers they report in the "back of the book" are accurate, it is true that sex education does result in greater use of birth control. But a close examination of the numbers reveals that this does not mean what Planned Parenthood would like you to think it means.

Planned Parenthood reported the results of their study as follows:

Chart 1
Had sex No sex Sex WITH
birth control
Sex WITHOUT
birth control
Total number of teens 350 600 160 168
Comprehensive sex ed 46% 31% 53% 40%
Non-comprehensive sex ed 19% 26% 18% 22%
No sex ed 34% 42% 28% 37%

This is an odd way to present the statistics, as it does not allow us to readily compare the sexual behavior of students who did and did not go through "comprehensive sex education". However, there is sufficient information here to allow us to compute the percentages in a different way. (For the mathematically inclined or those who question the accuracy of the following chart, I explain how I came up with this chart at the end of this article.)

Chart 2
Comprehensive
sex ed
Non-comprehensive
sex ed
No sex ed
No sex 54% 70% 68%
Had sex 46% 30% 32%
Sex WITHOUT birth control 19% 17% 17%
Sex WITH birth control 24% 13% 12%
Sex, birth control unknown 3% 0% 3%

Note that the bottom section shows the percentage of the TOTAL teens who had sex and used birth control, not just the percentage of those who had sex.

Studying the data in this form reveals a couple of interesting facts:

In other words: Yes, Planned Parenthood - style sex education teaches teens to practice "safe sex". But what they give up is not "unsafe sex", it's sexual abstinence. And so we end up with the worst of both worlds: more immorality AND more teen pregnancy and venereal disease.

Of course, Planned Parenthood gets government grants to hand out contraceptives to teenagers. And, as the above study indicates, sex education is bringing them a lot of business.


Chart 2 was derived from Chart 1 as follows:

Note that they provided the actual number for each column of percentages. We can thus compute the number of teens represented by each percentage by multiplying the percentage by the number at the top of the column. This gives the following chart:

Chart 1.5
Had sex No sex Sex WITH
birth control
Sex WITHOUT
birth control
Total number of teens 350 600 160 168
Comprehensive sex ed 161 186 85 67
Non-comprehensive sex ed 67 156 29 37
No sex ed 119 252 45 62

Note that totals do not always add due to rounding, and that 22 teens who had sex did not answer questions about birth control use.

We then compute percentages based on totals across instead of down to arrive at Chart 2.


Data for this article is from American Teens Speak: Sex, Myths, TV, and Birth Control, ©1986 by Planned Parenthood Federation of America, p. 53.


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Posted 16 Sep 2000.

Copyright 1995 by Ohio Right to Life
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