Which type of sex education is right for your teen?
Jennifer Gonzales & Kim Allen, Human Development & Family Studies, University of Missouri Extension
Sex education has become a regular part of many schools’ curriculum.
Starting as early as 6th grade, sexual education programs focus
on forming attitudes and decision making skills about sex, relationships
and intimacy, and some offer information on sexually transmitted
diseases and preventing pregnancy. With more than 60 percent of high school
students engaging in sexual activity by the time they graduate from
high school, sexual education is clearly needed for adolescents.
However, the subject of sex education is controversial,
and it can be difficult for parents to understand the different
educational approaches. There
are several types of sex education programs available and selecting
the best approach for teaching in school is highly debated. Schools
can choose between abstinence only, abstinence based or abstinence
plus, comprehensive and holistic approaches to sexual education.
Abstinence-only education focuses exclusively on postponing
sex until marriage. STD’s and HIV are mentioned as a result of sexual
activity, but condoms and birth control are not mentioned at all.
Critics argue that abstinence-only programs are dangerous and ineffective
as they leave out information for teens that do choose to have sex,
leaving them at risk for pregnancy and STD’s. Additionally, these
programs do not distribute information for youth choosing to wait
until marriage on family planning (delaying pregnancy) or sexually
transmitted diseases they could receive from their marriage partner.
Other critics suggest that abstinence-only programs are fear based
and use false information about the effectiveness of contraception
and the ways you can get STD’s and HIV.
Abstinence-plus or abstinence-based sexual education teaches
that students should wait until marriage to have sex, but this type
also refers to other methods of protection from STD’s and HIV. This
type of education advocates abstinence but also focuses on contraceptive
options and gives information regarding pregnancy, STD’s and HIV,
Comprehensive sexual education explains the
consequences of sexual decision making, including information on
types of sexually transmitted diseases and how to prevent
pregnancy. Some programs combine an abstinence message with
comprehensive information, but all cover the consequences of
sexual activity and discuss the best protection methods.
Although some critics suggest that giving information about sex
will only encourage teenagers, research shows that knowledge is
power, and students who have information are best able to make
choices to protect themselves. In fact, most research suggests
that comprehensive education is the most effective for
Holistic sex education focuses on a much more broad youth
development model than the other types. Teens are guided through
subjects such as self esteem, employment, mental and physical health, and family life.
Included in a holistic program is a comprehensive
unit on sexual decision making. One example of a successful program
is the Teen Outreach Program (TOP), a program that is offered throughout
the state of Missouri.
Research shows that the most effective sex education comes from parents discussing sex openly and honestly with their children. Parents should not depend solely on the school system to discuss sex with their teenager. It is up to parents to get the message to their school administration about the type of sex education they would prefer for their children. With 60 percent of today’s graduates having sex and with the growing number of teens infected with a sexually transmitted disease or pregnancy, it is clear that more information on good sexual decision making is needed.
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Last Updated 09/27/2010