Comprehensive Sex Education Fails to Serve America’s Youth

The American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds), a national organization of child and adolescent physicians and health professionals, observes that most comprehensive sex education (CSE) programs offered in schools have not been effective at increasing long-term sexual abstinence in young people. Instead, the ACPeds reports that CSE curricula operates on the premise that sexual activity for teens is normal and acceptable.

In 1988, Debra Haffner, then Executive Director of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), wrote in a report that teens should “explore the full range of safe sexual behavior” and suggested that “a partial list of safe sex practices for teens could include talking, flirting, dancing, hugging, necking, massaging, caressing, undressing each other, masturbation alone, masturbation in front of a partner, and mutual masturbation.”

“Not all CSE programs include these suggestions, but many do,” ACPeds observed. The group states this ideology has not served teen public health well since, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes, “abstinence from vaginal, anal, and oral intercourse is the only 100% effective way to prevent HIV, other STDs, and pregnancy.”

In August, the CDC released data revealing that the number of cases of sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs) had skyrocketed for the fourth consecutive year. According to the CDC, “half of the 20 million new STDs reported each year were among young people, between the ages of 15 to 24.”

ACPeds notes that while studies suggest a range of factors – such as poverty, discrimination, and drug use – may contribute to STD increases, it is still reasonable to ask, “After forty years of widespread ‘comprehensive sex education’ (CSE) in American schools, why are STDs at epidemic levels among teenagers, and continuing to rise?

ACPeds says that the focus needs to shift to promoting character development and abstinence in young people as the primary means of preventing STDs, pregnancy and other public health dangers.

The pediatricians assert the common CSE ideology that risk avoidance is “not attainable, and the best anyone can do to help our youth is to reduce risk by promoting contraceptive education and services,” is not helping young people to remain free of STDs. Even condoms are used they are not 100 percent effective against STDs.

“In short, Comprehensive Sex Education (CSE) is not comprehensive,” ACPeds reports. “Instead, CSE is almost entirely focused on skills to help teens attempt to reduce the physical consequences of sex through the use of contraception.”