Sex Education: Does it Really Work?

Roy Peters

"Forty percent of today\'s fourteen year old girls will become pregnant
by the time they are nineteen" (qtd. in "The Effects" 632). This statistic may
indicate that the sex education programs in the United States are not
controlling the effects of sex by teens. "The United States has the highest
teen pregnancy rate of developed countries" ("The Effects" 632). I believe
that the people of this nation need to look at the current sex education
programs and see if they are properly addressing the problems that sex education
was intended to stop. The three major reasons why sex education is taught in
our schools are: 1) to discourage teens from having sex at younger and younger
ages; 2) to stop the spread of AIDS and other STDs; and 3) to prevent teenage
pregnancy. I believe that the sex education programs being used today are not
effective at controlling these three problems. Today\'s sex education programs
are abstinence based. "Washington has spent some $31.7 million developing
abstinence only curricula" (Shapiro 56). By looking at the problems sex
education tries to solve, we can improve the sex education programs by putting
the problems in order of importance. This will prove that teens having sex at a
younger age is the reason for the failure of sex education in this country. To
counteract this problem abstinence should be taught to children under the age of
16. Then when the children reach the age of 16 they need to be taught AIDS and
condom education.
AIDS and other STDs are an important reason we have sex education. AIDS
education is supported in all fifty states: "Sex education is only formally
required or recommended in 47 states" (Gibbs 61). This shows that AIDS
education is considered more important than sex education. AIDS can be spread
by the transfer of bodily fluids such as blood or semen from an infected person
to one who is not. This includes sexual activity, intravenous drug use, and
blood transfusions. Many people are still contracting AIDS through sexual
contact even though there has been a nationwide awareness program. It is a fact
that "2.5 million teenagers are affected by sexually transmitted diseases each
year" ("The Effects" 632). This statistic does not take into account AIDS cases.
That is a large number of teens that are missing the message about safe sex and
abstinence. This shows how poorly our current system of sex education is
working. Because if it was effective, these numbers would be much lower than
what they are. Condoms can prevent the spread of AIDS sexually, but the use of
condoms requires a change in one\'s sexual habits. "Once patterns of sexual
intercourse and contraceptive use are established, they may be difficult to
change" (qtd. in Whitehead 69). "One survey shows that among sexually active 15
year olds, only 26 percent of boys and 48 percent of girls had sex education by
the time they had first intercourse" (Shapiro 58). This is one reason that
AIDS education has not been totally successful. It relies on sex education to
stress condom use, but many young teens are forming their patterns of
contraceptive use or nonuse before they are educated enough to make the right
Another major problem sex education tries to solve is teen pregnancy.
"American teenage females experience about one million unplanned pregnancies
each year" ("The Effects" 632). "About thirty-seven percent of teenage
pregnancies end in abortion and about fourteen percent in miscarriage"
(Whitehead 73). The social consequences of teens having children are great. If
a teenage mother does not finish high school or become married there is a
seventy-nine percent chance that the mother and the child will be poor
(Whitehead 73). Teenage girls have greater control over their fertility today
than they had in the past, and yet the percentage of births to unwed mothers
continues to rise (Whitehead 73). This shows that sex education has failed to
slow the rate of teen pregnancy.
Teens in this country are having sex at a younger and younger age. "In
1970, five percent of fifteen year old girls and 32 percent of seventeen year
old girls reported having had sex; by 1988 the figures had increased to twenty-
six percent of fifteen year old girls and fifty-one percent of seventeen year
olds" (Whitehead 72). Another survey by the Centers for Disease Control also
came up with similar numbers. They reported 40% of 15 year olds reported having
sex in 1993; but in 1970 only 10% of 15 year olds reported having sex (Shapiro
57). This shows how dramatic the increase of young sexually active