Monday’s Mtg: Sex Education – What Works and What’s Right?

Most of us haven’t thought about sex education since we were its targets back, oh, let’s say roughly 20 years ago.  But, sex ed remains alive and well in America’s culture wars, state by state and school district by school district.  Polls show that most Americans want their kids to receive some form of sex ed, and about 85% of students do.  Yet, ignorance about sex and its consequences (both bad and good consequences) is rampant among young people.  Young Americans ages 15 to 24 represent 25 percent of the sexually active population, but acquire half of all new sexually transmitted diseases.  Although the U.S. teen birth rate has declined to its lowest levels since data collection began, we still have the highest teen birth rate in the industrialized world, with 3 in 10 girls getting pregnant at least once before their 20th birthday

What’s wrong?  Is it the fault of not enough or poorly-taught sex ed?  Well, fewer than half of the states require that schools teach sex education at all, and a majority require it to stress abstinence.  Abstinence-only sex ed has been a fervent cause of many social conservatives in the last decade or two, even though studies show it just doesn’t work.  Yet, surely abstinence-only should not be blamed for Americans’ sexual ignorance, since our teen pregnancy and STD rates have been high for decades. Abstinence-only gets all of the media attention and scorn from liberals, but there are other controversial aspects of sex ed, too.

As an instant, Internet-made expert on this topic, I’ll start us off on Monday by explaining what’s required in sex education in most states.  Then, I’ll summarize the biggest controversies about the teaching of sex ed that I’m aware of, including the one over abstinence-only.  I think sex education is a great vehicle for debating a lot of fundamental issues in American politics, such as the plusses and minuses of local control and the opinion of experts versus the wishes of the public.


  1. WHO decides whether and how sex education is taught in the United States?
  2. WHY is sex education taught?  What is the goal?  What should be the goal of it?
  3. WHAT do they teach in today’s sex education and  how?  How much variation is there?  What moral values are taught along with the facts?
  4. EFFECTIVENESS:  Does sex education actually work?
  5. ISSUES:  What is controversial about sex education?  Is it just religious conservatives that object to the way sex education is done, or do others have a problem with it, too? à  How is/should the science of what works be balanced with parental rights and local preferences?


Abstinence only wars –

  • Key:  Abstinence only does not work; but abstinence plus other instruction does work. Recommended.
  • Studies found a lot of inaccurate info in abstinence-only curricula, including some crazy stuff..
  • The Republican Party’s official position us that all sex education programs should be replaced with abstinence only programs.

More Controversies –

  • Contraception:  Should schools dispense contraception, including Plan B, without parental consent, like New York does?
    –> Does this go too far?
  • Homosexuality:  Nine state prohibit the teaching of homosexuality or require that it be mentioned only to condemn it.
    –>  What exactly should they teach about LGBT?  What if the local community thinks differently?
  • Pleasure:  Should sex ed teach about pleasure?  Yes, says this very progressive view of how to teach sex ed.
    –> Do you agree?  Should parents be able to opt-out?
  • 2,000 protesting parents just got a sex ed textbook pulled in Fremont, CA.

Next Week:  Richard Nixon’s presidency, 40 years later.


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