U.S. children receiving less sex education than 25 years ago

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Health class can certainly be awkward for youngsters, but advocates for sexual education in schools say these lessons provide adolescents with critical information on topics like birth control and STDs. According to researchers from Rutgers University however, a significant portion of American children aren’t receiving enough sexual education.

Study authors conclude that only about half of all U.S. adolescents are getting enough sex education to satisfy minimum standards. Moreover, another sizable portion of children are receiving absolutely zero information on birth control and STD prevention.

The team also discovered notable discrepancies between genders and certain demographics. Specifically, girls are far more likely to report hearing that they should abstain from sex until marriage. Meanwhile, boys are more likely to receive instruction on proper condom use.

Additionally, both Black and Hispanic boys are more likely to report receiving no guidance at all on how to say no to sex, birth control, and HIV/STI prevention in comparison to male Caucasian students. LGBTQ adolescents are also less likely to learn about HIV prevention and where to find birth control, according to researchers.

“The findings show that most adolescents are not receiving sex education that will enable them to manage their sexual lives,” says Leslie M. Kantor, chair of the Department of Urban-Global Public Health at the Rutgers School of Public Health, in a university release. “Of even more concern is that young people of color and queer youth are receiving less sex education and males and females are receiving different messages. Policymakers at every level must invest in inclusive and comprehensive sex education programs with an eye toward greater equity and inclusivity.”

It’s also important to mention that teens who are learning about sex within a religious school generally report their teachers avoid the topic of birth control altogether.

Major differences from the 90s

Researchers analyzed data on 7,946 children originally collected for the National Survey of Family Growth between 2011–2015 and 2015–2019 to reach these conclusions. Over 75 percent of all children did receive guidance on how to “say no to sex,” while only 60 percent learned about birth control. Rewind to 1995, and study authors say over 80 percent of children were being taught about birth control.

“The United States is failing adolescents and their families by providing limited sex education to so many of its youth,” Kantor contends. “Federal, state and local policy makers must work harder to ensure that sex education is provided that is age appropriate and that education is equitable and meets the needs of all youth rather than leaving some youth less equipped to lead sexually healthy lives.”

The study is published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

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