Study finds sexual education ineffective

A study conducted by BMJ Open found that sexual education curriculums taught by schools are often filled with negativity, heterosexism and medically inaccurate information. The study was conducted over a period of 25 years at different schools across the world, with researchers interviewing students ages 12 to 18 about their experiences with sexual education, and what they would like to change.

The students disliked the overly “scientific” approach favored by most sexual education curriculums, which glosses over pleasure and desire, and presents sex as a problem that has to be managed or avoided altogether through the practice of abstinence. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 37 U.S. states require that information on abstinence be provided, while 25 states require that abstinence be stressed.

Students in the study reported that their sexual education classes failed to fully acknowledge students as sexually active, withholding information on “community health services, the options available if pregnancy occurred and the pros and cons of different contraceptive methods.” Many students also reported that conversations about relationships and a sexually active students’ emotional health were “frequently absent” from the curriculum.

Furthermore, 24 states and the District of Columbia mandate sex education, while only 13 states require that the information taught is medically accurate. Students expressed in their interviews with researchers that they felt uncomfortable being taught sexual education by teachers at the school that did not specialize in sexual health, feeling that the teachers were poorly trained and too embarrassed to speak frankly about sex and carry out their lessons correctly. The researchers commented upon this issue in the discussion portion of the study, saying that “young people’s discomfort with the current practice of having [sexual education] delivered by their own teachers appears to represent, among other things, a plea for clear roles and boundaries.”

Many students also felt, according to the study, that sexual education is often heteronormative, and does not include information about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender sex. “Students wanted homosexuality to be discussed within [sexual education] to facilitate discussion of same-sex relationships, help normalize these relationships, address homophobia and support young lesbians, gay men and bisexuals,” reported the study. The lack of attention toward LGBTQ students correlates to the data which points out that only 13 states require the discussion of sexual orientation in their sexual education curriculum.

Researchers of the BMJ Open study found that despite its mediocre quality, and variability in content, school-based sexual education is seen as vital by policy makers. Sexual education, as the study’s results imply, needs to provide information on protecting oneself from pregnancy and diseases for all sexual orientations and gender identities.

Additionally, posed the study, sexually education needs to promote healthy and positive attitudes in relation to sex and be more uniform in content throughout all schools in both the U.S. and the world.