CDC: Sex Education in American Schools Inadequate


The topics in sex education that have been recommended by the CDC are being taught in fewer than one-fifth of middle schools and half of high schools, according to a new report.

Meg Anderson of NPR says a CDC report found that the least likely topics to be taught to all age groups are how to get and use condoms. The 2013-14 school year results were no surprise to Stephanie Zaza, director of the CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health, who managed the administration of the survey. She said the low rates of compliance had remained flat for as far back as she could recall.

Marcela Morales-Lugo of New York City says her first sex education class took place in eighth grade and was taught by her physical education teacher. Morales-Lugo said the awkwardness factor was high when her teacher was telling her to do jumping jacks and in the next class her P.E. teacher was explaining gonorrhea. She added that the sex ed class information was too little, too late, since her girlfriends were already getting pregnant.

The CDC’s biennial school health profile asked all states to survey school health educators on the topics they teach in sex education. In the end, 44 states had the number of respondents to be included in the questionnaire, which also surveyed particular large urban school districts and US territories.

The most critical 16 topics, according to the CDC, fell into three subject areas: HIV prevention/STD prevention, pregnancy prevention, and information on sexuality.

What gets taught in sex ed is often based on decisions made at the district level and varies nationwide. In Kentucky, for example, the state had the lowest rate for teaching middle schoolers the full range of the CDC’s recommended material, at just below 4%. The highest rate for middle schoolers was over 45% in North Carolina.

For high schools, the gap is even larger, with New Jersey teaching 9 out of 10 students the full list of recommended topics. Arizona, however, had the lowest rate in the survey with fewer than 1 in 5 students.

Zaza explained there were several reasons why sex education is often the lowest priority, including not having qualified instructors, restrictive policies, and lack of class time. Still she emphasizes that these conversations are critical and should be taught early on.

Half of high school students say they have had sex, and half of all new cases of sexually transmitted infections are occurring in people ages 24 and younger.

Other than New Jersey, the states of New York and New Hampshire have more than 75% of schools that cover all the CDC’s information. The CDC could not find one state where the majority of middle schools reached the government’s sexual health education goals, says Arielle Duhaime-Ross of The Verge.

Teens in the US are more likely to give birth than in most developed countries, and although teenage pregnancies are dropping, they continue to be relatively high.

Zaza stated that sexual education is stigmatized. Some legislators advocate abstinence-only sexual health programs that cause schools to react to social pressures. Schools need to get the numbers out to parents explaining how pregnancies and STIs are affecting their communities, she says.

Nationwide, 94% of high schools taught young people the benefits of abstaining from sex, 88% explained to students that less is more when it comes to sexual partners, and 92% discussed how friends, families and the culture influence their sexual behaviors, writes Karen Kaplan for the Los Angeles Times.

Also, 95% of school shared with ninth- to 12th-graders how STDs are spread and the consequences of an STD. Eighty-five percent of schools explained how to get products and services to help prevent STDs and pregnancies.