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Questions and Answers about Sex Education

Q. Why is comprehensive sex education important to me and my health?

A. Sex education teaches you that sexuality is a normal part of human development. It helps you learn about your body and your partner's body and teaches you how to make safe and healthy choices when you decide you want to have sex. It teaches you about healthy relationships, responsible decision making, sexual abstinence, and pregnancy and disease prevention. It also provides you with resources such as how to obtain birth control, how to use a condom, and how to communicate with your sexual partner.

Q. What is the difference between abstinence-only programs and comprehensive sex education?

A. Abstinence-only programs focus on teaching that abstinence-until-marriage is the only way to prevent pregnancy and STDs from occurring. Usually the programs do not include discussion of contraception unless it is negative. They teach that sex outside of marriage is emotionally and physically harmful. Comprehensive sex education stresses that abstinence is the only way to completely prevent STDs and pregnancy, but also provides information about safer sex and communication so that teens that choose to be sexually active will have the tools they need to be safe. Abstinence-only programs often include information that is not medically accurate, and can make teens that are sexually active or LGBTQ teens feel ashamed of their behavior or orientation.

Q. Why aren't there more comprehensive sexuality education programs around?
A. Federal mandates restrict federal funding from going to comprehensive sex education. These mandates place funding restrictions on programs so that only abstinence-only programs can receive funding. To receive this funding, these programs can only teach youth about the failure rates of condoms and contraception. Many members of the state and federal governments advocate for comprehensive and medically accurate sex education but are being defeated by more conservative leaders who claim it is immoral to have sex before marriage and support abistinence-only-education.
Supporters of comprehensive sex education see it as a public health necessity and believe that youth will make good health decisions based on complete information.

Q. How are abstinence-only-until-marriage programs funded? Exactly how much money do we spend each year on abstinence-only programs?

A. Three separate federal funding streams support abstinence-only-until-marriage programs:

  • Adolescent Family Life Act (AFLA);
  • 1996 Welfare Reform Act (Title V); and
  • Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE)

From 1996 through federal fiscal year 2007, Congress committed over $1.5 billion dollars (through both federal and state matching funds) to abstinence-only programs. In 2007, abstinence-only programs received $176 million from the federal government. No federal money has ever gone to comprehensive sex education.

Q. Why don't people want youth to have comprehensive sex education?

A. Some people think that giving teens information about healthy relationships, safer sex, and communication will make them more likely to become sexually active. On the other hand, they think that abstinence-only programs will make teens more likely to delay having sex. In fact, a federally-funded study found that teens who received abstinence-only programs didn't delay having sex when compared to teens who got comprehensive sex ed. Studies have also shown that young people are more likely to delay sex when they have received comprehensive sex education that taught them about both abstinence and contraception, among other topics. Some people also don't think that comprehensive sex education teaches about abstinence. That is not true; abstinence is an important topic of comprehensive sex education-just not the only topic.

Q. How do parents feel about sex education?

A. Parents overwhelmingly approve of comprehensive sex education that teaches abstinence, pregnancy, and STD prevention. Parents also want birth control to be widely accessible and for you and/or your partner to know how to put on a condom. Parents recognize that comprehensive, medically accurate information about your sexual health will help you to lead a safe, happy life. A recent study showed that over 90% of both adults and parents supported contraception being taught during sex education.

Q. Are virginity pledges effective ways of delaying sexual activity?

A. No. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Columbia showed that 88% of virginity pledge takers participated in some form of sexual activity before marriage. The study also showed that young people who took a virginity pledge were one-third less likely to use contraception when they did become sexually active. It also showed that sexually transmitted diseases were as common for pledge takers as for non-pledge takers.

Q. What's the REAL Act?

A. We like this one: the Responsible Education about Life (REAL) Act, formerly the Family Life Education Act, would provide the first ever federal money to support responsible sex education in schools. This education would include science-based, medically accurate, and age appropriate public health information about both abstinence and contraception, among other topics.

Q. How does religion play into comprehensive sex education programs?

A. Comprehensive sex education curricula teach that religious values can play an important role in an individual's decisions about sexual expression and offer students the opportunity to explore their own and their family's religious values, without imposing specific and potentially oppressive moral or religious values onto youth.

Q. Where can I get more information about comprehensive sex education?

A. A lot of really cool organizations are working to keep you updated on sex, sexuality, and state and federal policy surrounding sex education. They also provide links for ways you can get involved and help make change:

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Reproductive Justice Issues

What is Reproductive Justice?
Reproductive Justice in Our Communities
Parenting and Giving Birth
Abortion and Birth Control
Sex Education
Access to Reproductive Health Care
Reproductive Technologies
Spirituality and Reproductive Justice
Sexual Health, Anatomy, and STD's