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Sex Education Styles Vary

Location, Comprehensive Sex Ed, or Abstinence Only All Affect Teens' Knowledge

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sex education

Sex education styles differ.

Image (c) PPFA

When it comes to sex education, there is a huge variation in what teens learn. For example, did you know that:

  • In many parts of Western Europe, sex education starts in elementary school and continues throughout high school, while in the United States, if kids get sex ed at all it rarely starts before middle school.
  • Studies have found that teens who get comprehensive sex education make better choices about sex. They have sex later and use condoms more often when they do.
  • GLSEN discovered that at schools where abstinence-only education is taught, GLBT students are more likely to have experienced verbal harassment on the basis of sexual orientation, and were more likely to have missed school in the past year because they felt unsafe.

Additionally, a recent study done by the Angus Reid Public Opinion Group looked at the different styles of sex education in Canada, the United States and Britain and what these differences mean for kids who grow up in these countries.

Here's what it found:

  • In the United States, the big discussion is over whether sex education should be comprehensive, and cover issues like safe sex, contraception, pregnancy options, abstinence and GLBT issues, or abstinence-only, and exclusively teach that sex should only be had by people in heterosexual marriage. As a result, a lot of teens get abstinence-only sex ed, or none at all.
  • In Britain, many respondents reported being unhappy with the sex education they received in school. Only 43% of Britons reported finding sex education classes useful. This is significantly lower than the percent of Canadians and Americans who found their school's sex ed useful. As a result, many British respondents said that their sex education came from the media or from their family.
  • Canadian sex education seems to be the most inclusive. For example, GLBT issues, bullying, sexual pleasure and abortion were included in sex education curriculum for the majority of respondents.

When it comes to what exactly people think should be taught in school, there was also a range of opinion. According to the report:

"Practically nine-in-ten respondents in the three countries believe topics such as pregnancy and birth control, venereal diseases, sexual abuse, and bullying should be "definitely" or "probably" discussed in a sex education course. However, there are some stark contrasts in other topics.

  • Abstinence: Canadians and Americans (both at 89%) are more likely to favour this topic than Britons (81%).
  • Intercourse: Canadians (91%) and Britons (89%) more likely to favour this topic than Americans (77%).
  • Non-penetrative sex: Canadians (82%) are more likely to favour this topic than Britons (74%) or Americans (66%).
  • Abortion: Canadians (84%) and Britons (78%) are more likely to favour this topic than Americans (68%).
  • Homosexuality: Canadians (86%) more likely to favour this topic than Britons (76%) and Americans (63%).
  • Sexual Pleasure: While a majority of Canadians (69%) and Britons (62%) would like to see this topic discussed, less than half of Americans (46%) concur."  

Interestingly, respondents from all three countries said they thought that parents should be the primary educators about sexuality.

Where you get sex ed (say at school or at church), if you are in a private school or a public one, whether you get abstinence-only sex education or comprehensive sex ed, and the country you live in all impact teens' knowledge of sexuality. It is no secret that America has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the Western World. It also has a pretty staggering teen STD rate. Hopefully, understanding what is going on with sex ed in classrooms around the world will help us all rise to the current sexual health challenges affecting teens.

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