Press "Enter" to skip to content

Sex Education Is More Than Just Abstinence

By Khushi Bhalla

Sex education has been a controversial topic for over 100 years. With 39 states, including the District of Columbia, currently requiring some form of sex education, there is some recognition of its importance [1]. However, the comprehensiveness and quality of this education are not consistent. In many states, there is no guarantee for sex education to include anything beyond abstinence-only programs, which fail to prevent STIs, unintended pregnancies, and properly educate students on sexual health. It is because of these deficits that Comprehensive Sex Education (CSE) is necessary and should be standardized nationwide.

Currently, abstinence-only models are more prevalent across the U.S. Many states stress abstinence as the only acceptable sexual behavior, with just 18 states mandating that educators share information about birth control [1]. This creates inconsistent standards between states and even districts, severely compromising national sex education efficacy. Furthermore, many abstinence-centric programs promote shame, fear, and guilt regarding sexual activity, framing premarital sex and pregnancy as morally wrong choices with negative health outcomes [2]. However, studies confirm the ineffectiveness of such curricula in delaying sexual initiation or reducing sexual risk behaviors [3].

In contrast, Comprehensive Sex Education produces a variety of benefits. According to the United Nations Population Fund, CSE provides “scientifically accurate information about human development, anatomy and reproductive health, as well as information about contraception, childbirth and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV” [4]. Systematic literature reviews reveal CSE promotes appreciation for sexual diversity, mitigates homophobia, advances gender equity and social justice, and prevents dating and intimate partner violence [5]. Additionally, CSE prevents child sex abuse, reduces teen pregnancy and STI rates, and improves sexual communication abilities, decision-making skills, health and well-being [6].

Despite these advantages, many states neglect LGBTQ+ communities and other marginalized groups in sex education policies. To address this, successfully instituting CSE nationwide must become the ultimate objective. While some states have had programs like this in place, the lack of consistency discussed above only contributes to and highlights the need for state-level action. Accompanying this with community-level involvement and support, alongside sufficient funding for program planning and implementation will assist with the implementation in every state.

Realizing this vision poses challenges across three key domains: program planning, curriculum implementation, and insufficient adaptation [7]. Program planning barriers include insufficient funding and coordination issues amongst governmental tiers, NGOs, and development partners. The second category, curriculum implementation, focuses on issues regarding inadequate systems for monitoring and evaluating teachers and students using the program, and inadequate importance given to CSE when integrated with other subjects. Finally, insufficient adaptation may lack of focus on adapting the curriculum to local contexts and limited participation of stakeholders in curriculum development [7]. These challenges, however, can all be addressed using strategic initiatives.

Uruguay and the Netherlands showcase successful CSE programs. Uruguay’s Ministry of Education, in partnership with civil society organizations, developed a curriculum of CSE that focused on gender equality, human rights, and the prevention of gender-based violence [7]. This program was then implemented using a participatory process that involved teachers, students, and parents. The Dutch program focuses on relationships, diversity, and gender identity and was then implemented through collaboration between local schools, NGOs, and the national government [7].

Sex education is a necessity, supplying youth with informed foundations critical for responsible decision-making and sexual health management. Yet prevailing abstinence-only models often prove ineffective, propagating fear and misconceptions. In contrast, evidence confirms Comprehensive Sex Education significantly decreases the spread of STIs, STDs, and unintended pregnancies, while encouraging LGBTQ+ acceptance and overall gender inclusivity. CSE must be standardized throughout the country immediately. 

Works Cited

  1.  Parenthood, Planned. “Sex Education Laws and State Attacks.” Planned Parenthood Action Fund, 
  2. “Federally Funded Abstinence-Only Programs: Harmful and Ineffective.” Guttmacher Institute, 24 Aug. 2022, “Abstinence-Only Education Is a Failure.” Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, 3 Oct. 2022, 
  3. “Comprehensive Sexuality Education.” United Nations Population Fund,,(STIs)%2C%20including%20HIV 
  4. Three Decades of Research: The Case for Comprehensive Sex Education. 
  5. “Comprehensive Sexuality Education: For Healthy, Informed and Empowered Learners.”, 
  6. Keogh, Sarah C, et al. “Challenges to Implementing National Comprehensive Sexuality Education Curricula in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: Case Studies of Ghana, Kenya, Peru and Guatemala.” PloS One, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 11 July 2018, 


Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Mission News Theme by Compete Themes.