The Main Sex Education Programs Taught in Schools

High school students taking notes in a classroom

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As a parent, you need to be fully aware of what your teen is taught about sex at school. You want to be sure that the information is complete, accurate, and reflects your family's values. You want to be sure that you are prepared to answer questions your teen may have.

Additionally, you'll want to fill in any gaps in your teen's knowledge. For example, the school's sex education program may focus on birth control and safe sex, without addressing the emotional issues that accompany becoming sexually active. Or, it may not fully address topics of sexuality you want your child to know about.

Sex Education Programs Taught in Schools

There are two basic types of sex education classes, and which is taught depends on what your state or local school district mandates. Your teen will either be learning the Comprehensive Sexuality Education or the Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Program.

These programs represent two completely different schools of thought. It is imperative for you to know what your child is learning so you can be the buffer or the fill-in person for your teenager.

Comprehensive Sexuality Education

Comprehensive Sexuality Education is a program that starts in early childhood and continues through high school. It brings up age-appropriate sexuality topics and covers the broad spectrum of sex education, including safe sex, sexually transmitted infections, contraceptives, masturbation, body image, and more.​

It teaches that sexuality is a natural, normal part of healthy living. It covers topics such as sexual expression, relationships, and culture.

It includes accurate medical information on sexually transmitted infections and HIV. And although abstinence is addressed, it also emphasizes strategies to reduce the risk of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Program

Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs emphasize abstinence from all sexual behaviors and do not cover information on contraceptives, sexually transmitted infections, masturbation, etc. It teaches that sexual expression outside of marriage could have harmful psychological, social, and physical consequences.

This program usually does not cover controversial topics such as abortion or masturbation. It may address using condoms, but it emphasizes the failure rates of using them. 

Know the Type of Program Your School Department Uses

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost half of all teenagers become sexually active between the ages of 15 and 19. Almost 20 percent of teens do not use birth control the first time they engage in sexual intercourse, and this is a statistic that has not changed over time.

You may have concerns that your teen is being taught too much or too little. Either curriculum teaches the basics of physical sex and it is up to you to inform your teen of your family values.

The sex education curriculum will give your teen a foundation from which to form questions and have conversations with you. He will bring examples from class that you may not agree with or he may share things that his peers have said.

Sex education shouldn't only be about having "the sex talk." Instead, it should be a series of open conversations over the course of many years. As your teen matures, she will have more questions about sex. You may be the source of answers if you make it comfortable for your teen to bring you questions.

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Article Sources
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  1. Hall KS, Mcdermott sales J, Komro KA, Santelli J. The State of Sex Education in the United States. J Adolesc Health. 2016;58(6):595-7. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2016.03.032

  2. Committee Opinion No. 678: Comprehensive Sexuality Education. Obstet Gynecol. 2016;128(5):e227-e230. doi:10.1097/AOG.0000000000001769

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexual Activity and Contraceptive Use Among Teenagers Aged 15–19 in the United States, 2015–2017. Updated May 6, 2020.

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