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Converging Evidence Leaves Policy Behind: Effectiveness of and Support for School-Based Sex Education Programs, Journal of Adolescent Health

2008 | Download

This editorial in the Journal of Adolescent Health reviews two new studies on sexuality education effectiveness and parent support. Implications for adolescent health policy are discussed, together with the unique opportunity and responsibility of adolescent health professionals to take an active advocacy role in this area.

School-based sex education has the potential to prevent sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies and to promote healthy sexuality. Yet local, state, and national sex education policies in the United States comprise a bewildering patchwork of mandates, funding restrictions, omissions, and compromises, often at odds from one level to the next. As a result, the sex education received by most students is fragmented, incomplete, and frequently based on ineffective approaches and curricula – an unacceptable state of affairs in a time of increasing teen birth rates and epidemics of sexually transmitted infections among American youth.

Much of this policy chaos arises out of politically fueled and morally motivated debates over the appropriateness of comprehensive sex education (CSE) versus abstinence-only (AO) education. Although often rancorous and emotionally charged, these debates typically invoke research-based evidence. Three domains of evidence are most relevant – evidence on effectiveness of AO programs, evidence on effectiveness of CSE programs, and evidence of parental (and public) support for one type of program versus the other. At this point in time, rigorous and compelling evidence has been amassed in two of these three domains – AO programs are not effective, and parents do overwhelmingly support CSE. 

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