Study: Schools Teach Abstinence, Not Contraception

Teens learn about the birds and the bees in high school sex ed — but they’re not, apparently, learning about birth control. A report from the Centers for Disease Control found that 97 percent of teens received sex education by the time they turned 18, but an alarming 30 percent of teens said that contraception education wasn’t a part of their sex ed curriculum. Instead, teens’ sex education classes focused on abstinence and STDs.The study also reported that — unsurprisingly — teen boys and teen girls received markedly different messages about abstinence.

Said the study:

Nearly two out of three female teenagers talked to their parents about “how to say no to sex” compared with about two out of five male teenagers.

The CDC study covers 2006 to 2008 and confirms a steady trend in a decline in birth control education, which can be traced back to the mid-90s when abstinence-only advocates began waging war on comprehensive sex education classes. Though, say reps from the CDC, federal funding for sex education in the last two years has increasingly been directed toward lessons on contraception.

But does a sex-positive approach to sex education make a difference? In contrast to an American system pushing abstinence education, the Dutch have taken a more open-minded approach. A 2003 report “found that two thirds of Dutch 15 to 17-year-olds with steady boy- or girlfriends are allowed to spend the night with them in their bedrooms, and that boys and girls are equally likely to get permission for a sleepover.” While we can’t necessarily correlate that a sleepover means sex, it does speak to a different attitude toward teen sexuality. Does it work? Well, “In 2007, births to American teens (ages fifteen to nineteen) were eight times as high as in the Netherlands,” said the report.

Plus, the openness Dutch teens have with their families regarding sex, sexuality and relationships had an impact on their perception of healthy relationships. Says sociologist Amy Schalet, “It also appears that having sex outside of the context of monogamous romantic relationships isn’t as common among Dutch adolescents, especially older ones, as among their American counterparts.” It also coincides with an overall openness to teens (and adults) purchasing and using contraception, and sexual healthcare.

Two differing perspectives on teen sexuality — with markedly different results. Is there a happy medium? What do you think kids should be taught in sex ed classes? What was your school’s sex education program like?

[Salon: Broadsheet]