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Why Sex Education Should Be Taught in School? - Argumentative Essay

Why Sex Education Should Be Taught in School? - Argumentative Essay


A sex education topic is one of the most sensitive subjects that teachers have to teach their students in school as they equip and inform them with the right information about the human body and sexuality. It is hard because teachers are expected to educate students about sex depending on their age (Iyer & Aggleton, 2013). Further, in the modern day where technology and the internet are easily accessible to young children, as well as exposure to sex scenes in movies and television, teachers are daunted with the responsibility of dealing with students that are aware of sexuality, even though some of the information might be wrong.

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Children also get information from their friends, and other unreliable sources, some of which is misleading (Stanger-Hall & Hall, 2011). The justifications for teaching sex education in the classroom is to equip students with the right information so that they can make better choices in their lives, both in the short-term and in the long-term. Teaching sex education demystifies the hearsay information that students have heard or assumed about how their bodies function, allowing them to know what is right or wrong for them.

Students should be taught about sex as it equips them with the necessary biological information. Sex education is comprehensive and diverse, and it incorporates the right biological terms, describing the reproductive system of both men and women (Iyer & Aggleton, 2013). Students are aware of what to expect of their bodies in the future, and the care they should give to their bodies so that they can lead a healthy and meaningful life. Teachers use practical lessons to explain the theoretical concepts about the human body. For instance, a teacher might demonstrate how to insert a condom on a dummy erect penis for teenagers.

Sex education is essential for learners since it gives them a chance to understand and explore the concept of gender (Stanger-Hall & Hall, 2011). Gender identities are an issue that young children need to know as it gives a person a sense of individualities, and is not limited to the normal heterosexuals. It informs learners of the rights they have over their sexualities as well as the power they have in relationships. For instance, some learners may feel trapped in the wrong body and may consider changing their gender, which is justifiable since every individual has a right over his or her sexuality.

Sex education is vital for learners since it gives them a chance to ask questions they would feel shy asking their parents. Iyer & Aggleton (2013) suggested that most children are uncomfortable discussing sex and changes taking place in the body with their parents, which forces young people to look for information from their peers. Some of the information they receive from their peers is wrong. In a classroom setting, teachers give the learners the chance to state what they know about sexuality, which then provides the tutors an opportunity to correct any wrong information (Stanger-Hall & Hall, 2011). Some institutions may involve parents in the sex education programs in school where children meet with their guardians and tutors and expand the topic of sexuality with ease.

In conclusion, teaching sex education in school is essential. Learners are given information about their bodies, giving them a chance to make the right choices. Therefore, if learners choose to engage in sex at an early age, they can make the right decisions like using protection. Sex education informs learners about the dangers of engaging in unprotected sex with multiple partners. Telling the learners about their sexuality empowers them to choose what they desire.

Iyer, P., & Aggleton, P. (2013). 'Sex education should be taught, fine... but we make sure they control themselves': teachers' beliefs and attitudes towards young people's sexual and reproductive health in a Ugandan secondary school. Sex Education, 13(1), 40-53.

Stanger-Hall, K. F., & Hall, D. W. (2011). Abstinence-only education and teen pregnancy rates: why we need comprehensive sex education in the US. PloS one, 6(10), e24658.

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Sex Education in America: the Good, the Bad, the Ugly

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The debate over the best way to teach sexual health in the U.S. continues to rage on, but student voice is often left out of the conversation when schools are deciding on what to teach. So Myles and PBS NewsHour Student Reporters from Oakland Military Institute investigate the pros and cons of the various approaches to sex ed and talk to students to find out how they feel about their sexual health education.

TEACHERS: Guide your students to practice civil discourse about current topics and get practice writing CER (claim, evidence, reasoning) responses.  Explore lesson supports.

What is comprehensive sex education?

Comprehensive sex education teaches that not having sex is the best way to avoid STIs and unintended pregnancies, but it also includes medically accurate information about STI prevention, reproductive health, as well as discussions about healthy relationships, consent, gender identity, LGBTQ issues and more. What is sexual risk avoidance education? Sexual risk avoidance education is also known as abstinence only or abstinence-leaning education. It generally teaches that not having sex is the only morally acceptable, safe and effective way to prevent pregnancy and STIs — some programs don’t talk about birth control or condoms– unless it is to emphasize failure rates.

What are the main arguments for comprehensive sex education?

“Comprehensive sex ed” is based on the idea that public health improves when students have a right to learn about their sexuality and to make responsible decisions about it. Research shows it works to reduce teen pregnancies, delay when teens become sexually active and reduce the number of sexual partners teens have.

What are the main arguments against comprehensive sex education?

Some people, particularly parents and religious groups, take issue with comprehensive sex ed because they believe it goes against their cultural or religious values, and think that it can have a corrupting influence on kids. They say that by providing teens with this kind of information you are endorsing and encouraging sex and risk taking. Some opponents also argue that this type of information should be left up to parents to teach their kids about and shouldn’t be taught in schools.

State Laws and Policies Across the US (SIECUS) 

STDs Adolescents and Young Adults (CDC) 

Myths and Facts about Comprehensive Sex Education (Advocates for Youth)

Abstinence-Only and Comprehensive Sex Education and the Initiation of Sexual Activity and Teen Pregnancy (Journal of Adolescent Health)

Abstinence-Only-Until Marriage: An Updated Review of US Policies and Programs and Their Impact (Journal of Adolescent Health) 

Sexual Risk Avoidance Education: What you need to know (ASCEND) 

We partnered with PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs for this episode. Check out their journalism resources for students: https://studentreportinglabs.org/

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Sex education should be included in schools or the education system by the government's department of education. Sex education teaches and gives us factual and more information on human sexuality, gender identity, human anatomy, and such. Hence, the unfavorable and harmful consequences of a lack of sex education knowledge will be reduced and prevented.

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Research Argument

Is Sex Education Essential? Positive Outcomes; Different Cultures

Children should learn about sex education because as they reach their adolescent years they will engage in sexual activities. In different cultures sex education is taught in different styles, giving young people a different perspective on how things should be done. Sex education is essential to everyone and should be taught in schools. It has enhanced many students in so many ways.

There are two types of sex education; Abstinence Only until Marriage Education (AOUME), and Comprehensive Sex Education (CSE). Both styles of sex education aim “[T]o provide children and teenagers with factual information on the health and social risks of sexual practices resulting in teenage pregnancy, abortion, and STIs” (Liew, 706). AOUME teaches students primarily about safe sex, but it’s mostly geared towards young people not having sex until marriage. Many believe that it’s best for students to learn about abstinence only because that’s what will keep them safe. Although this may be a good approach for some, most students prefer taking comprehensive sex education, and there have been studies proving how teaching about abstinence only is not effective. “[R]searchers have found that abstinence-only programs place youth at risk for pregnancy and other STDs” (Stantelli et al., qtd in Freedman-Doan, 247). CSE gives students more knowledge behind sexual activities, different styles of contraceptives, and background information about the different kinds of sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). CSE is effective in preventing pregnancy and lowering STI rates (Lamb, 315). There have been many debates about what kind of sex education should be taught in schools, and most argue for some form of comprehensive sex education.

To add to that, it’s important for all young people to learn about sex education. No matter the age, gender, or ethnic background, it’s important for everyone to learn about this topic. Sex education is important to all young people because they may engage in sexual activity someday. No matter what age it begins, is important that they have some kind of knowledge about what’s going on, and most importantly so they could prepare for it. It’s always best to be safe than sorry. Learning about sex education will not only prepare young people for what comes with having sex, but since they are on the high stream of statistics, this will help lower the pregnancy and STI rates. They can help lower STI rate by learning how to reduce their risk of catching anything. This can be done by teens taking a sex education course. For example, in India, they’ve been coming up with ideas on different kinds of education to help their country. They’ve been doing this because they are the second largest country of HIV/AIDS (Tripathi, 3). They explain how teens in their country need to have more knowledge about sex and family planning to help lower these rates. They’ve done studies and it proves how teens who already have knowledge about sex and family planning are prepared for what will happen if they were to conceive, and those who have little knowledge know nothing or aren’t prepared for what comes along with this. Also, when teens begin learning about sex, they should be taught to have a choice. Many don’t consider the fact that people should have a choice with what they engage in sexual activity.

Now the question is who should teach young people about sex education. It’s important the sex education begins at home with parents. Learning about this topic should first come from parents with the birds and the bees talk. Parents can also help by breaking down the basics so they could have a general idea of what sex is. This is so once their child starts going to school, they will have some idea of what’s being taught to them. Parents could break down the very general information about this topic, while sex educators dig deeper and go into details about what it is. Sex education should be taught in places such as community centers, schools, churches and at home. Young people should be able to get access to information about sex everywhere in their community. When it comes to the idea of sex being taught in church, many question why and think that’s not reasonable. They believe that if sex should be saved until marriage and if they’re taught anything about sex education, it should be to stay abstinent. But what they don’t know is that “[A]bstinence-only programs prolongs age of first intercourse, but increases risk of pregnancy and STDs (Bruckner and Bearman 2005)” (Freeman-Doan, 248). Abstinence only programs aren’t benefiting teens at all. Learning about sex education in church will help them with the will power to engage in sexual activity safely. “The religious communities can exert a level of social control on individual members’ behaviors” (Freeman-Doan, 248).

When it comes to sex education in different cultures, young people are learning and getting a different perspective on what this is. For example, in the American culture adolescents are taught about sex once they reach middle school. As they are learning about this, they may come home with questions for parents, but they may be limited to what they will ask. In the Dutch culture, young people are very open with their parents about this subject. They have open relationships discussing sex, who their boyfriend or girlfriend is, and their parents even approve of their partner spending the night at their homes. Most families in the Netherlands believe that it is best for them to have this open relationship with their child because they will already know what’s going on and they would rather their child be safe than out sneaking around. Dutch parents feel as if their teen’s sexuality goes through a process, and only they will know when they are ready to engage in any sexual activity. “[T]hey believe young people can self-regulate, provided that they have been encouraged to pace themselves and prepare adequately by using the available means of contraception” (Schalet, 17).

Moreover, in the Hispanic culture, sex education is taught in a different way. Most young people don’t really learn about sex education until they are already pregnant, and by that time it’s too late. “[T]he teenage birth rate among Latinas is the highest of any race or ethnicity and nearly double the national average (Ryan, Franzetta, and Manlove 2005), and they also have high infection rates for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (Bourdeau, Thomas, and Long 2008)” (Villar and Concha 545). Their culture believe that they shouldn’t learn about sex education because they should be saving themselves until marriage. In the Latino community, learning about sex education is for the parent of the child’s gender. “[Y]oung Latinas described their experience with middle school sex education with frustration; when they tried to ask questions and gain information, they were likely to be cut-off or chastised” (Villar and Concha, 547). This goes to show how sex education is viewed differently in the Latino culture. In America and a few other places around the world, sex education is taught before a teen is pregnant. Although most teens are taught about abstinence only, they still have an idea of what’s going on and methods of birth control.

Sex educators question around what age should children start learning about sex education. Sex education should be taught at as young as 5 years old. It’s important for children to begin learning about sex education at this age so they could know the dos and don’ts. Around this age is when children start going to daycare, and they will realize at potty time that they have different parts. Some children even pull their clothes down and show themselves off, or they play with their different body parts. It’s important that before children even start daycare, they learn about their different body parts from their parents. This will also help the child know if someone touches them the wrong way, they can report back to their parents so the parents could address the issue. As children grow up and move on in school, of course they will learn about the different topics that comes along with sex. Beginning to learn about sex education at a young age is really beneficial to students. Its best they learn young because as they get in school, they will start talking to their friends, and if any of their friends are already having sexual activity, they will ask their friends and may receive the wrong information. It’s best that they begin young at home, and as they’re in school, learn more about the subject so they could receive accurate information.There have been surveys and many studies conducted that asked parents how do they feel about their child learning about sex education. In one study, 87% of parents agreed that their child should be taught about sex education in school (McKay, 159).

Many argue against schools teaching about sex education because they believe that this will only influence the child to engage in sexually related activities. Some argue that sex education is only harming our society today promoting children to have sex. They say how schools are teaching students to practice safe sex. They believe that this is influencing young people to have sex because they feel as long as they’re safe, it’s okay. Those arguing for sex education explain how essential it is in a young person’s life to learn about sex education to prepare them for the real world. They also explain how children learning about this topic has lowered the pregnancy, abortion, and STI rates. One student says “I honestly think we NEED Sex Education in schools, and maybe girls wouldn’t be so quick to get pregnant if they knew the reality of it” (Should Sex Education be taught in schools). Teaching sex education helps prepare adolescents for reality. For a student to say this for themselves goes to show how essential this subject is.

All in all, sex education is essential for everyone to learn. It’s a part of our everyday lives, and it’s everywhere around us. It’s best that sex education is being taught in schools because it benefits students in many ways. Learning about this subject prepares students for the real world. Many who’ve already learned about sex education argue that it’s important that this subject is a required course because it has enhanced them in various ways. Students deal with peer pressure of friends who are already engaging in sex and may soon begin to engage in the activity themselves. With many young people already having sex, especially in today’s society, it’s very important that this subject should be taught to all young people.

Freedman-Doan, Carol, et al. “Faith-Based Sex Education Programs: What They Look Like And Who Uses             Them.” Journal Of Religion & Health 52.1 (2013): 247-262. Academic Search Complete. Web. 25 Feb. 2015.

Lamb, Sharon, Kara Lustig, and Kelly Graling. “The Use And Misuse Of Pleasure In Sex Education Curricula.” Sex Education 13.3 (2013): 305-318. Academic Search Complete . Web. 27 Mar. 2015.

Liew, Warren Mark. “Sex (Education) In The City: Singapore’s Sexuality Education Curriculum.” Discourse: Studies In The Cultural Politics Of Education 35.5 (2014): 705-717. Academic Search Complete . Web. 24 Feb. 2015

McKay, Alexander, et al. “Ontario Parents’ Opinions And Attitudes Towards Sexual Health Education In The Schools.” Canadian Journal Of Human Sexuality 23.3 (2014): 159-166. Academic Search Complete. Web. 27 Mar. 2015

Schalet, Amy T. Not under My Roof: Parents, Teens, and the Culture of Sex . Chicago: U of Chicago, 2011.

“Should Sexual Education Be Taught in Public Schools?” Should Sexual Education Be Taught in Public Schools? Debate.Org, n.d. Web. 3 Mar. 2015.

Tripathi, Niharika, and T. V. Sekher. “Youth In India Ready For Sex Education? Emerging Evidence From National Surveys.” Plos ONE 8.8 (2013): 1-9. Academic Search Complete . Web. 3 Mar. 2015.

Villar, Maria Elena, and Maritza Concha. “Sex Education And Cultural Values: Experiences And Attitudes Of Latina Immigrant Women.” Sex Education 12.5 (2012): 545-554. Academic Search Complete . Web. 3 Mar. 2015.

Sex Education: 4 Questions and Answers About the Latest Controversy

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The perennially touchy issue of sex education has erupted again—this time in states not known for being especially prudish about the topic.

Both Illinois and New Jersey rolled out changes to health and sex education standards this school year. And in both states, the revisions have sparked complaints—often specifically about what the standards say about LGBTQ issues and on sexual identity.

Here are some answers to common questions about the latest flare-ups.

Hasn’t sex ed. always been controversial?

For sure. It’s frequently the subject of intense local debates, in part because sexuality education is probably the most local of all curriculum topics in schools: Sex education is not mandatory in all of the states, which means it’s often up to school districts to decide whether—and how—to offer it.

Many states do set some parameters for sex ed., usually in legislation, but these guidelines are still pretty sketchy—often framed in terms of what educators can’t mention (abortion, same-sex relationships) than what they should mention. And it’s still left up to school districts to craft teaching materials or to hire outside organizations to provide curriculum and training.

There are no national sex education mandates, but historically, federal funding for health education has shaped what’s covered in the classes. Abstinence continues to be a core theme of this programming.

Illustration of contraceptives and anatomical diagrams of internal reproductive organs and cells

One common thread in the evolution of sex education has been risk avoidance and prevention, which have driven the emphasis of specific topics over the years: sexually transmitted infections in the 1970s, teen pregnancy in the 1970s and 1980s, and HIV/AIDS beginning in the 1980s.

Now, health researchers and practitioners have tried to shift away from trying to frighten kids away from behavior that carries any risk. Instead they favor an approach that emphasizes informed decisionmaking, risk management, and self-advocacy.

“Because when kids feel confident in their skills, they’ll act in more healthy ways,” said Judy LoBianco, the supervisor of health and physical education for the Livingston public schools in New Jersey.

What’s ‘comprehensive sex education’ anyway?

This is basically the term of art for a more holistic approach towards sex education that goes beyond abstinence or risk prevention. It includes topics like gender roles and identity, consent, healthy relationships, and sexual diversity presented in the context of social and emotional skills.

This is the approach taken by the groups that have crafted the National Sex Education Standards, last updated in 2020. Despite their name, these are not mandated. States use them to inform their own guidelines. (Illinois adopted these guidelines, but allows districts to opt out of using them, and many have.)

Counter to popular claims, the guidelines do not introduce specific sexual practices in early grades. In 2nd grade, for instance, the national standards require that students can list medically accurate names for the body parts, including genitals, and that students can define “bodily autonomy” and personal boundaries.

How are national politics affecting the sex-ed. discussion?

Despite polling that generally shows that adults favor the tenets of comprehensive sex education, many of the new complaints about sex education echo national political discourse that casts schools as the sites of indoctrination about gender identity.

In New Jersey, whose new standards draw on but aren’t identical to the National Sex Education Standards, opponents have claimed that they show young children “sexually explicit” material and are “indoc t rinating” kids into “woke ideology.”

Some of these complaints cite purported materials and lesson plans in use, claiming they are required by the state. But the state does not pick what curriculum, lesson plans, or training teachers receive; districts select those.

In general, sex-ed. advocates say, these complaints are linked to wider moves to censor what happens in classrooms. About 17 states have restricted lessons about race and gender—and some of them, like a Florida law that forbids talk about sex or sexuality in grades K-3 , have led to the accusations that teachers are “grooming” students. Sociologists and health experts say conflating grooming—in which an adult inappropriately develops a close relationship with a child to facilitate abuse—with sex education puts both teachers and students at risk.

Is the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the ‘Dobbs’ case affecting sex ed.?

Surprisingly, abortion is not a common theme in most states’ sex-ed. guidelines . Only nine states and the District of Columbia direct whether or how to discuss abortion in sex education, according to a 2022 policy review from the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, or SIECUS, a nonprofit.

Thousands of people attend a protest for abortion access after the Supreme Court reversed the federal right to abortion decided in Roe v. Wade. The legal basis for the decision could be used in the future as precendent to overturn other rights not explicitly stated in the Constitution (e.g., same-sex marriage). With the exception of Thomas, all of the conservative justices in the majority testified under oath in their confirmation hearings that they consider abortion access 'settled law.'

Six of those states prohibit discussing abortion, while Vermont, Colorado, and the District of Columbia affirm abortion as an option.

More states—about 15—include abortion in the context of social studies classes, where it’s often taught in lessons about interpretations of the U.S. Constitution, the 14th Amendment, and the expansion of civil liberties.

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Development of Contextually-relevant Sexuality Education: Lessons from a Comprehensive Review of Adolescent Sexuality Education Across Cultures

As reported by the World Health Organization in 2017, there are 2 million+ young people living with HIV worldwide. The World Health Organization also reported that a third of all new HIV infections around the world are estimated to occur among youths (aged 15–25). and teen pregnancy rates are on the rise in many places. These worrying trends suggest that existing sexuality education programs and interventions may be inadequate and/or ineffective. Although the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development’s (ICPD) Programme of Action highlighted the roles of Governments to offer sex education to young people to promote teenage reproductive health, yet inconsistency exists in the related initiatives in the global context. The present article aims to provide a comprehensive literature review of the existing sexuality programs in selected places in both English-speaking (i.e., the United States of America, the United Kingdom) and Chinese-speaking contexts (i.e., Hong Kong, Mainland China, and Taiwan). Based on the review, observations and implications for sexuality education policy and practice, as well as recommendations for future research for youths are outlined.

1. Introduction

Adolescence marks a developmental phase where one has relatively sound health, a time where physical sexual maturity is acquired. However, it is also during this period marked by increased autonomy, social immaturity, risk taking, and spontaneity which make them more susceptible to reproduction and sexual health risks. These risks include unplanned, or unprotected sex, which may lead to an elevated risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), unintended pregnancy, and unsafe abortion [ 1 , 2 ]. Although STIs and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are sometimes used interchangeably, it is important to highlight the technical differences between the two. STIs refer to bacteria, viruses, and parasites transmitted through vaginal, anal, and oral sex. It is a sexually transmitted infection that has not developed into a disease. Simply put, STDs (e.g., pelvic inflammatory disease, cervical cancer) start out as STIs. At present, four curable STIs include syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis, while, hepatitis B, herpes, HIV, and human papillomavirus (HPV) are incurable. These pathogens are associated with higher incidence of STDs [ 3 ]. As reported by the World Health Organization [ 3 ], there are currently more than 2 million adolescents living with HIV worldwide. In the United States (U.S.), young people (aged 15–24 years old) account for 50% of all new STDs. Furthermore, 25% of sexually active adolescent females have an STD (e.g., chlamydia or HPV) [ 4 ]. However, in the present study, we will focus on providing a broader picture, as such the rates of particular types of sexually transmitted infections and diseases will not be outlined in detail. According to the 2017 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey [ 4 ], 39.5% of high school students in the U.S. reported ever having engaged in sexual intercourse. While the figures have decreased significantly in the past decade from 47.8% in 2007, unfortunately, those who reported using a condom during their last sexual contact decreased significantly from 61.5% in 2007 to 46.2% in 2017. Moreover, 70.6% of U.S. high school students did not use birth control pills, implants, or birth control rings before last intercourse.

In non-Western contexts such as Hong Kong, the Department of Health reported that HIV infection cases increased from 181 in 1997 to 692 in 2016 [ 5 ]. The premarital pregnancy rate among youngsters had also increased from 2011 to 2016 [ 6 ]. Furthermore, improved health and nutrition in most developed countries have resulted in youths maturing at a younger age, accompanied by an earlier sexual debut [ 7 ]. In the UK, The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyle showed that roughly three-tenths of young people aged 16–24 had sexual intercourse when they were younger than 16 [ 8 ].

In fact, the resolution of the International Conference on Population and Development’s (ICPD) Programme of Action adopted in 1994 underscored the importance of governments to offer sex education to young people [ 9 ]. A critical need for young people to obtain information and skills to protect adolescent sexual and reproductive health (ASRH) was recognized [ 10 ]. Consequently, many countries have adopted sex education policies aimed at preventing adolescent unintended pregnancy, unsafe abortions, and HIV transmission. In the United Nations Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health 2016, strategies to guide and catalyze global collaboration on promoting ASRH for the next 15 years were established. Unfortunately, despite investments in comprehensive sexuality and HIV education for young people over the past decades, grave trends are still being observed, which continues to point toward the necessity for better sexual health education and services [ 4 ].

1.1. Sex Education

Sex education refers to “an age-appropriate, culturally relevant approach to teaching about sex and relationships by providing scientifically accurate, realistic, non-judgmental information” [ 2 ] (p. 69). This definition acknowledges that the aim of sex education extends beyond the transfer of knowledge on human physiology, reproductive system, or the prevention of STIs. Rather, sex education is conceptualized holistically with the goal of empowering youths to better understand their sexuality and relationships, which will ultimately improve adolescents’ sexual health and overall quality of life [ 11 ]. This is in line with WHO’s delineation of sexual health as “a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected, and fulfilled.” [ 12 ] (p. 4).

Generally, sex education focuses on delivering facts about sexual and reproductive health. However, the content, messages, and approaches of delivering sex education vary across countries [ 13 ]. In both the West and non-Western Chinese contexts, the implementation of sex education remains a contentious subject in public health and education policy on several grounds. First, it is the deep-rooted perception of sex as a “taboo” itself, especially in the Asian cultures. Some skeptics argue that sex education encourages promiscuity among youths, and believe that this issue should be avoided so as not to “awaken the sleeping bear”. Second, while policy makers, educators, and parents witnessed that adolescent sexual behavior is getting “out of control”, they disagree on how youngsters’ problematic sexual behaviors can be minimized; and third, on whose responsibility it is to control our youths in this area [ 14 ]. Sex education programs may be school-based that are led by teachers, social workers, health professionals, or peers; community-based; or family-based. In addition, there are various approaches to sex education including abstinence-only, abstinence-only-until-marriage, abstinence, and comprehensive sex education.

1.2. Abstinence-only or Abstinence-only-until-marriage Education Approaches

Abstinence-only education (AOE) or abstinence-only-until-marriage (AOUM) programs, with its religious origins, advocate the complete refraining of sex outside of wedlock, including masturbation. Abstinence is perceived moralistically, where notions of virginity and chastity are highlighted and “teaches that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity” [ 15 ] (p. 97). Students’ character and morality are core issues. Under this approach, policies prohibit or limit the mention of contraception in sex education, and biased findings of contraceptive methods (e.g., condoms and birth control pills) as failures are often presented. Advocates believe that providing students with information on where to obtain and how to use contraception will undermine the abstinence-only message and encourage immoral and health-compromising sexual behaviors which will, in turn, increase the rates of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and unwanted pregnancy [ 16 ]. As such, they believe that abstinence-only is the sole unfailing way to prevent STDs and unwanted pregnancies. The implementers of abstinence-only programs discourage sexual activity by employing tactics to instill fear, shame, and guilt in relation to sexual activity. Moreover, it has been criticized that AOE programs present scientifically inaccurate information, use stereotypical gender roles that discriminate against female students (e.g., portraying women as the “gatekeepers” of men’s virginity, blaming women for men’s sexual indiscretions), and overemphasize religious messages [ 17 ]. Nevertheless, this approach is mostly welcomed by conservative and religious groups [ 18 ].

1.3. Abstinence or Stress-abstinence Approach

While AOE and AOUM approaches perceive abstinence under a moral lens, proponents of abstinence approach conceptualize it as a behavioral and public health issue, encompassing behaviors such as delaying sex, never having vaginal sex, or refraining from engaging in further sexual intercourse even if one has already had sexual experience. Abstinence, however, does not include other sex-related behaviors such as petting, kissing, mutual masturbation, oral, and anal sex [ 19 ].

1.4. Comprehensive Sex Education

Under comprehensive sex education (CSE), abstinence is also included in the curriculum. However, in contrast to the aforementioned approaches, abstinence needs not be stressed. Rather, comprehensive sex education incorporates a range of prevention strategies on contraception to prevent STDs and unwanted pregnancy, and highlights the importance of safe sexual practice [ 19 ]. According to The International Planned Parenthood Federation, CSE refers to “education about all matters relating to sexuality and its expression. Comprehensive sexuality education covers the same topics as sex education but also includes issues such as relationships, attitudes towards sexuality, sexual roles, gender relations and the social pressures to be sexually active, and it provides information about sexual and reproductive health services. It may also include training in communication and decision-making skills” [ 20 ].

CSE is an empowerment-based rooted with values and practices emphasizing human rights, gender equality, participative learning, youth advocacy and civic engagements, as well as cultural appropriateness. It aims to equip students with knowledge, values/attitudes, and skills to facilitate students to make informed decisions that promote sexual health [ 10 , 21 ]. Research supports the implementation of CSE. For instance, the United Nations Population Fund (2016) reported that CSE does not lead to earlier sexual debut or risky sexual behaviors which may be a misconception held traditionally [ 22 ]. Rather, approximately two in three CSE programmes evaluated showed reductions in risky sexual behaviors. 60% of the CSE programmes yielded positive effects such as increased condom use or reduced teenage pregnancies. In addition to the aforementioned effective outcomes of CSE, the authors firmly believe that healthy sexuality plays a crucial role in holistic positive youth development. Without healthy sexual attitudes and behaviors, adolescent development will be adversely affected.

2. Methodology

A comprehensive review on evidence-based sex education programs in developed countries from the West (i.e., the U.S., the UK), and non-Western Chinese regions (i.e., Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan) was conducted. These countries were selected as they provide a diversity in terms of their political and cultural background, the role that the government plays in sex education policy making, as well as its varying approaches in implementation, training, research, and evaluation. More specifically, despite continuous declines in the past decades and currently at its record lowest, U.S. pregnancy rates remain to be the highest in the developed world (43 per 1000 females in 2013) [ 23 ]. While in Europe, the highest adolescent pregnancy rates were reported in England and Wales (47 per 1000 females in 2011) [ 24 ]. The U.S. and the UK are also the largest English-speaking countries in the globe.

Compared to the Netherland which mandated sex education with the second lowest adolescent pregnancy rates in Europe, the education system in the U.S. and UK are far less consistent in terms of their provisions. These inconsistencies therefore warrant more detailed analyses [ 24 ]. In a recent Lancet article [ 25 ], figures from Asia in 2014 revealed that unintended pregnancy rates per 1000 women aged 15-44 had a 20% decrease since 1990, among which Southeast Asia reported the highest percentage decrease (31%). Mainland China and Taiwan were included in the present study due to their shared deeply entrenched roots of Chinese Confucian culture. Hong Kong serves as a unique region for examination as well, given its intermingled influences from traditional Confucian ideology and Christian values brought along from its former British colonization (from 1842 to 1997) which has been found to impact on citizens’ sexual attitudes [ 26 ].

For published materials, using a combination of search terms such as sex education, evidenced-based sex education programs, relationships and sexuality education, schools, adolescents, youths, STIs, HIV, or AIDs were used to search for relevant information in the online databases (PsychINFO, PubMed, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, Web of Science), Internet searches (Google Scholar, Guttmacher Institute, UNIAIDS, WHO) to identify articles that detailed and evaluated evidence-based sex education programs. In addition, we conducted searches for grey literature using relevant keywords on Google to identify sex education programs and policies led by government bodies or other agencies and organizations relevant to adolescent health.

In the present review, we focused on analyzing the selected regions based on their policy, practice, training, and evaluation; which have been previously identified as key aspects of sex education in schools to ensure that students’ health and wellbeing are maximized [ 27 ]. Moreover, in this review, whether a sex education program is effective will be determined by various outcome as outlined by Kirby (1998) [ 28 ]. These indicators include (a) enhanced knowledge; (b) changed attitudes (e.g., attitudes towards premarital sex, birth control, STDs, etc.); (c) acquired skills (e.g., making decisions pertaining to sexual relations, being able to communicate feelings about the use of contraception and sexuality); and (d) learned behaviors (e.g., frequency of sex, use of contraception).

The present review contributes to the existing literature in various manners.

First, up until now, to the best of our knowledge, articles have not been published to paint such a comprehensive picture on sex education of different Chinese societies. Second, this review provides a thorough landscape of sex education in two English-speaking countries with the largest populations in the Western world. Finally, this paper identifies common issues and challenges faced in both the Western and Chinese communities concerning the provision of sex education.

3. Sex Education in the United States of America

3.1. policy.

In response to the increased prevalence of out-of-marriage pregnancies and the pandemic of HIV/AIDS, sex education has been an important public health policy issue in the U.S. over the past four decades. There was an obvious pressing need for formal education targeted at adolescents on protective health topics such as the use of contraception, and knowledge on sexually transmitted diseases. In the late 1990s, the U.S. government proposed a singular Abstinence Only Until Marriage (AOUM) approach to sex education with up to 49 of the 50 states implementing programs to promote AOUM at schools. However, over the years, empirical evidence pointed toward the lack of effectiveness of AOUM approach in delaying sexual debut or reducing risky sexual behaviors [ 29 ]. Thus, under President Obama’s administration, the AOUM approach was proposed to be eliminated and replaced by a more comprehensive programs—one that “normalizes teen sex” [ 30 ]. This approach is based on the assumption that it will not be possible to dissuade a certain proportion of the adolescent population from sexual activity. Therefore, the best approach is to teach and promote the use of contraception which may lower the rate of unwanted pregnancy and STDs. Simultaneously, for youths that have yet to become sexually active, continued abstinence is still promoted [ 31 ]. Under Obama’s leadership, the proposed budget was increased to support programs such as the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, which equipped youths with the necessary skills to ensure lifelong sexual health and wellbeing [ 30 ]. Yet a turn was taken under Trump’s administration which reverted back to supporting the abstinence approach, as reflected by the priority of funding programs that promote abstinence, sexual risk avoidance, and provide cessation support (i.e., encouraging sexually active youths to deter having sex) [ 32 ].

At present, sex education is mandated on a state-level, where different states, districts, and school boards have the autonomy to determine the implementation of federal policies and funds for sex education. Since there is a lack of cohesive and consistent policies governing the implementation, the system has been criticized to be a “highly diverse patchwork of sex education laws and practices” [ 29 ] (p. 595). Of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, merely 24 of them have mandated sex education classes in public schools and 34 states mandate HIV education [ 33 ]. However, in terms of content, there is great variation across states. For instance, Rhode Island, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia provide a detailed age-appropriate standard on the topics to be covered in sex education. However, the majority of the states such as Kentucky and Nevada offer minimal guidelines as to what should be included in the sex education curriculum [ 34 ]. Although comprehensive sex education (CSE) is gaining popularity, and is supported by many organizations, given its effectiveness in delaying sexual activity and decreasing risky sexual behavior among young people have been evidenced [ 35 ], the Abstinence-Only Education approach is still adopted by states that are more likely to hold socially and politically conservative beliefs, such as Tennessee and Montana [ 36 ].

3.2. Practice

In terms of implementation, while every state provides guidance on the content of sex education, individual school districts possess the autonomy to decide on how and when sex education should be taught. In the U.S., sex education is often included as part of health or physical education (PE) curriculum for high school students, which is delivered by health and PE teachers. Unfortunately, [ 29 ] up until now, there remains a lack of evidence-based conceptual models on comprehensive sex education for adolescents in the U.S. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) [ 37 ] (p. 3) “Exemplary sexual health education is a systematic, evidence-informed approach to sexual health education that includes the use of grade-specific, evidence-based interventions”.

Indeed, efforts have been dedicated to developing guidelines for the implementation of sex education. In 2014, the CDC [ 37 ]“proposed 16 critical topics that should be included in sex education as a part of the School Health Profile, including (1) How to create and sustain healthy and respectful relationships; (2) Influences of family, peers, media, technology and other factors on sexual risk behavior; (3) Benefits of being sexually abstinent; (4) Efficacy of condoms; (5) Importance of using condoms consistently and correctly; (6) Importance of using a condom at the same time as another form of contraception to prevent both STDs and pregnancy; (7) How to obtain condoms; (8) How to correctly use a condom; (9) Communication and negotiation skills; (10) Goal-setting and decision-making skills; (11) How HIV and other STDs are transmitted; (12) Health consequences of HIV, other STDs and pregnancy; (13) Influencing and supporting others to avoid or reduce sexual risk behaviors; (14) Importance of limiting the number of sexual partners; (15) How to access valid and reliable information, products and services related to HIV, STDs, and pregnancy; and (16) Preventive care that is necessary to maintain reproductive and sexual health” (p. 1). However, a nationwide survey across 48 states revealed that less than half of the high schools and merely one-fifth of middle schools cover all of the 16 proposed essential sex education topics. Moreover, within a school year, an average of merely 6.2 hours of instruction was dedicated to human sexuality, 4 hours or less on HIV, STDs, and pregnancy prevention [ 37 ].

Despite efforts to promote adolescent sexual health, teen pregnancy rates in the U.S. continues to be ranked as the highest among Western countries. This phenomenon has been attributed to the resistance towards the incorporation of a standardized sex education curriculum across districts. A report published by the Guttmacher Institute [ 38 ] illuminated on this disparate implementation where it was found that merely 26 states mandate that the content of instruction be age-appropriate, 13 states to be medically accurate, eight that the materials must be free from race or gender bias, eight that the content must include information on sexual orientation, and two that it should be religion-neutral. The lack of consensus across districts on the approach and content of sex education may be due to various reasons, including individuals’ attendance at religious services and political orientation [ 39 ].

3.3. Training

The effectiveness of school-based education programs depends highly on teachers. Studies have shown that instructors’ commitment to, as well as comfort with the delivering of sex education impacted on ones’ teaching ability [ 40 ]. The positive relation between teachers training and implementation fidelity has been documented. Teacher workshops on sex education should provide strong justification, knowledge, and skills for program delivery, enhance commitment and support to the program, and underscore the significance of program fidelity to teachers [ 41 ].

In the 2018 Sex Ed State Legislative Mid-Year Report [ 42 ], 109 bills across 27 states were introduced or carried forth in hopes of advancing sex education instruction in schools; 48 of the bills were related to teacher training requirements. Although there were few specific guidelines regarding teachers’ training, it was required that the State Department of Education or other organizations set minimum training criteria. The National Teacher Preparation Standards for Sexuality Education was developed to provide guidance for educators teaching sex education in middle and high schools. A total of seven standards with reference to: (1) professional character; (2) diversity and equity; (3) knowledge on materials; (4) legal and professional ethics; (5) preparation; (6) implementation; and (7) assessment were outlined. In addition to training, CDC also noted that it was critical to provide educators with materials needed to effectively teach sexual health topics [ 37 ], as well as strong support from administration, and ongoing technical assistance [ 41 ].

3.4. Evaluation and Research

Findings from evaluation studies on the effectiveness of different sex education approaches have been mixed. While some reviews and meta-analyses provided support to comprehensive sexual risk reduction programs in reducing targeted sexual risk behaviors; studies suggest otherwise [ 10 , 43 ]. In an analysis consisting of 60 studies examining the impact of school-based comprehensive sex education, Weed and Ericksen [ 31 ] found that CSE was not effective to decrease teen pregnancy as well as STD rates and to increase abstinence and condom use at 12-months post-program [ 16 ]. Several studies were identified to have yielded negative effects including higher levels of sexual initiation, oral sex, and reduced contraceptive use [ 44 , 45 ]. On the other hand, some school-based abstinence education programs revealed sustained increases in teen abstinence.

In order to gain an understanding of the effectiveness of the implementation of sex education, CDC [ 46 ] highlighted the importance of evaluating program outcomes. Due to the inconclusive results obtained from studies evaluating the effectiveness of programs adopting various approaches in promoting adolescent sexual health, the Institute for Research and Evaluation called for more evaluation studies using rigorous methodologies and meaningful indicators (e.g., sustained post-program effects), as well as replication studies to verify positive findings of existing sex education programs which would better inform public policy [ 31 ]. This was echoed by Chandra-Mouli, Lane, and Wong [ 47 ] who recommended “greater attention to the adaptation of evidence-based prevention science approaches that simultaneously address risk and protective factors… This should include the creation of a database that documents best and promising practices in prevention science and adolescent health” [ 47 ] (p. 339). Please refer to Table 1 for a systematic presentation of the sex education initiatives in the U.S.

Summary of sex education aspects in the two large English-speaking societies.

4. Sex Education in the United Kingdom

4.1. policy.

In the 1960s, sex and relationship education (SRE) was introduced as a part of the UK school curriculum. However, because of diverging sociopolitical ideologies and the absence of consensus among stakeholders (e.g., parents, religious groups), the objectives of sex education remain unclear. Particularly, a contention lies in whether health or moral values should be primarily addressed [ 48 ]. In the 1980s, the Conservative government instilled traditional sexual values through moral teachings. By the late 1980s, sex education was intended to ensure social stability by addressing public health issues such as the rising prevalence of unplanned pregnancies, STIs, and HIV/AIDS. This resulted in the passing of legislation which was largely prohibitive, such as Section 28 of the Local Government Act in 1988 which banned the “promotion” of same-sex relationships in schools.

While there is no standardized curriculum for SRE in the UK, progressive developments were made in 2000, when the Department of Education and Employment published a statutory Sex and Relationship Education Guidance which provided guidelines for SRE within schools where the importance of respecting social, cultural, and sexual diversity was highlighted: “young people, whatever their developing sexuality, need to feel that sex and relationships education is relevant to them and sensitive to their needs” [ 49 ] (p. 12). Under legislation passed in 2017, relationship education is compulsory in all primary schools. Whereas, SRE must be a part of the secondary school curricula [ 20 ]. Earlier in 2018, the Government announced that sex education will become compulsory for school children from September 2020 and is currently consulting stakeholders including parents, subject matter experts, and youngsters on the content of the curriculum [ 50 ].

4.2. Practice

At present, there is no standardized SRE curriculum for schools which implies that schools have the autonomy to develop their own programs to cater to their respective students. Taken as a whole, UK sex education places sexual intercourse within the contexts of marriage and fidelity [ 51 ] and emphasizes abstinence. SRE can be categorized into five types, namely: (1) sexual abstinence-only programs; (2) comprehensive programs; (3) pregnancy-prevention programs; (4) HIV-prevention programs; and (5) school-based or school-linked sexual health services (e.g., primary care clinics, youth service drop-in facilities, and outreach services which provide contraception and sexual health support or advice) [ 52 ]. Although there is no standardized curriculum or program, the government has set out a number of broad requirements that every state-funded school must adhere to when implementing SRE [ 49 ]. Since SRE is delivered within the Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) framework and its content is determined at the school level, the content of the SRE programs are heavily influenced by localized district factors including prevalence rates of unwanted pregnancy, STIs, parents’ needs, etc. Some counties dictate what SRE should contain, but often individual teachers are left to decide on the approach and method of implementation [ 51 ].

This self-governing arrangement has been prized by stakeholders including parents, governors, and school management. However, experts have criticized that this value-led approach merely reflects the interests and principles of stakeholders, while overlooking the actual needs and wellbeing of youths [ 53 ]. The content commonly found in most programs includes knowledge on HIV and AIDS, contraception, methods to prevent STIs, as well as risks and consequences of unprotected sex, pregnancy, STIs, and reproductive health [ 52 ]. These topics heavily focus on biological aspects covering topics such as puberty and sexual reproduction, spread of viruses, etc. with the aim of delaying early sexual activity and reducing sexual partners, and encouraging contraceptive use. Youths are deprived of certain knowledge about sex and sexuality [ 54 ]. Specifically, present guidelines on SRE fails to include contemporary issues such as sexting, internet pornography, cyberbullying, or LGBTQ identities, and the notion of consent [ 20 ]. Moreover, students reported that they felt uncomfortable having their own teachers teach them about sex due to blurred boundaries and a lack of anonymity [ 55 ].

In addition to school-based efforts, members of the wider community also play crucial roles in the provision of SRE for youths. For instance, some schools work with health professionals such as doctors and nurses in the development and delivering of SRE programs. Youth workers also play important roles in outreach work to provide confidential advisory services to children and young people outside of the school context [ 49 ].

4.3. Training

Evidently, the effectiveness of school-based SRE relies predominantly on teachers. Yet, students reported dislike of their own teachers delivering SRE as they sensed the teachers being embarrassed and were poorly trained in this aspect [ 55 ]. It can be difficult “… to discuss sex, particularly when the discussion is led by untrained teachers who are not given sufficient help to deliver the material, and who as a result may be uncomfortable talking about it” [ 56 ]. Indeed, teachers themselves have reported feelings of awkwardness when delivering SRE [ 57 , 58 ]. Up to 80% of teachers were not confident and perceived inadequately trained on SRE.

When teachers were asked about the barriers they faced having to implement SRE, about half of the interviewed teachers identified the lack of training, and lack of time to develop and coordinate the SRE programs. Fortunately, teachers do receive training or support from external agencies in relation to the delivery of SRE. These workshops were usually coordinated by the local education authority and took place at local hospitals where teachers are given the opportunity to work together and exchange ideas with health professionals such as doctors and nurses on sex education [ 59 ]. In terms of resources support, merely 9% of the teachers found the materials and resources provided to be useful to their SRE teaching. Approximately, one in four teachers believed that the current SRE fails to prepare children for the future [ 60 ]. This further highlights the pressing need for the development and implementation of effective SRE teachers training. For example, an evaluation study was conducted on an in-service program for training SRE teachers to deliver a sex education program entitled “SHARE”. Participants of the teacher training program found it to be highly beneficial. Particularly, teacher participants received social support from colleagues which they found to be valuable. The training component also enabled teachers to be familiarized with the teaching resources which helped to boost their confidence in delivering SRE [ 61 ].

Finally, one of the main criticisms of the existing SRE is its heterosexist orientation which highlights the importance for teachers to reflect on different aspects of SRE practice, update their knowledge on sex and sexuality through attending training and workshops. Specifically, it was recommended that training should equip teachers with knowledge and skills that would enable the development and implementation of up-to-date curriculum that takes into account youngsters’ sexual identities, relationships, and cultural backgrounds [ 62 ].

4.4. Evaluation and Research

According to the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles [ 56 ], young people’s sexual practices have changed over the last 20 years. The proportion of sexually active 16 to 26 year olds who reported having had sexual intercourse with opposite-sex partners during the previous year increased from one in 10 females and one in 10 males in 1990–1991, to one in five females and one in four males in 2010–2012. These figures call for the pressing need for SRE in schools, families, and the community. Wight [ 63 ] conducted a review of evaluations on three nationwide large-scale comprehensive sex education programs (i.e., SHARE, RIPPLE, and HEALTHY RESPECT) implemented in the UK. The sample included over 22,000 students from nearly 80 schools. It was found that all three programs helped to enhance students’ sexual health knowledge and certain attitudes. However, findings revealed that the programs did not yield remarkable improvements in adolescents’ sexual health outcomes.

Using a meta-ethnographic method reviewing 55 publications mainly from the UK, the current SRE was criticized for its lack of statutory status, outdated government guidance and the observation that one-third of UK schools delivered unsatisfactory SRE [ 55 ]. These problems are attributed to two main reasons. First, schools overlooked the emotional laden and unique nature of sexuality. As a result, the curriculum was taught in a way similar to that of any other academic subjects. Second, there is a reluctance to accept that sexual activity is high in some adolescents. This results in a discrepancy between what is taught and what students are experiencing [ 55 ]. Moreover, the current SRE content fails to address contemporary sexuality issues. For instance, over 50% of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youngsters reported that issues surrounding non-heterosexual relationships have not been taught in their schools. Similarly, 85% of students shared that SRE education did not include biological or physical aspects of homosexual relationships [ 64 ]. Researchers pointed out that more research must be conducted on same-sex attitudes and sexual behaviors among youngsters which will guide education policy to safeguard and enhance the health and well-being of youths. See Table 1 for a systematic presentation of the sex education initiatives in the UK.

In the following, sex education in three Chinese societies, including Hong Kong, Mainland China, and Taiwan will be reviewed with reference to policy, practice, training, and evaluation as well as research. (Please refer to Table 2 ). They are included because they are under the strong influence of Chinese culture and social thoughts, such as Confucianism.

Summary of sex education aspects in the three Chinese-speaking societies.

5. Sex Education in Hong Kong

5.1. policy.

The Family Planning Association of Hong Kong (FPAHK) began to promote sex education in Hong Kong in the 1960s, focusing on family planning and contraceptive knowledge [ 65 ]. Until 1971, the memorandum issued by the Education Department (now Education Bureau) then suggested including topics of sex education in some formal subjects in all Hong Kong schools [ 5 ]. In 1986, the Education Department published a more detailed guideline on sexuality education in secondary schools with recommendations on topics, resources, and references for promoting relevant programs. This set of the guideline was revised further in 1997 for strengthening the promotion, but it has not been revised since then [ 5 ].

According to the guidelines formulated in 1997, sexuality education includes five key concepts, including “human development, health and behavior, interpersonal relationships, marriage and family, and society and culture” [ 5 ] (p. 23). Unfortunately, this framework is for reference only. In 2000, the Education Department integrated sexuality education into the curriculum of Moral and Civic Education, and revised its framework in 2008, with the purpose of assisting schools in implementing sexuality education systematically. One problem of this curriculum is that it lacks a well-articulated conceptual framework. For example, while psychosocial development such as positive youth development shapes the sexual and reproductive health of adolescent [ 66 ] the proposed curriculum just focuses on the social and sexual relationship in a shallow manner without covering psychosocial development such as emotional competence and moral competence.

5.2. Practice

Regarding the implementation of sexuality education in schools, it is suggested by the Government to name it as “life education”, especially for junior students [ 67 ]. Teachers are also assigned to take up sex education that covered wider topics using various teaching resources and learning activities [ 68 ] (p. 90). Nearly all schools in Fok’s survey reported that sex education is provided by adopting the comprehensive approach that aims at preparing students for expressing their sexuality appropriately, but not just focusing on the prevention of negative consequences of casual sex. However, Lee [2005] argued that most schools still passively rely on school social workers, community resources and NGOs in carrying out sexuality education [ 65 ].

The Government findings showed that 72% of the 134 interviewed schools provided “life-skills based” AIDS or sex education in the 2011/12 school year [ 5 ]. For others, about 67% and 46% of the interviewed schools arranged an average of only three hours for each academic level, by relying on the programs of NGOs and the Department of Health respectively per year [ 5 ]. In the implementation, prevention of HIV had been mentioned by 60% of interviewed schools, and the use of condom had been taught by about 80% of interviewed schools via multiple learning activities or programs [ 5 ]. Besides “life-skills based” programs, 86% of the interviewed schools spent around 4 hours to provide AIDS or sex education in the main subjects, and 28% used about 3 hours to provide relevant information in the life-wide learning activities [ 5 ]. However, there is a lack of a systematic database recording diverse sex education programs in schools. As a result, the schools might have difficulties and low incentive to adhere to an evidence-based sex education program. Most importantly, evidence-based programs on sex education for schools do not exist in Hong Kong.

5.3. Training

As for teachers’ training, it is revealed that the training programs of sexuality education for teachers are usually short-term, scattered, and without clear objectives [ 65 ]. As reported by the government, only 66% of teachers had received training on AIDS, sex or life-skills based education. The training sessions were provided in the form of professional development programs by the Education Bureau, training programs by the Department of Health or NGOs, or simply materials from the Internet [ 5 ]. In the findings, only 4.1 teachers in one school on average had received relevant training since they had been working in their schools, and about 2.1 of them had taught sex education topics in the last school year. At the same time, a mean of 4.9 teachers per school had taught relevant topics without attending any relevant training program [ 5 ]. Besides, roughly nine-tenths of the 198 secondary schools under study expressed that they lacked trained teachers for teaching sexuality education [ 65 , 69 ]. At the same time, collaboration with multiple disciplines is also rare. Lee pointed out that teachers and schools could gain more inspirations from working with other professionals like clinical practitioners in conducting sex education in schools [ 65 ].

5.4. Evaluation and Research

Concerning the evaluation of sexuality education in Hong Kong, the former Education Department had carried out an investigation on the sexuality education implementation in secondary schools in 1987, 1990, and 1994. The findings showed that most schools had difficulties in the implementation [ 65 ]. In 2012–2013, the Government further conducted a territory-wide survey which aimed to understand the implementation of life skills-based curriculum in the junior secondary schools, especially on HIV/AIDS and sex topics [ 5 ]. Besides, several NGOs and research groups had conducted multiple types of research. For example, a survey regarding the implementation was conducted by the research centre of the Hong Kong Institution of Education in 2001 [ 65 , 69 ]. In 2016, the Family Planning Association of Hong Kong and the Aids Concern also reported that more young people have engaged in sexual activity with insufficient information and support from school-based sexuality education [ 6 , 70 ]. Even though findings from the Government and NGOs actually indicated the sexuality education in Hong Kong have to be strengthened, continuous and specific evaluations of the Government and schools are inadequate. With the lack of regular research and assessment, the effectiveness of sex education programs in Hong Kong remains unknown.

6. Sex Education in Mainland China

6.1. policy.

In mainland China, the development of sex education began in the early Republican period. During the 1920s, it was believed that the population was a key source that would help China to become a strong and rich country, so it should be carefully measured and monitored by the State. Links between modernization and “issues of sex, reproduction, women’s liberation and eugenics” were developed [ 71 ] (p. 533). Until the People’s Republic of China (PRC) established in 1949, the new Communist leadership regarded “eugenics, genetics and physical anthropology as ‘bourgeois science’ that should be criticized” severely, and sexuality was an area under the control of the State [ 71 ] (p. 534). In the late 1950s, the Government introduced birth control in the curricular of middle schools. In the 1950s to 1960s, sex education was perceived as a vital part in sexual physiology. In 1963, the Government declared the necessity of promoting scientific sexual knowledge among young people, where sex education was stressed as an essential element in a healthy growth of the Chinese population [ 71 ]. However, the sex education in China was once paused during the Cultural Revolution as sex was banned from all aspects [ 71 ].

After the Cultural Revolution in the late 1970s, the One Child Policy and a shifted focus on the quality of the population instead of quantity were proposed. The topics related to “birth control, eugenics and sex education” were brought back to the debates, and The State Family Planning Commission also added sex education in the agenda of the 7th Five Year Plan (1986–1990) and the 9th Five Year Plan (1995–2000) [ 71 ] (p. 535). Then, the first school-based health education policy with guidelines listed was carried out by the Government in both primary and secondary schools in 1992 [ 71 ]. The China’s Ministry of Education further revised it in 2003 and 2008 [ 72 ]. It is noticed that sex education of China has long been guided by the developmental direction of the nation, instead of any theoretical model. This influenced the practice in schools.

6.2. Practice

In the early 1920s, school-based sex education was only perceived as a supplement at that time [ 71 , 73 ]. After the announcement of birth control policy in the 1950s, sex education became mandatory in schools. Then “the State Education Commission and the State Family Planning Commission jointly issued the ‘Notification on the Development of Adolescent Education in the Middle Schools’ in 1988”, which announced schools should take the major role in sex education and formally integrated it into the middle school curricula all over the country [ 71 ] (p. 537). The abstinence-based approach was adopted and “sexual physiology, sexual psychology, sexual morality, and socialist moral education” were the foci [ 71 ] (p. 537). In view of earlier sexual maturation of adolescents in 1990s, the focus shifted to more life skill-based that issues related to premarital sex, HIV/AIDS, and unwanted pregnancies were incorporated in the Health Education of the secondary schools and universities [ 71 , 74 ]. Although the youths could be granted with limited sexual rights and responsibilities in the current practice, prevention of STIs and importance of contraception are not clearly stated in the guidelines [ 72 ]. Apart from the insufficiency in the guidelines, evidence-based sex education programs and relevant database are also lacking in guiding the practice in China. The effectiveness of the current practice is indeed found to be unsatisfactory [ 72 ].

6.3. Training

Improving teachers’ training course on sex education was one of the main objectives in the Notification published by the State Education Commission and the State Family Planning Commission in 1988 [ 71 ]. Although some training programs were provided to part of the teachers in previous years, when it comes to the topic of safe sex education, it created discomfort in most teachers as nearly all training programs stem from the abstinence-based approach [ 71 ]. This issue still remains unsolved although efforts in interdisciplinary collaboration have been made. For example, in the “International Conference on Sexual Health Education for Youth in China” held in 2005, professionals such as teachers, doctors, scholars, and social workers gathered and discussed the pressing issues of sex education in China [ 71 ] (p. 539). Other than the content covered in the training, cultural sensitivity is also a critical issue to work on.

6.4. Evaluation and Research

Scientific works on sex education were noticed since the 1920s. Zhang’s “Sex Histories” published in 1926 is regarded as the first scientific work in China that systematically gathered informants’ sexual experiences plus his suggestions on sex education [ 71 ]. In fact, many scholars have conducted various research on sex education in China with its growing debates in society. These findings not only encourage further evaluation and research in sex education, but also provide the Government with more information to review the current implementation. In fact, several studies in the 1980s showed that the Government recognized the importance of schools in providing information on birth control [ 71 ]. However, in contrast to the numerous studies done by the scholars and different organizations such as the UNESCO, official evaluation conducted by the Government on the mandatory sex education programs and training appears to be inadequate.

7. Sex Education in Taiwan

7.1. policy.

After the Chinese Civil War in 1949, sex education was introduced in Taiwan, where the education system was strictly guided by the Government and legislation [ 75 ]. There are three stages of development to sex education in Taiwan from initiation, developing, to integration [ 76 , 77 ]. The initiation stage refers to the period from 1960 to 1988. Due to the announcement of the Guide for Policy on Population in 1969, birth control was started via the practice of population education in Taiwan. Starting from 1972, content regarding sex education was greatly added in different subjects like Health Education and Biology [ 77 ], and population education was implemented in all primary as well as secondary schools in 1983 in order to promote the Government policy [ 77 , 78 ]. From 1989, sex education in Taiwan moved on to the developing stage after several non-Governmental organizations had been established. In this period, conferences on sex education were held and social movement and research aiming at gender equality were also initiated, which indicated that public awareness of sexual health issues was growing [ 77 , 78 ]. In 1991, The Department of Health and the Ministry of Education began to collaborate in promoting sex education in schools, with the new focus on promotion of “understanding the harmonious relationship between genders” [ 77 ] (p. 35). In 1997, sex education stepped forward to the integration stage with the help of the education reform policy) [ 79 ]. The Ministry of Education introduced “The Nine-Year Joint Curriculum” in 1998, where gender education became a key teaching element in solving gender inequality [ 77 ] (p. 35). The implementation of education reform policy made a significant impact on sex education in Taiwan.

7.2. Practice

In the National Curriculum Standard, all subjects had statutory status and textbooks were all published by the Government agencies. After the introduction of the Nine-Year Joint Curriculum, the status of all the learning areas remained unchanged, but the schools could have more autonomy in the implementation. Under Government monitoring, the teaching materials still adhered to the Government guidelines systematically [ 77 ]. Teachers are provided with relevant studies and practical information on the policy to guide their practice [ 77 ]. Different ideologies in sex education like sexual liberation, gender issues and health education were included [ 76 , 77 ]. Tu [ 77 , 80 ] noticed that the content in the new curriculum is richer especially on topics related to the social relationship than before, and the condition was similar across different areas in Taiwan. It is believed that the statutory status of sex education and the clear guidelines provided by the Government contributed to such uniformity in practice [ 77 , 81 ]. More specifically, it is found that most teachers adopted lecturing as the main way to teach sex education, with the assistance of multimedia and occasional demonstration [ 77 , 82 ]. However, students indeed showed more interests in the additional and non-traditional methods [ 77 , 83 ]. This might reflect an inadequate investigation into the pedagogy of sex education, as compared with the emphasis on its knowledge and information [ 77 ]. Therefore, though sex education is implemented in all primary and secondary schools in Taiwan with clear suggested topics, the teaching methods require more reflection.

7.3. Training

In order to ensure the teachers are qualified to conduct sex education programs, a lot of training, conferences and programs have been provided by the Government. Besides promoting gender education, theoretical knowledge and practical skills are included in teachers’ training programs at universities in the four-year institutional training. The graduates would have to complete a half-year field practice before officially recognized as a qualified teacher. The “Teacher Act” in 1995 led to more teacher training programs provided in the Taiwanese universities [ 77 ]. The Ministry of Education also authorizes the non-Governmental organizations to conduct additional training programs, talks, conferences and events for schools, professionals, as well as the public on sex education since the 1990s [ 75 ]. These organizations promote interdisciplinary communication by inviting members and collaboration from different backgrounds and professions. Teachers agreed that their “development of educational ideology and theories, professionalism and knowledge of sex education” [ 77 ] (p. 42) are strengthened with ongoing and additional training [ 84 ]. While the ongoing training is effective, Yu [ 77 , 85 ] realized that the participation rate in the training could be promoted by rearranging the training schedule. Instead of having the training during school time, teachers expressed that they would like to have the training during school holidays more [ 77 , 82 ].

7.4. Evaluation and Research

It was claimed that sex education in Taiwan is evidence-based in nature [ 77 ] and the research can be found in specific databases. From the information captured from 1979 to 2004, it was found that research on sex education had significantly increased. For example, the total amount of relevant research in the three databases was only four in 1979–1984, but it greatly increased to 103 in 2000–2004 [ 75 ]. Apart from the research projects commissioned by the Department of Health, there are also heaps of research to evaluate the effectiveness and impact of the implemented sex education conducted by different scholars and organizations [ 75 ]. For instance, Yen and colleagues [ 77 , 83 , 86 ] found that sex education improved students’ knowledge on sexuality, and extending the time and extra activities for sex education could bring more impacts to their knowledge and attitude. This influenced the development of the teaching approach on sex education as the findings in research would be used to provide advice for the Government [ 77 ]. Regardless of the diverse comments on the research, the need for sex education is consistently recognized by multiple parties in Taiwan.

8. Discussion

The purpose of this paper is to outline the school-based sex education policies and programs in three Chinese-speaking societies in Asia and two English-speaking countries in the Western context. There are several unique features of this review. First, the review can enable researchers to understand school-based sex education in more individualistic societies (United States and the UK) and collectivistic societies (three Chinese societies in Asia). In the Chinese culture, collectivistic interests such as social stability and family harmony are emphasized. As individual sexuality such as free sex may pose a threat to social order and family harmony, sexuality is commonly seen in an inhibitory manner in traditional Chinese cultures. Second, in view of the rapid urbanization and Westernization in different Asian societies, it would be theoretically and practically to know what school-based sex education is implemented in Chinese societies and the content of such programs. Third, several Chinese societies including mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan were studied which can give a comprehensive view of school-based sex education in multiple Chinese communities. This is essential because Chinese people roughly constitute one-fifth of the world’s population [ 87 , 88 ]. Finally, this is the first scientific study which attempts to review school-based sex education policies and programs in Chinese societies in contrast to two largest English speaking societies.

Several observations can be highlighted from the present review. First, different policies are implemented in different societies under study. For example, while comprehensive sex education covering contraception and safe sex is implemented in some states in the United States, abstinence-only and abstinence-plus programs are implemented in other states of the US. In Chinese societies, different policies are implemented in different places. For instance, while conservative coverage of sexual issues is covered in school programs in mainland China, Taiwan is relatively more liberal. Topics such as the involvement in premarital sex and the use of contraceptive methods are covered in Taiwan high school sex education [ 89 ].

The second observation is that theories and scientific findings are seldom taken into account when formulating policies on school-based sex education (i.e., lack of evidence-based policies). For example, the sex education policy in Hong Kong is rather atheoretical, as the practice of letting schools design their “home-baked” sex education program is not evidence-based. In the contemporary literature on positive youth development, it is commonly proposed that psychosocial competencies are an important protective factor for adolescent risk behavior, including health-compromising sexual behavior [ 90 , 91 ]. In other words, with the development of psychosocial competencies such as resilience, emotional competence, connectedness, moral competence, and positive identity such as self-esteem, adolescents would not easily engage in unhealthy sexual behavior. However, sex education usually focuses on knowledge and attitude without making reference to these foundational psychosocial competencies. Another example is that the adoption of the “diffusion” approach is also not supported by empirical evidence. This observation is not surprising because school-based sex education policy-makers who are relatively distant from research and practice of sex education. In the Western context, there is also the criticism that school-based sex education lacks well-articulated theoretical frameworks and robust research evidence. For instance, as mentioned earlier, the U.S. Institute for Research and Evaluation has urged for evaluations adopting more meticulous and clearly articulated methods and indicators, so that the public policy could be refined consistently [ 31 ].

Third, there is a dearth of evidence-based sex-education programs, particularly in the Chinese contexts. The existing practice is that schools are “baking” their own school-based sex education program which lacks empirical support. Logically speaking, there can be four types of school-based education programs: (a) programs with negative effect; (b) programs with no effect; (c) programs with unclear effects; (d) programs with a potentially positive effect (i.e., programs with promise); and (e) programs with positive effects. As evaluation is not emphasized in Chinese societies, it can be concluded that school-based sex education programs are basically programs with unclear effects. Most of the time, sex education are window dressing and make the policy-makers and service providers feel contended. As sex education influences the attitude and practice of adolescents, there is a strong need to ascertain whether existing programs would create unintended negative impacts on adolescents [ 92 ].

Fourth, there is a lack of databases describing and evaluating validated sex education programs in different Asian societies. In North America, there are several databases which provide useful information on different sex education programs. These include the Cochrane database, Campbell Collaboration, MEASURE Evaluation, and Evidence-Based Practices Resource Center etc. For example, the Evidence-Based Practices Resource Center was launched in 2018 by the U.S. government, aiming at providing reliable information and scientifically-based resources for the public, policymakers and the field to improve the practice [ 93 ]. These databases with information on validity and effectiveness will enable stakeholders to understand the details of the available programs in the field, and inform practitioners on what “works” or what “does not work”. Stakeholders may then make use of this valuable information to develop or revise existing programs to cater to the needs of their students. This method of knowledge management may help to save resources and redundant overlaps. A similar recommendation has been made to develop such databases in the social work field [ 94 ].

Fifth, in Chinese societies, there is a lack of multi-disciplinary collaboration in designing school-based sex education and programs. As there are different dimensions underlying adolescent sexuality, such as the anatomical, physiological, hormonal, physical, cognitive, social, cultural and spiritual dimensions, different professionals have different views on school-based sex education. The different professionals include teachers, principals, social workers, youth workers, counselors, clinical psychologists, pediatricians, health workers, nurses and religious workers. For example, while social workers may adopt a more liberal perspective in implementing school-based sex-education, religious teachers would have great hesitation to teach the knowledge on sexual intercourse and contraception methods. Hence, engagement of different professionals in the process can help to create consensus and “buy-in” and foster multi-disciplinary collaboration. Besides, as students and parents are the major stakeholders, they should be invited in the design of school-based sex education policy and programs. This is important because parents and adolescents commonly have different views on the necessity of implementing school-based sex education and what should be taught. In some places such as the United Kingdom and Singapore, parents may request that their children not to participate in school-based sex education programs. On the other hand, such provision is not present in societies such as Hong Kong and mainland China.

Sixth, despite the importance of school-based sex education programs, there are no systematic and validated training programs for teachers and allied professionals on sex education. With systematic and validated programs, it is not clear whether the teachers are professional and passionate enough to implement the related sex education programs. Essentially, several areas should be covered in training programs for the potential implementers of school-based sex education programs which include knowledge, attitude, value and behavior in adolescent sexuality with reference to the specific cultural context. Besides, sex education teachers should be familiar with the arguments for and against different positions of sex education (e.g., abstinence versus comprehensive sex education programs). They should also understand how different pedagogical factors and process variables influence the impact of sex education programs in the school context. In the area of positive youth development, Shek and his associates argued that training programs are very important for program success [ 95 ].

Finally, while there are many studies on adolescent sexuality, there are comparatively fewer studies examining the factors influencing teaching and learning process and outcomes in sex education. Based on the 5P model, it is recommended that future research should examine how program, people, process, policy and place would influence the outcomes of school-based sex education program. Besides research on teaching and learning, it is necessary to conduct more evaluation on the effectiveness of school-based sex education programs. There is a need to understand the impact of school-based sex education programs over time which is severely lacking in the scientific literature. There is also a shortage of randomized controlled trials and longitudinal evaluation studies to examine the effectiveness of different modes of school-based sex education programs. Besides quantitative evaluation studies, qualitative studies should also be adopted to collect the subjective experiences of program participants and program implementers of school-based sex education programs. This is in line with the spirit of utilization-focused evaluation paradigm [ 96 ].

As a limitation of this review, we acknowledge that the literature included in this article remains non-exhaustive. For example, we are aware that there are other European countries such as Netherlands, France, and Australia that adopt a pragmatic approach to sex-positive government policies which have been shown to be more effective than programs in the U.S. and UK. Owing to the “relative” ineffectiveness of sex education programs in the US and the UK, as well as Hong Kong, Mainland China, and Taiwan, we propose further effort should be made to identify the success factors in these countries. Besides, future studies may be conducted in a more systematic manner (e.g., in accordance with the PRISMA guidelines).

Also, we are aware that teenage pregnancy rates in the Mainland China may be underrepresented due to the high abortion rates. In a recent study of 2370 Chinese adolescents (aged 13–19), 39% reported that they have undergone repeated abortions, and 9% had three or more abortions [ 97 ]. As aforementioned, we observed that existing research in the field of sex education often lack methodological rigor and thus is unable to provide conclusive evidence on programs’ effectiveness. Despite the limitations, important implications for policy and practice as well as suggestions for future research were put forth.

9. Conclusions

Evidently, worrying trends in sexual wellbeing of adolescents are observed globally with increasing prevalence rates of teenage pregnancy in certain regions and STIs which urged scholars, practitioners, policy makers, parents and young people to examine the implementation and effectiveness of sex education targeted at youths. In addition, the call for stronger Government involvement in promoting sex education in young people can be seen in the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development’s (ICPD) Programme of Action. Against this background, the present review provides an overview of the policy, practice, training, and evaluation and research on sex education in the two largest English speaking countries as well as three Chinese speaking societies. The review shows that there are many gaps and inadequacies in sex education in the places under review. Given the importance of sex education, it is advised that more efforts and actions are required. Particularly, sex education policies and programs should be developed based on scientifically evidence-based theories related to contemporary adolescent development theories and ecological models. Moreover, there is a dire need to equip implementers (e.g., teachers and social workers), as well as parents with the necessary skills to enhance the effectiveness of sex education programs. In addition, in order to gain a more informed perspective as to which factors contribute to program effectiveness, methodologically rigorous evaluation studies adopting both quantitative and qualitative methodologies using longitudinal designs should be employed. Also, databases containing effective programs and measures should be established for more effective dissemination of informed practice. Finally, to promote sexual wellbeing among adolescents in today’s contemporary society, program implementers should take into consideration the complexities of sexual development during adolescence and include topics such as gender, diversity, relationships, empowerment, and consent into existing curricula, rather than merely focusing on the biological aspects of reproduction. In particular, strengthening psychosocial competence in young people may protect them from risky sexual behaviors.

Author Contributions

Conceptualization: D.T.L.S., H.L., E.L.; Literature search and assembly of data: E.Y.W.S.; Data analysis and interpretation: All authors; Writing-Original Draft Preparation: D.T.L.S., H.L., E.L.; Writing-Review& Editing: D.T.L.S., H.L., E.L.; Supervision: D.T.L.S., H.L.; Final approval of manuscript: All authors.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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59 Controversy Analysis 1 – “Sex Education in Schools”

Lauren Buben

Sex Education in Schools

There is a lack of sex education in schools across the nation. This has caused great controversy over whether sex education has proven effective or if it should even be a part of a child’s education curriculum in school. Sex education teaches kids what sex is, how to protect themselves, and what can come from having sex. Children today can be confused as to how to have safe sex and keep themselves healthy. One argument states that teenagers must be taught sex education in schools to eliminate the negative stigma of sex and to keep themselves safe and healthy. People supporting this argument claim that kids are not getting proper sex education in school. The other side claims that sex education encourages sexual activity or that parents should be the ones to teach their children about sex. To understand why there is so much controversy over sex education in schools, one should learn the history of sex education in schools.

Sex education was not originally set in place to teach people about how to have sex or prevent pregnancy, but rather to eliminate sexually transmitted diseases and infections, prostitution, masturbation, and to save oneself for marriage. This strategy highly discouraged sexual activity. Then, in the 1960s, the implementation of sex education in schools began to receive support. Later, in the 1980s, debates started to arise regarding if schools should be more descriptive in the education provided, “including information about contraception — and abstinence only programs” (Planned Parenthood). This separated schools into two different types of sex education: comprehensive and abstinence-only. The newer, comprehensive version of sex education provided medically accurate information, while abstinence-only education taught from moral standards put upon students. In 1990, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) released guidelines and standards for proper sex education. Since the release of these guidelines, more schools have implemented non-abstinence-only education programs. Today, studies show that “a comprehensive approach to sex education promotes sexual health among young people by reducing sexual risk-taking behavior. The abstinence-only approach has not shown these results” (Planned Parenthood). Sex education has evolved immensely since the 20th century.

Sex education is quality instruction and learning on a wide range of topics relating to sex and sexuality; it also involves discussing principles and attitudes about those topics and acquiring the skills required to handle relationships and manage one’s own sexual wellbeing. (Planned Parenthood). In 1975, the World Health Organization released a definition of sexual health. This states that “Sexual health is the integration of the somatic, emotional, intellectual, and social aspects of sexual being, in ways that are positively enriching and that enhance personality, communication, and love” (Planned Parenthood). This helped to trigger the beginning of comprehensive sex education. Soon after this was published, some schools began to teach their students about living a healthy sex life.

Some individuals that believe abstinence-only education is the best form of sex education. Many people that share this viewpoint also agree with the fact that parents should teach their own children about sex. Many people, “particularly parents and religious groups, take issue with comprehensive sex ed because they believe it goes against their cultural or religious values, and think that it can have a corrupting influence on kids” (Farrar). This argument assumes that comprehensive, detailed programs could encourage kids to engage in sexual activities.

The other standpoint in the sex education debate holds that comprehensive and accurate sex education that gives a total understanding of sex and sexuality will keep kids healthy and aware. People who support this viewpoint have provided evidence that comprehensive sexual education can “reduce teen pregnancies, delay when teens become sexually active and reduce the number of sexual partners teens have” (Farrar). Today, many individuals that support this viewpoint share the idea that sex education should include information about LGBTQ+ sex, abortion, consent, and gender identity. In modern society, this standpoint is heavily supported. Proponents of this standpoint strongly disagree with abstinence-only education and claim that it leaves children clueless as to how to have safe sex and keep themselves healthy.

There are many advantages and disadvantages to abstinence-only education. Abstinence is the most effective contraception. Abstinence-only education is put in effect mostly to encourage children to follow good morals. Instead of overwhelming kids with options for safe sex, “Abstinence education proponents seek consistency when it comes to an adolescent’s health and well-being” (“Abstinence Education”). However, this type of education fails to provide enough information for kids to make proper decisions about sex. Religion is an unavoidable aspect when talking about sex education. Many people agree that “teaching chastity in the classroom for moral reasons is a violation of the separation of church and state” (“Abstinence Education”). The greatest complaint of abstinence-only education is that it is simply unrealistic. To expect every kid to save themselves until marriage is not probable. According to the National Survey of Family Growth from 2006 to 2008, 13% of teenagers have had sex with another person by the age of 15, and a higher majority of people initiating intercourse in their late adolescent years (“Abstinence Education”). Abstinence-only education might have some benefits, but it also has many problems.

Comprehensive sex education also provides numerous advantages and disadvantages for children. Comprehensive sex education provides real, accurate information for students to make their own decisions about their sex life and teaches kids to become comfortable with their own bodies. This approach primarily focuses on sexual health and how to keep oneself healthy. According to David Mandigo, “Many sex-ed programs include discussion of various types of contraception including condoms used to prevent STDs and offer lower pregnancy risks” (Mandigo). It delivers reduced teen pregnancy rates because it also educates kids about both male and female contraceptives. On the other hand, comprehensive sex education can be seen as an attack on someone’s religious beliefs. Often, sex education “goes against an individual’s morals and beliefs. Also, most schools do not teach ‘abstinence’. Instead, they focus on having safe intercourse, which many religions and family values object before marriage” (Mandigo). Finally, in many cases, the people that teach sex education are not qualified to do so. It is not uncommon to find physical education teachers assigned to teach their students sex education. The best people to teach sex education are nurses and doctors. Overall, comprehensive sex education has many advantages and disadvantages, especially regarding the religious beliefs of students.

The lack of proper sexual education in schools has caused lots of controversy attempting to figure out which approach to sex education is effective or if sex education should even be a part of school curriculum. In the past, sex education discouraged sex before marriage and was mostly to teach about keeping oneself healthy. One side of the argument claims that sex education is morally wrong and that it should be expected that children wait until marriage to have sex. The other viewpoint states that teenagers must be taught proper sex education in order to keep themselves healthy and to explore their options. The support for comprehensive sex education is much higher than the support for abstinence-only education. This controversy has been an issue in America for hundreds of years and will surely continue into the future.

Works Cited

“Abstinence Education: Weighing Pros and Cons.” Education.com , 18 Jan. 2012, https://www.education.com/magazine/article/abstinence-education-pros-cons/.

Farrar, Lauren. “Sex Education in America: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly: KQED Education.” KQED , 16 Sept. 2020, https://www.kqed.org/education/534518/sex-education-in-america-the-good-the-ba d-the-ugly.

Mandigo, David. “IDOSR Journals | the Best in Academic Journal Publication.” International Digital Organization for Scientific Research , 2020, https://idosr.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/IDOSR-JAS-51-42-45-2020.-UN.pdf.

Planned Parenthood. “History of Sex Education in the U.S.” Planned Parenthood , Nov. 2016, https://www.plannedparenthood.org/uploads/filer_public/da/67/da67fd5d-631d-438 a-85e8-a446d90fd1e3/20170209_sexed_d04_1.pdf.

Lauren Buben’s essay, written in Prof. Hurst’s class, won first place in its category in the 2021-2022 CU Write essay contest.

About the author.

name: Lauren Buben

institution: Student, Cameron University

Controversy Analysis 1 - "Sex Education in Schools" Copyright © by Lauren Buben is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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health and education

Comprehensive sexuality education: For healthy, informed and empowered learners

CSE Zambia

Did you know that only 37% of young people in sub-Saharan Africa can demonstrate comprehensive knowledge about HIV prevention and transmission? And two out of three girls in many countries lack the knowledge they need as they enter puberty and begin menstruating? Early marriage and early and unintended pregnancy are global concerns for girls’ health and education: in East and Southern Africa pregnancy rates range 15-25%, some of the highest in the world. These are some of the reasons why quality comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) is essential for learners’ health, knowledge and empowerment. 

What is comprehensive sexuality education or CSE?

Comprehensive sexuality education - or the many other ways this may be referred to - is a curriculum-based process of teaching and learning about the cognitive, emotional, physical and social aspects of sexuality. It aims to equip children and young people with knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that empowers them to realize their health, well-being and dignity; develop respectful social and sexual relationships; consider how their choices affect their own well-being and that of others; and understand and ensure the protection of their rights throughout their lives.

CSE presents sexuality with a positive approach, emphasizing values such as respect, inclusion, non-discrimination, equality, empathy, responsibility and reciprocity. It reinforces healthy and positive values about bodies, puberty, relationships, sex and family life.

How can CSE transform young people’s lives?

Too many young people receive confusing and conflicting information about puberty, relationships, love and sex, as they make the transition from childhood to adulthood. A growing number of studies show that young people are turning to the digital environment as a key source of information about sexuality.

Applying a learner-centered approach, CSE is adapted to the age and developmental stage of the learner. Learners in lower grades are introduced to simple concepts such as family, respect and kindness, while older learners get to tackle more complex concepts such as gender-based violence, sexual consent, HIV testing, and pregnancy.

When delivered well and combined with access to necessary sexual and reproductive health services, CSE empowers young people to make informed decisions about relationships and sexuality and navigate a world where gender-based violence, gender inequality, early and unintended pregnancies, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections still pose serious risks to their health and well-being. It also helps to keep children safe from abuse by teaching them about their bodies and how to change practices that lead girls to become pregnant before they are ready.

Equally, a lack of high-quality, age-appropriate sexuality and relationship education may leave children and young people vulnerable to harmful sexual behaviours and sexual exploitation.

What does the evidence say about CSE?

The evidence on the impact of CSE is clear:

  • Sexuality education has positive effects, including increasing young people’s knowledge and improving their attitudes related to sexual and reproductive health and behaviors.
  • Sexuality education leads to learners delaying the age of sexual initiation, increasing the use of condoms and other contraceptives when they are sexually active, increasing their knowledge about their bodies and relationships, decreasing their risk-taking, and decreasing the frequency of unprotected sex.
  • Programmes that promote abstinence as the only option have been found to be ineffective in delaying sexual initiation, reducing the frequency of sex or reducing the number of sexual partners. To achieve positive change and reduce early or unintended pregnancies, education about sexuality, reproductive health and contraception must be wide-ranging.
  • CSE is five times more likely to be successful in preventing unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections when it pays explicit attention to the topics of gender and power
  • Parents and family members are a primary source of information, values formation, care and support for children. Sexuality education has the most impact when school-based programmes are complemented with the involvement of parents and teachers, training institutes and youth-friendly services .

How does UNESCO work to advance learners' health and education?

Countries have increasingly acknowledged the importance of equipping young people with the knowledge, skills and attitudes to develop and sustain positive, healthy relationships and protect themselves from unsafe situations.

UNESCO believes that with CSE, young people learn to treat each other with respect and dignity from an early age and gain skills for better decision making, communications, and critical analysis. They learn they can talk to an adult they trust when they are confused about their bodies, relationships and values. They learn to think about what is right and safe for them and how to avoid coercion, sexually transmitted infections including HIV, and early and unintended pregnancy, and where to go for help. They learn to identify what violence against children and women looks like, including sexual violence, and to understand injustice based on gender. They learn to uphold universal values of equality, love and kindness.

In its International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education , UNESCO and other UN partners have laid out pathways for quality CSE to promote health and well-being, respect for human rights and gender equality, and empower children and young people to lead healthy, safe and productive lives. An online toolkit was developed by UNESCO to facilitate the design and implementation of CSE programmes at national level, as well as at local and school level. A tool for the review and assessment of national sexuality education programmes is also available. Governments, development partners or civil society organizations will find this useful. Guidance for delivering CSE in out-of-school settings is also available.

Through its flagship programme, Our rights, Our lives, Our future (O3) , UNESCO has reached over 30 million learners in 33 countries across sub-Saharan Africa with life skills and sexuality education, in safer learning environments. O3 Plus is now also reaching and supporting learners in higher education institutions.

To strengthen coordination among the UN community, development partners and civil society, UNESCO is co-convening the Global partnership forum on CSE together with UNFPA. With over 65 organizations in its fold, the partnership forum provides a structured platform for intensified collaboration, exchange of information and good practices, research, youth advocacy and leadership, and evidence-based policies and programmes.

Good quality CSE delivery demands up to date research and evidence to inform policy and implementation . UNESCO regularly conducts reviews of national policies and programmes – a report found that while 85% of countries have policies that are supportive of sexuality education, significant gaps remain between policy and curricula reviewed. Research on the quality of sexuality education has also been undertaken, including on CSE and persons with disabilities in Asia and East and Southern Africa .

How are young people and CSE faring in the digital space?

More young people than ever before are turning to digital spaces for information on bodies, relationships and sexuality, interested in the privacy and anonymity the online world can offer. UNESCO found that, in a year, 71% of youth aged 15-24 sought sexuality education and information online.

With the rapid expansion in digital information and education, the sexuality education landscape is changing . Children and young people are increasingly exposed to a broad range of content online some of which may be incomplete, poorly informed or harmful.

UNESCO and its Institute of Information Technologies in Education (IITE) work with young people and content creators to develop digital sexuality education tools that are of good quality, relevant and include appropriate content. More research and investment are needed to understand the effectiveness and impact of digital sexuality education, and how it can complement curriculum-based initiatives. Part of the solution is enabling young people themselves to take the lead on this, as they are no longer passive consumers and are thinking in sophisticated ways about digital technology.

A foundation for life and love

  • Safe, seen and included: report on school-based sexuality education
  • International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education
  • Safe, seen and included: inclusion and diversity within sexuality education; briefing note
  • Comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) country profiles
  • Evidence gaps and research needs in comprehensive sexuality education: technical brief
  • The journey towards comprehensive sexuality education: global status report
  • Definition of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) thematic indicator 4.7.2: Percentage of schools that provided life skills-based HIV and sexuality education within the previous academic year
  • From ideas to action: addressing barriers to comprehensive sexuality education in the classroom
  • Facing the facts: the case for comprehensive sexuality education
  • UNESCO strategy on education for health and well-being
  • UNESCO Health and education resource centre
  • Campaign: A foundation for life and love
  • UNESCO’s work on health and education

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Opinion Front

Opinion Front

Sex Education in Schools Pros and Cons

Whether sex education in schools has more pros or cons is a never ending debate. Let's read arguments for both, pros and cons, in this article and hopefully you'll be able to take a stand.

Sex Education in Schools Pros and Cons

Whether sex education in schools has more pros or cons is a never ending debate. Let’s read arguments for both, pros and cons, in this article and hopefully you’ll be able to take a stand.

Sex education is one of the most controversial issues in education, that has been hovering over educational institutions since ages. It is probably the most debated topic, that will always have a divided opinion. Some people will always agree and some will always disagree. Try though everyone may, it is almost impossible to shrug off the responsibility of informing students about its importance. Problems like teen pregnancy and STDs rise due to unsafe sex, and one of the best ways to avoid it, is by educating the students about it. Let us see some pros and cons of sex education in schools in this OpinionFront article.

Most of us limit the scope of sex education by taking it at its face value. It is not just about sex. It involves other delicate issues like sexual health, sexual reproduction, sexuality and others that parents often feel awkward to talk about with their children. Hence, it becomes the responsibility and the duty of schools to take up this topic, and inform and educate the students about it as much as they can. However, this is almost never taken in the right spirit by parents and students themselves. They begin deliberation on the pros and cons of sex education in schools, and form an attitude towards it based on what they think is right. Let us see some of these arguments and then decide for ourselves.

Statistics show that more than 50% of American teenagers lose their virginity by the age of 17. It also shows that sex education in schools is well accepted by only 7% of American parents. The other 93% still consider it a taboo to talk about sex to their children, and resort to making up the ever popular stories of birds and bees. But do they stop for a moment and think that it is not the presence of sex education in schools, but its absence that has made the rate of teen pregnancy go up to such a high level? Given below are some more arguments for sex education.

Stress on Abstinence Most schools that do provide sex education, have an ‘abstinence is the best solution’ approach to it. They stress on abstinence as the perfect way to be totally free from any problems whatsoever, related to sex and sexuality. Which actually makes sense. We all believe that prevention is better than cure, so why not just wait for the right age to engage in sexual activity. The two most important things that you need to be sexually active, namely the mind and the body, are not fully matured when kids are in school. It puts them in grave danger, physically and psychologically. Hence stressing the importance of restraint and abstinence through sex education is a great advantage.

Birth Control Schools that don’t use the abstinence approach, prefer to go the ‘safe sex’ way. They have accepted the fact that the sexual activities of teenagers and even pre-teens cannot be controlled by a mere class taken in school. They know that the students have other resources thanks to the various forms and forums of information that are available today. So the schools would rather give them tips on how to engage in safe sex, by using appropriate birth control measures if they are sexually active, than preaching abstinence. They train them on using different methods of birth control, and also the dangers of teenage pregnancy.

Information about STDs It is only through education in schools, that students will get proper and honest information about sexually transmitted diseases. The grave dangers that these diseases pose to them, the physical and mental torture that they may have to go through if they fall prey to an STD, not to mention the social stigma associated with them, are well explained. This instills in the students a sense of responsibility that creeps out of fear for their health and life. As a result they behave more responsibly.

Though the pros may seem like very valid reasons to vouch for it, there are certain people who believe that sex is better left to be understood by teenagers themselves if at all, or worse, through unreliable sources. Hence, they strongly oppose the idea of sex education in schools. Let us see some of the arguments against it now.

Lack of Sincerity It is often seen that sex education is not taken seriously. Students tend to look at it as a subject of ridicule, and either don’t attend the classes, or if made compulsory, either engage in snickering and giggling, throughout. They seem to be aware of much more than the person who’s teaching them about it, thanks to numerous movies, sitcoms, and other media, propagating sex as a style statement. The sensationalizing of sex in school has reached such a level that teens will engage in sex, just to prove how ‘cool’ and ‘popular’ they can be. There’s little that sex ed can do for them. And it’s not just the students, but the faculty too. If they really want to take education about sex to a whole new level of understanding and importance, then they should have more than the customary classes that they do, and hire people who are trained and well informed to teach the students about it.

Religious Beliefs and Sentiments Many groups of people believe that when it comes to sex education, the cons outweigh the pros, for one very simple reason. They believe, beyond a doubt, that their children should not be exposed to something as crude as sex, in their school days because their religion does not permit it. It goes against their religious beliefs and sentiments, and they do not accept it, on principle. It becomes very difficult to argue with people when they bring religion to the forefront. And so, many schools prefer to leave this sensitive issue untouched.

Misinterpretation of ‘Education’ As opposed to ‘abstinence only’ education, when schools propagate safe sex, they run the risk of having their information misinterpreted by the students. We will all agree that we can listen to hours and hours of lecturing about any topic, but finally do exactly what we want. Unfortunately, it is the same with sex education. Students may listen to the lecturers going on and on about safe sex, but in the end, engage in unsafe sex. They will justify saying that they learned about it in school, and that if teachers did not want them to engage in sexual activities, they never should have brought up the topic in the first place. Curiosity can make them take foolish steps which they will undoubtedly regret later.

As you can see, the possibility of a consensus on the debate about whether or not sex education in schools is a acceptable or not is something that will take a while to happen. Until then, all we can do is hope that the children realize their responsibilities towards their bodies and towards their minds.

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What constitutes sexual education and the grade in which it’s taught varies greatly in America, and 2024 is shaping up to set a record for legislative proposals mostly aimed at restricting the subject in schools. Sara Flowers, vice president of education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, joins Ali Rogin to discuss the increasingly complicated nature of sex education.

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Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

What constitutes sex education and the grade in which it's taught varies greatly in America, and this year is shaping up to set a record for legislative proposals that are mostly aimed at restricting the teaching of the subject in schools. Ali Rogin has more on the increasingly complicated nature of sex education.

The Centers for Disease Control defines quality sexual education as medically accurate developmentally appropriate culturally relevant content that promotes healthy development but only three states require comprehensive education to be taught in all schools. 17 states provide abstinence only sex education.

And so far this year at least 135 bills pertaining to sexual education have been introduced, or are in place nationally, a majority of which would place restrictions on sexual education in public schools. That's according to an analysis by the nonprofit organization, Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. Sara Flowers is Vice President of Education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, a nonprofit organization that provides reproductive and sexual health care and sexual education in the United States and globally.

Dr. Flowers, thank you so much for being here. First of all, when we think about comprehensive sex education, what does that look like?

Sara C. Flowers, Planned Parenthood Federation of America: Comprehensive sex education means teaching a wide variety of topics in grades K through 12, including topics like consent, understanding what boundaries are and how to decide where your personal boundaries are self-esteem, anti-bullying, healthy relationships, how to stay safe online.

And of course, the things that most people usually think of when they think of sex education, which is like puberty, contraception, and STI prevention. There's also a wealth of research that shows that kids who get this sort of comprehensive sex education and start in elementary school build on those skills through middle and high school are more likely to foster healthy relationships, have better social emotional skills, respect sexual and gender diversity, and prevent unintended pregnancy and STI transmission when they do become sexually active. That's education works like building blocks.

So it's incredibly important to start these conversations at home and in school, and to have them early. And often. What I mean by building blocks is this. When we teach math, we start with the basics. Kids learn to count zero, one, two, three. Eventually, we move into addition and subtraction. We don't start with calculus. So for topic like consent, if you're a small child, you understand that you don't want someone to take your truck without asking.

An elementary school consent covers topics like how to ask before taking a snack from someone else's lunchbox, or how to respect another person's decision not to want to be hugged. In middle school, learning about consent includes talking about peer pressure, learning assertive communication skills, thinking about your own boundaries, and learning to respect the boundaries of others.

In high school, we talk about consent during sex, we talk about thinking about what we ourselves would like getting clear on our own wants and dislikes and being a good listener making space for a partner to communicate their wants and needs, and being able to say no, and also to respect someone else's. Now, it also talks about how to continually check in to make sure that everyone feels safe as the relationship evolves.

There's a wide variety of sexual education curricula that really varies based on the state. And as I mentioned, 17 of them are abstinence only. But what is behind the varied nature of sexual education state by state? And what is the effect of having such different regimens available, depending on where you live?

Sara C. Flowers:

It's really important for parents to understand that in the U.S., there is no law or national program that dictates if sex education is going to be taught in schools and how sex education was going to be taught in schools. We have a patchwork of sex education laws and policies across the country.

So instead, decisions about sex education are left up to states and school districts. This means that the quality of sex education including the curriculum who is teaching and whether or not it's medically accurate, as well as whether or not you receive it at all, all of that depends on where you live, and who makes decisions about sex education in your area or school or school districts.

There is a effort happening on the federal level in Congress to pass a bill that would establish grants for comprehensive sexual education. Is that what you see as a necessary step here? And how would that potentially change things?

It would absolutely be a necessary step if all young people got the sex education that they deserve, sex education that is comprehensive, inclusive, culturally congruent and age appropriate, then we, as a society have the potential to raise a generation of young people who not only know how to love and take care of their own bodies, but we'd work towards a world where all people including people who are in power making decisions for others.

Everyone would understand the importance of things like respecting bodily autonomy respecting people's differences and the basic understanding of how pregnancy happens and how it works.

Some of these bills that we mentioned would ban discussions around gender identity and sexual orientation. Some would remove instruction on contraception, and emphasize abstinence. Some lawmakers who are in favor of these bills would say these are to protect the age appropriate nature of the sex education content that's in the classrooms. What do you see as the impact of those steps that are limiting the topics that can be discussed?

It's really important to understand that sex education is under attack. And it is under attack by the same groups that are trying to ban books stop trans youth from being able to play sports or use the bathroom that they need, and the same groups that are trying to ban teaching accurate history. The bands are all connected, and which tells us that these groups are actually working to exert power and control our kids. They are not trying to keep kids safe and healthy.

Parents can do something about these bands. You can start by finding out what's currently taught in your kids school. And if it's not sufficient, ask for better. Now we did mention that there are people who live in states and communities where sex education is not permitted to be taught in schools.

In those areas, parents and families can reach out to their local Planned Parenthood to find out if their education department can connect you with sex education programs, sex education can happen on after school programs and on weekends. It doesn't have to happen in schools.

Sara Flowers, Vice President of Education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, thank you so much for being here.

Thank you so much for having me.

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Single-sex education: the pros and cons

by: Kristin Stanberry | Updated: May 7, 2024

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Single sex education FAQ

Single-sex education (teaching boys and girls in separate classrooms or schools) is an old approach regaining momentum. While single-sex education has long existed in many private schools, it’s a relatively new option for public schools. Only 34 single-sex schools were operating in 2004, but by 2017 U.S. Department of Education data estimated more than 1,000 single-gender public schools. Forty-five percent are all boys, 55 percent are all girls, and 83 percent are overwhelmingly Black and Latino.

Since 2006, federal law has supported the option of single-sex education. when Education Secretary Margaret Spellings eased federal regulations , allowing schools to offer single-sex classrooms and schools, as long as such options are completely voluntary. This move has given parents and school districts greater flexibility, but the research on its value remains a matter of debate.

Nature vs. nurture

Before weighing the pros and cons of single-sex education, consider the influences of “nature versus nurture.” Many factors affect each child’s learning profile and preferences:

  • Some factors relate to the child’s nature, such as gender, temperament, abilities (and disabilities), and intelligence.
  • Other influences stem from the way parents and society nurture the child: Family upbringing, socioeconomic status, culture, and stereotypes all fall under the “nurture” category.

Advocates of single-sex education argue for the value of separating children from a number of different angles. The most prominent advocate is psychologist and physician Leonard Sax, whose books Why Gender Matters (2005), Boys Adrift (2007), and Girls on the Edge (2010), argue that boys and girls are inherently different and need different educational experiences. Others have argued that the success of women’s colleges point to a value in female-only education, where the chroniclers of the boys growing academic struggles compared to their female peers suggest that boys need girl-free education to fight the stereotype that boys can’t read.

Critics point to a lack of evidence for such claims, summarized by a 2008 New York Times article, which explained that “many academics and progressives tend to find Sax’s views stereotyped and infuriating.” They point out that studies on the impact of single-sex education on learning often do not account for the fact that most single-sex schools are selective or draw from a different population than coeducational public schools. Former president of the American Psychological Association, Diane F. Halpern co-published “ The Pseudoscience of Single-Sex Schooling” with other scholars, lambasting sex-segregated education as “deeply misguided, and often justified by weak, cherrypicked, or misconstrued scientific claims.” The subject even inspired a New York Times debate where researchers and pundits squared off about the benefits and bluster of single-sex learning.

So, who’s right? Below are arguments both for and against single-sex education.

Making the case for single-sex education

Those who advocate for single-sex education in public schools argue that:

  • Some parents don’t want their children to be in mixed-gender classrooms because, especially at certain ages, students of the opposite sex can be a distraction.
  • A 2019 study from the University of Southern California indicates girls learn better when the classroom temperature is warm, while boys perform better in cooler classrooms. If that’s true, then the temperature in a single-sex classroom could be set to optimize the learning of either male or female students.
  • Evidence suggests single-sex education can broaden the educational prospects for both girls and boys. A 2017 study examining students in Seoul, Korea, concluded, “male high school seniors attending all-boys schools show higher levels of science interests…than their counterparts attending coeducational schools.”
  • A 2015 study out of Switzerland also reports, “[F]emale students in all-female classes experience less stereotype threat and perform better in their mathematics grades than their female peers in coeducational classes.”
  • Advocates claim co-ed schools reinforce gender stereotypes, while single-sex schools can break down gender stereotypes. Girls are free of the pressure to compete with boys in male-dominated subjects such as math and science, while boys can more easily pursue traditionally “feminine” interests such as music and poetry.
  • Some research offers evidence in favor of co-ed education for boys but single-sex for girls. A 2011 study by Victor Lavy and Analia Schlosser titled “ Mechanisms and Impacts of Gender Peer Effects at School ” determined “an increase in the proportion of girls impose boys and girls’ cognitive outcomes” in elementary schools, caused by “lower levels of classroom disruption and violence, improved inter-student and student-teacher relations, and lessened teacher fatigue.”

What critics say about single-sex education

Those who claim single-sex education is ineffective and/or undesirable make the following claims:

  • The impact on learning isn’t conclusive. For instance, in one of the few studies that controlled for a host of parental, individual and school level factors, researchers analyzing Irish schools (where about one third of the students attend gender segregated schools) found no “significant difference in performance for girls or boys who attend single-sex schools compared to their mixed-school peers in science, mathematics or reading.”
  • Few educators are formally trained to use gender-specific teaching techniques. However, it’s no secret that experienced teachers usually understand gender differences and are adept at accommodating a variety of learning styles within their mixed-gender classrooms.
  • Gender differences in learning aren’t the same across the board; they vary along a continuum of what is considered normal. For a sensitive boy or an assertive girl, the teaching style promoted by advocates of single-sex education could be ineffective (at best) or detrimental (at worst).
  • It doesn’t teach genders to work together. Students in single-sex classrooms will one day live and work side-by-side with members of the opposite sex. Educating students in single-sex schools limits their opportunity to work cooperatively and co-exist successfully with members of the opposite sex.
  • It perpetuates gender stereotyping. For instance, the ACLU opposes single-sex schools, claiming they are based on “junk science” to perpetuate “disturbing gender stereotypes” and are a “waste of time” that divert attention from more valuable reforms, such as reducing class size and increasing teacher training. Or as Diane F. Halpern’s put it in “The Pseudoscience of Single-Sex Schooling” “…sex segregation increases gender stereotyping and legitimizes institutional sexism.”

Measuring public perception

How does the public view single-sex education? The “average” adult has a different opinion than the graduates of these schools.

In a 2022 poll by YouGov only 25% of adult men surveyed thought all-boys schools were “better” than co-ed schools, with the same percentage viewing them as “worse.” Adult women were less enthusiastic – only 17% thought all-boy schools were superior, with 21% regarding them as worse. Public opinion of all-girls schools was a bit more generous: 25% of men thought they were better for girls than coed schools, and 22% said they were worse, while 20% of women viewed all-girls schools as better than coeds, with 19% claiming they were worse.

People who actually attended single-sex schools were far more supportive. Men who attended all-boys schools were 45 percent positive, claiming it was better than coed, with 29 percent saying they were worse. Women who attended all-girls schools were 41 percent positive, and 26 percent negative.

Many (often most) people answered the survey question with “not sure” or “no difference.” Their uncertainty mirrors the overall ambiguity of the co-ed vs. single-sex school question. As is true of many educational questions, the answer for any given family often depends on context. For instance, is the school operating in a culture where a single-sex education might offer students a respite from gender discrimination? Is the school (coeducational or single-sex) reinforcing gender stereotypes or working against them? Why might the family want single-sex education for their child? Is it intended to empower the child to succeed and learn or keep them narrowly focused on acceptable gender roles?

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    Free Essay: Sex education has been a hot debate topic for decades with people coming down on all sides of the argument. ... (STI) cases are young adults between the ages of 15-25(Boonstra, 2013). The argument of whether or not sex education should be taught to students is moot since according to a recent survey by National Public Radio about 93 ...

  21. Sex education 'is under attack' by a wave of proposed ...

    Sara C. Flowers: It's really important to understand that sex education is under attack. And it is under attack by the same groups that are trying to ban books stop trans youth from being able to ...

  22. Argumentative Essay On Sex Education

    Argumentative Essay On Sex Education. Decent Essays. 915 Words. 4 Pages. Open Document. Transitioning from childhood to teenage years is already awkward enough for most girls, but "the talk" is unbearable for some. Little do these young minds know that the scariest part of sex education is the lack of accurate and detailed information.

  23. Single-sex education: the pros and cons

    People who actually attended single-sex schools were far more supportive. Men who attended all-boys schools were 45 percent positive, claiming it was better than coed, with 29 percent saying they were worse. Women who attended all-girls schools were 41 percent positive, and 26 percent negative.

  24. The Importance of Sex Education Essay by EduBirdie

    In the early 90's, the main focus of sex education was inclined towards the concept revolving around marriage and role of family members. However, with time the definition behind sex education has changed to a great extent. The school nowadays are more focused towards educating teenagers about prevention of unwanted pregnancies and sexually ...