Teens learn a lot about sex during the middle and high school years, officially and unofficially. With raging hormones, teens want to know more about sex, preventing pregnancy and diseases, and other health subjects as they transition to adulthood. But many are still fumbling in the dark, so to speak, because the sex education content in schools is failing them, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CDC has long recommended 16 topics be covered on sex education in health and other applicable classes. However, the CDC issued a report this week that shows that less than half of all high schools and merely 20 percent of middle schools cover the full prescribed curriculum. The majority of school districts do not even require health or sex education for graduation (less than 40 percent reportedly have the requirement).
The information is based on CDC’s 2014 School Health Profiles, which are surveys they conduct every other year. Schools across the U.S. are asked about their age-appropriate sex education and health curriculum. Among the topics middle and high schools are surveyed on are whether they teach about HIV, sexually transmitted diseases and their prevention, pregnancy prevention, and other related subjects.
Forty-four states, including 19 large urban school districts, participated in the 2014 survey. The results varied widely from state to state. New Jersey high schools scored the highest, with 90 percent teaching all 16 recommended topics, and New York and New Hampshire rounded out the top three. Conversely, Arizona’s high schools had the lowest levels with only 21 percent teaching all the topics.
The topic taught the most to those in grades 9 to 12 was the benefit of abstinence, with 94 percent of the schools surveyed teaching it. How to correctly use a condom was only discussed in about 54 percent of the high schools.
At the middle school level, Arizona also lagged behind other schools. Only 4 percent of schools taught the 16 topics to those in grades 6, 7 or 8 in the Grand Canyon state. North Carolina ranked the highest with 46 percent of middle schools covering the full range of sex education topics. The topic covered most at this level was also abstinence (77 percent), and the bottom was also condom use (only 23 percent).
One concern the CDC pointed out about how few schools cover using condoms is that use has declined. According to CDC data, only 59 percent of teens used a condom the last time they engaged in sex. In 2003, 63 percent did.
Expressing the need to be a better job of giving young people the skills and knowledge about their health, Jonathan Mermin, M.D., M.P.H., who is director of National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and Tuberculosis Prevention at the CDC, explained, “It’s important to teach students about healthy relationships and how to reduce sexual risk before they start to have sex.” The CDC is working with various partners to improve school-based efforts to teach about HIV, STD, and pregnancy prevention in the hopes that schools are not failing in educating about sex per the next survey.
Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: New findings from CDC survey suggest too few schools teach prevention of HIV, STDs, pregnancy
NPR: The CDC Gives U.S. Schools Low Marks In Sex Ed
Newsweek: U.S. Schools Still Lack Sufficient Sex Education Programs
CBS News: Many U.S. schools are failing sex ed
Photo courtesy of Courtney Carmody’s Flickr page, Creative Commons license