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September 15th, 2010
04:21 PM ET

Study shows teens receive sex ed

Most American teens are well-educated about sex, with 97 percent saying they had received some formal sex education before the age of 18.

The data are part of a new report from the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), part of the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.

"We wanted to update the facts on how many teens are getting formal instruction on sex education and how frequently," says report author Joyce Abma, Ph.D, in a podcast released in conjunction with the report. Abma is a demographer with the National Center for Health Statistics.

At first glance, the report seems to show a significant increase from 2002, when only 85 percent of teen girls and nearly 83 percent of teen boys had received any sex education. But Laura Lindberg, Senior Research Associate at the Guttmacher Institute, says the survey changed its methodology, adding questions about HIV/AIDS that had not been asked before.

"We need to be very cautious when interpreting that because [the education] could be one hour of a discussion of a news article about AIDS in Africa," says Lindberg.

"When you look at the key topics of STIs (sexually transmitted infections) and birth control, they are much too low. What skills have [these teens] learned? Do they know how to prevent AIDS?  If you don't include those two pieces of information, it's not adequate education."

In terms of birth control use, the CDC report says 38 percent of male teens and 47 percent of female teens received their first instruction about birth control in high school.

Parental involvement is key to when and how many teens find out about sex, birth control, and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). The CDC says four out of five girls under the age of 18 have talked with their parents about sex, birth control methods, where to get contraceptives, STD transmission and protection, and how to use a condom. That compares to two of every three males under 18.  The statistics even out by the age of 18 when roughly the same percentage of male and female teens have talked with their parents.

Younger female teenagers seem to be particularly well-educated about some topics compared to their male counterparts. They're more likely to talk to their parents about sex, including how to say no to sex when they're not comfortable, according to the analysis.  Not surprisingly, younger male teens were more likely to talk about how to use a condom with their parents.

"The glass half full here is that parents and schools are willing and able to talk about sex," says Lindberg. "The glass half empty is that they may not be talking about the right topics, with the right depth, and accurate information."

That begs the question, how many teens are actually having sex? A related report released in June found 42 percent of girls and 43 percent of boys under the age of eighteen have had sex at least once. The data do not show whether these teens had any formal sex ed before they lost their virginity.

The  bottom line for Lindberg: "The most important thing is for parents to have honest conversations with their teens about their personal family values. And that can be a different conversation in very house."


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soundoff (52 Responses)
  1. Flora

    While I'm happy that teens are now getting some form of s e x education other than that useless "abstinence only" crapola, we need to get even more in depth with it. We need to talk openly & honestly with our kids about s e x earlier than their teenage years. We live in a society where children as young as elementary school are being bombarded with constant messages about s e x; parents need to set them straight before the media has time to implant any lasting ideas in their heads.

    September 15, 2010 at 17:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lauren

      I agree. One of my siblings is in middle school, and there are two girls that are pregnant in his year. I am more than willing to bet that these girls probably got the basics of what their personal parts are and how it works, but nothing about protection or birth control.

      September 15, 2010 at 19:08 | Report abuse |
    • Celestiela

      Well, and not only about birth control and protection, but integrity and emotional health as well. Abstinence is a very good message, provided it isn't intended to bring shame or guilt. Parents should not only be teaching their kids about safe sex, but also building healthy relationships, and what role sex has within those relationships.

      September 15, 2010 at 21:02 | Report abuse |
    • Mysti

      @ Celestiela
      That is the only rational arguement for abstinance education I've ever heard. Thank you for actually expanding my view on the subject.

      September 15, 2010 at 22:42 | Report abuse |
    • The_Mick

      A liitle known fact is that almost EVERY Red state that was doing the abstinence only program gave up the money Bush provided for it and cancelled the program because the teen pregnancy rates in the states ALL increased – until they went back to the birth control-inclusive courses.

      September 16, 2010 at 03:59 | Report abuse |
  2. antipop

    I bet they know how to give a girl the shocker in a professional manner.

    September 15, 2010 at 17:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Pura Vida

    Schools take all the fun out of s-x with the fear-mongering talk of STD's, pregnancy, AIDS, and date rape drugs. They even teach 8 year olds about "ejaculations" and anal sex. Why not just show them a porno?

    September 15, 2010 at 17:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Matt

      Curious to know why you can't type out the word "sex" and also why you feel you need to put quotation marks around the word 'ejaculations'? I am not looking for a fight here, but it seems you may be fairly reserved when it comes to the subject...? Silence and a lack of education is what leaves kids to figure things out the wrong way. Again, since kids will become adults and engage in oral/manual/possibly anal sex, how soon is too soon to teach them and how much is too much? Too much and it becomes, as you mention, a porno class. Too little, and you risk making kids feel weird about their own bodies and sex in general...

      September 15, 2010 at 18:01 | Report abuse |
    • N***erDust

      Well Matt, probably because Pura has never had a good rim job and shocker before. That's what the problem with the word sex may be. Nothing a good double penetration wouldn't solve. Ya feel me.

      September 15, 2010 at 18:48 | Report abuse |
    • Dawn

      I think genital warts would take more fun out of sex than just hearing about it.
      I'd rather talk about it all day than ever have one. It doesn't ruin sex for me!

      September 15, 2010 at 21:03 | Report abuse |
    • Teri

      A lot of message boards will automatically block your posting for the word sex. That is why many people don't spell it out or why they will use symbols or put spaces or dashes between the letters.

      September 15, 2010 at 21:55 | Report abuse |
    • gen81465

      They don't just show porn movies because that would take all the fun out of the "personalized" demonstrations. Just look at one school system in New York, that a few years ago was having the male phys ed teachers demonstrating to girls how to put a condom on a boy. Using a banana seemed too awkward, so the teachers were demonstrating on themselves.

      September 16, 2010 at 01:30 | Report abuse |
    • Sarah in Texas

      What schools teach 8-year olds about ejaculations and anal sex? And, teaching the facts about STDs and pregnancy is what sex education is.... it's not fear mongering, it's biological facts.

      September 16, 2010 at 09:25 | Report abuse |
    • Matt

      You know what, N***erDust? I think you're on to something there. I believe most people that have huge hangups with sex are just like everybody else; wanting some fun but are either denying themselves or are being denied by their partner(s). If everybody were to have a few mind-blowing orgasms, especially with activities that are out of their perceived "normal" realm of sex, everybody would loosen up (partial pun intended) and not be so uptight. Mind-blowing orgasms have a way of changing one's view of the world and what to them is "normal", don't you think? Hell, I think we'd see a decrease in war if everybody were to start being more comfortable with themselves and giving in to desires that are natural (with legal-aged consenting adults, that is.)

      September 16, 2010 at 11:07 | Report abuse |
  4. Brett Favre's fan (a.k.a. ybs)

    It'd not be easy but equally important is instilling in kids confidence and the values of true love/long-lasting relationships.

    September 15, 2010 at 17:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • adi1824

      I agree. Teens today are becoming too comfortable with the idea of having casual sex as long as it is "safe." There is no such thing as completely safe sex, and sleeping with some random person is not worth the risk involved. Many STDs cannot be cured, can affect fertility, and can be passed to infants during birth. Additionally, if a teen is going to have sex, he or she needs to understand that it is an adult activity and it comes with adult responsibility. If they are going to take the risk, they need to be prepared to handle the consequences.

      September 15, 2010 at 20:18 | Report abuse |
  5. scdad

    This is BS. Here in SC, my kids were taught sex ed. in the 8th grade. Many of their friends were already getting more action than me by that time. Sex ed. consisted of labeling the body parts on a print out, and the teacher making the kids promise not to have sex before marriage. There was no mention at all of oral sex, anal sex, masturbation. All of which most of the kids around here are doing by age 12 anyway to keep from making babies.

    September 15, 2010 at 17:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sarah in Texas

      I'm 28 and I will say I have never known a single person who was sexually active at 12. Most of my friends didn't even have sex until well after high school.

      September 16, 2010 at 09:28 | Report abuse |
    • Jessica in Texas

      @Sarah in Texas

      I'm 23 and by the age of 12, 4 of my classmates were pregnant. I grew up in a pretty sheltered and conservative town, too. Just because you personally don't know people who were sexually active by that age doesn't mean it doesn't happen. Because trust me, it DOES.

      October 14, 2010 at 22:34 | Report abuse |
  6. Matt

    I agree with being educated on the specific parts of the body that have to do with sex, but it seems fruitless to make the kids promise not to have sex before marriage. That is more a religious thing, and it's not too realistic anyway. Masturbation should absolutely be discussed, if for no other reason than to assure kids there's nothing wrong with it, and that it's something they'll continue throughout their lives (as long as they're healthy and have limbs, that is!). Oral/anal sex? Hmmm... I don't know. Sex ed has changed since I was a boy; how much should an 8th grader be taught?

    September 15, 2010 at 17:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • LadyGnarGnar

      They should at least be taught up to the fact that females can ejaculate. Hell, Angela Stone can make her snatch squirt 30 feet. I wish I knew girls that could do that when I was in 8th grade.

      September 15, 2010 at 18:52 | Report abuse |
  7. Kristi

    Hey! The agreement that too many people didn't understand before they had sex is that if you participate in intercourse then you are willing to take on the responsibility of parenthood. Teaching your children about sex is part of that responsibility. If you don't have time to do it or if it makes you uncomfortable and you (coward) don't do it then your priorities are wrong and you need to suck it up and do whatever you have to do to build a relationship with your child. Come on, be an adult and take care of business! Sex-ed is a family matter. It doesn't belong in schools and it is not anyone's business or responsibility except for the parents. Doctors, survey-takers, government: BUTT OUT! It's not your business. Oh, and before you all go crazy replying, please, understand I have 5 children (three are teen-aged girls) so I know all about sex AND about what it takes to properly raise my children. Just because you might think that what I am suggesting is unlikely to happen doesn't make it any less right.

    September 15, 2010 at 18:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • gen81465

      Sex education is "definitely" a "family matter"; at least in the deep south.

      Oops, that wasn't funny, was it sis?

      September 16, 2010 at 01:34 | Report abuse |
    • Gidgit

      It is our business when the parents don't do their jobs and refuse to talk about sex, or only talk about abstinence and we have to support teen moms and their babies. Sorry, but kids deserve the information they need to keep themselves safe and healthy, and if parents are failing them then the schools need to do it.

      September 16, 2010 at 02:03 | Report abuse |
    • Kristi

      The government and citizen's don't HAVE to support those who make this mistake. That is one of the big things that is wrong with our country right now. Handouts, bailouts, stimulus... they all make people weak because they take away the misery that would normally facilitate a change in behavior. People learn and grow by facing consequences. When teen pregnancy happens, adoption is a perfect solution: another chance for the teenagers, a great life for the baby (who gets to live with people who really want and are ready for a child), and no burden on the government. See, these decisions need to stay with families and, when there is a case where real help is needed then that is when churches and local community groups help individuals to teach them to be self reliant and responsible. Government programs and handouts do not do that because the individual choices that got someone into a mess come have to be addressed with the individual. Who better to do that than families? By the way, I'm the result of an unwanted pregnancy and was adopted as an infant. I would change that for anything. My life is fantastic.

      September 16, 2010 at 08:52 | Report abuse |
    • Kristi

      Sorry for the confusing typo– I WOULDN'T change that for anything. Really, it's a beautiful solution to a terrible situation and it's an amazing thing to be a part of.

      September 16, 2010 at 08:55 | Report abuse |
    • Mama Wrench

      I completely agree. My parents were always very frank with me: They made mistakes so I could learn from them and not repeat them, and I didn't. I abstained from sex till I was married and it was one of the smartest decisions I ever made. I told my (now) husband, "I believe I'm worth waiting for and the only way to prove to me that you agree is to wait." I don't have broken hearts and bad mistakes to look back on, I have a beautiful 11 month-old and 6 years of marriage instead. Double bonus: Now my kids can never throw back in my face, "Why do you care? You did the same thing when you were a kid." ;)

      Education is clearly necessary, and I'm not naive; I know my kids might not follow in my footsteps and I want them to be prepared. But I also want them to know that they do have options, they do not need to go along with the status quo and there are benefits to delayed returns on investment. I want them to know that a broken heart and regrets are not unfortunate inevitabilities. I want them to know that there are condoms to protect from STDs and pregnancy, but there's no condom for the heart. My beautiful son is worth it, his future siblings are worth it, and their future spouses/partners are worth it.

      September 16, 2010 at 09:21 | Report abuse |
  8. Cieje Valentine

    To all you virgins....THANKS FOR NOTHING! ;P

    September 15, 2010 at 18:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. rowdy

    With all the exposure to sex it isn't a wonder. I spotted my neighbors 8 yr old daughter watching a porn one night while walking my dog. I asked her were she got it she said she just turned on the tv and it was on. Welcome to proof of human civility failing. The world has become a drug/sex enterprise. Porn stars are more talked about then some movie stars and female movie stars are compared with porn stars

    September 15, 2010 at 19:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tzero

      @Rowdy, the kid watching a porno isn't a testament to society, it's a testament to bad parenting. A good parent wouldn't let an 8-year watch TV unsupervised or without a channelblocker.

      September 15, 2010 at 19:54 | Report abuse |
    • palermo

      Sounds like you were "walking your dog" in your neighbor's yard peeping in their windows.

      September 16, 2010 at 11:16 | Report abuse |
  10. JJsMOM

    I'm wondering why the "parents" of today "cannot" talk to their tween and teen children about sex? I did with my daughter and son, yes it was a bit embarassing for them, but, we had a great talk. The children of today get their sex-ed from experiencing sex, this is too sad. I love the parents even more when they say "not my kid", she won't get preggers or he won't get a girl "preggers" and then it happens. Too many babies being born by near-babies now a days....

    September 15, 2010 at 19:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. scion101

    What we don't learn in the classroom we'll learn in between and out of class. I learned how to put on a condom, relationships and basic sex outside of sex ed from my friends our just some online surfing.

    September 15, 2010 at 19:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Mind Games

    You know what all those pedo priests claim, that they were teaching the kids sex ed. Do you think most 6th grade teachers are any different? Like I want some guy who hangs around 11 year olds all day rolling a condom on a carrot and showing them how to hold it when they pull out so their juice doesn't leak out.

    September 15, 2010 at 20:53 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Gidgit

      Helping ensure that kids don't contract a potentially deadly STD or get pregnant does not make one a pervert.

      September 16, 2010 at 02:06 | Report abuse |
  13. wann2know

    Teens know about s e x yeh, ok. It's everywhere you look these days. But do they really understand the pain they will suffer for much of their life after engaging in unfulfilling sensual activities. Perhaps some who read this article will suggest that their early experiences linger on in a happy way, in their body, heart and mind.

    September 15, 2010 at 21:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. alex

    Learn what the phrase "begs the question" means. You misused it badly. This is sloppy journalism. CNN is making the world a dumber place by employing the grammar school dropout who wrote this.

    September 15, 2010 at 21:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. jackie

    my friend got aids at the age of 17, becarful .

    September 15, 2010 at 22:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Larry Barnes

    Beacon Press, the publishing arm of the Unitarian-Universalist Society, publishes a course called About Your Sexuality for Teens. As a certified teacher of this course, I can attest that it is an honest, straight from the shoulder, no holds barred course. If more kids were exposed to it there would be fewer pregnancies and STDs, and a lot fewer hangups and sexual problems in later years.

    September 15, 2010 at 22:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. UglyDuckling88

    OK, first off I went to a pretty liberal high school where we had very detailed sex ed. The result? Out of 600 kids, there were maybe 2 pregnancies.

    Second, waiting till marriage is pretty unrealistic, considering people get married when they are in their 30s now. But waiting till you're an adult? That might make a bit more sense.

    September 16, 2010 at 03:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Laney Looming

    Remove shame, guilt, fear and intimidation from a child's first impressions of their life as a maturing sexual being and you're on the right track. Teaching them the reality of their bodies – that yes, they do "this" and it feels good. And likewise, they do "that" and they will regret it. Not for shame or guilt, but for the consequences that the decision impacts on their lives. My children all were raised with full understanding of what masturbation was and a clear understanding of what constituted "appropriate" choices and "poor" ones. Pleasuring yourself at the kitchen table = poor choice. Partaking in enjoyable activities with your boyfriend/girlfriend that would not result in the creation of a baby = appropriate choice. All six of my children are today adults. Four girls and two boys. None of them became parents before the age of 23 and all are confident, charming adults who have blessed me with outstanding grandchildren who are growing up equally well-adjusted. Leaving religion and personal prejudice out of their upbringing has fostered a generation of adults more in control of their lives than anyone I know, including myself.

    September 16, 2010 at 05:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Dr Bill Toth

    Learning how to put a condom on a banana or cucumber is NOT the same as knowing how to use and condom,
    when to use it and Why.

    September 16, 2010 at 07:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. D

    So we teach our girls to say no and our boys to put on condoms. Does that not strike anyone else as a mixed message? I promise you, boys have to learn how to say no, too, and it is possible for them to have self-control enough to wait. Not only is it the only guarantee against getting pregnant or an STD, but it's also cheaper, better for your body (in the case of hormonal birth control – that can seriously screw you up), and better for the environment (in the cases of all kinds of BC – packaging, the actual device itself like a condom, the hormones and chemicals in pills and spermicides....).

    September 16, 2010 at 08:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sarah in Texas

      Thank you for making this point about teaching girls to say no while teaching boys to put on condoms. While I think sex education is very important and necessary, this societal message about females being the gatekeepers of sexual activity while men are supposed to be relentlessly pursing it is messed up. Coincidentally I just started dating someone who told me he's "not ready either" when I apologized for not wanting to go any further just yet. I'm 28, and I have never had a man say this to me. It was insanely attractive.

      September 16, 2010 at 09:33 | Report abuse |
  21. JRog

    In the not to distant past when I was in high school, we were taught both abstinence and the safe way. The one thing that was missing and I am only realizing this now as a twenty something, is that we were not taught when sex was appropriate and any sort of self control.

    September 16, 2010 at 08:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Bob

    We need a National Campaign for teens on " Self-Respect".. With Self-Respect Teens do less stupid and dangerous things.. This goes for Drugs & alcohol prevention too..

    September 16, 2010 at 08:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. blah

    lol

    September 16, 2010 at 09:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. blah

    fun

    September 16, 2010 at 09:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Sarah in Texas

    The findings of these "studies" could conclude anything. It's dangerous to make a statement that "most American teens are well-educated about sex." This simply cannot be true. Instead of performing a ridiculous survey about how many hours of sex education students may have received, why not give the kids a simple test? That will yield better results about how "well-educated" our youth are. To claim that sex education is on the increase is a dangerous statistic to throw around, since schools have been cutting this from their classes in the era of abstinence-only education.

    September 16, 2010 at 09:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Rick McDaniel

    Someone is stretching the truth.

    September 16, 2010 at 09:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. john

    you have to be careful when telling kids about the nasty. nancy grace aka the grinch, and john walsh ,fear monger, will have you in jail on kiddy po r n charges.

    September 16, 2010 at 11:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Kayt

    The key point here is that while many kids are getting some formal sex education, I can only remember my formal education as being a day of health class in 11th grade where I came out not knowing how to put on a condom. I didn't actually know until I was in college for an AIDS presentation I did. Kids are getting formal education, but not enough. Now, at 22 years old, I know far too many of my former high school peers who have children (many several). If they wanted the kids, it would be one thing, but many of them didn't. And with kids, it's hard to pursue other life goals. I blame their life goals being ruined by a severe lack of sexual education, and I am the only one of my friends to go on to graduate school....to pursue a degree in public health :) I hope that people like me will stand up and hopefully fight this severe lack of sexual health education that teens are receiving. We can't just teach them to not have sex.

    September 16, 2010 at 23:43 | Report abuse | Reply

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