April 5, 2012 -- New CDC data show a leveling off of the number of middle and high schools that are teaching their students about how to prevent HIV, other sexually transmitted diseases, and pregnancy.
Researchers analyzed data from 45 states in 2008 and again in 2010. They asked the principal and the head health teacher at each school how often they taught students about specific topics pertaining to the prevention of HIV, other STDs, and pregnancy.
According to the study, the percentage of middle schools teaching 11 topics on HIV, STD, and pregnancy prevention in 2010 was lower in 11 states and higher in none compared with 2008 results.
There were widespread differences across the states as to what they did and did not include in their sexual education curriculum. For example, the importance of using condoms consistently and correctly was taught in 26.8% of public high schools in Utah and 96.6% of high schools in Delaware in 2010.
“Little progress has been made in the proportion of middle and high schools that offer education on the prevention of HIV, many STDs, and pregnancy,” says study author Laura Kann, PhD. She is a researcher at the CDC in Atlanta. “We are heading in the wrong direction.”
Sex education in public schools is a controversial issue. The new data only report on what is happening, not why it is occurring.
Nearly half of all high school students have had intercourse, placing them at risk for HIV, STDs, and pregnancy, a companion report found. “From the early 1990s until now, we were seeing a decline in the number of high school students who were sexually active, and the decline has leveled off and we are concerned that the rate could go back up,” Kann says.
The next set of data on sexual education in U.S. middle and high schools will look at 2012 and 2014.
A Shift in Patterns
“The data is unique in its ability to tell us on a state-by-state basis what is happening over time,” says Laura Lindberg, PhD. She is a senior research associate at the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research and policy organization based in New York City.
She says the pattern showing a shift toward states decreasing the sex education that they are offering in terms of the comprehensiveness of topics is discouraging. “It is a change in the wrong direction.”
Regardless, parents can and should play an important part in educating their children about their values.
“Whether a school provides sexual education or not, it is always important for parents to be self educators and share their personal values about sex and sexuality,” she says.