What’s the State of Sex Education In the U.S.?
There’s broad public support for sex education, but many young people aren’t receiving the sex education they need and deserve.
Who Supports Sex Education?
Sex education is widely supported by the vast majority of people in the United States. In Planned Parenthood’s most recent poll on sex education, 93 percent of parents supported having sex education taught in middle school, and 96 percent of parents supported having sex education taught in high school. The vast majority of parents support sex education in middle school and high school that covers a wide range of topics, including STIs, puberty, healthy relationships, birth control, and sexual orientation. Other national, state and local polls on sex education have shown similarly high levels of support.
Sex education is supported by numerous health and medical organizations including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine. More than 150 organizations are members of the National Coalition to Support Comprehensive Sexuality Education.
Federal & State Policy Related to Sex Education
Sex education programming varies widely across the United States. Currently, 39 states and the District of Columbia mandate some kind of sex education and/or HIV education.
Although almost every state has some guidance on how and when sex education should be taught, decisions are often left up to individual school districts, creating a patchwork of inconsistent policies and practices within states. The sex education someone receives can come down to what school district they live in or which school they attend.
Planned Parenthood advocates for federal funding that supports sex education, such as the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPPP)and the Division of Adolescent and School Health. Planned Parenthood also advocates for better sex education policies, practices, and funding at the state and local levels.
What Sex Education Do Teens Get in the US?
The gap between the sex education students need and what they actually get is wide. According to the 2018 CDC School Health Profiles, fewer than half of high schools and less than a fifth of middle schools teach all 20 topics recommended by the CDC as essential components of sex education. These topics range from basic information on how HIV and other STIs are transmitted — and how to prevent infections — to critical communication and decision-making skills.
A recent study published by the Guttmacher Institute found that adolescents were less likely to report receiving sex education on key topics in 2015–2019 than they were in 1995 Overall, in 2015–2019, only half of adolescents reported receiving sex education that met the minimum standard articulated in Healthy People 2030. Among teens reporting penis-in-vagina sex, fewer than half (43% of females and 47% of males) received this instruction before they had sex for the first time. Despite these declines in formal education, there was no increase in the proportion of teens who discussed these sex education topics with their parents.