Survey Shows Need for Better Teen Sex Ed


Written by Emily Crockett, a Campus Progress blogger

Won’t somebody please think of the children?

Public health officials say results from a recent survey on risky teen behavior reaffirm the need for comprehensive sex education in public schools.

The survey [PDF] by the Cook County Department of Public Health asked 1,718 students in 20 public high schools in suburban Cook County about sex, drugs, and other physical and psychological health topics.

Responses indicated that 37 percent of teens have had sex — 61 percent of African-American teens, 49 percent of Hispanic teens, and 24 percent of white teens.

“As a public health department, we support the need for comprehensive sex education in our schools, and we know we do not have it,” Amy Poore, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Health, told Campus Progress. “And teens are still engaging in these sexual behaviors.”

Poore said most schools teach an abstinence-only curriculum.

With so many teens engaging in sex, it’s crucial that they learn how to protect themselves, advocates say.

Only 62 percent of surveyed teens who had had sex in the past three months reported using condoms the last time they had sex, and 19 percent reported using alcohol before their last encounter. Further, about one in ten girls and one in twenty boys said they had been raped, or “forced to have sexual intercourse when they did not want to.”

The Illinois School Code on Sex Education does not require sex education. But in schools where it is taught, all courses “shall emphasize that abstinence is the expected norm” and “shall teach honor and respect for monogamous heterosexual marriage.” Information on STIs, AIDS, and condom failure rates is also taught.

“We didn’t know what to expect going into this,” Poore said of the study, adding it provides a research base for receiving grants for more comprehensive education. “It gives us a barometer of what is going on with our kids and shows us things need to change.”

It’s an important example for the rest of the country.

Illinois receives no federal money for sex ed programs, but many states do. Federal funding for abstinence-only programs has reached a total of $1.5 billion since 1997, and studies have repeatedly shown that these programs have no statistically significant effect on teen sexual activity.

And many such programs include blatantly false information — for example, that condoms fail to prevent HIV infection 31 percent of the time, and that women who have an abortion are more prone to suicide.

Federally funded abstinence-only programs must adhere to a socially conservative eight-point definition, which includes language about how “sexual activity outside the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical affects.”

The survey also asked teens non-sexual activity questions. The report, in an easily readable chart form, is worth looking at in its entirety for a fascinating portrait of what “kids today” are doing in their free time.

The findings include information on bullying, mental health and body image issues, drug use, violence, and nutrition and physical activity:

  • Nearly ten percent of teens had attempted suicide, and 27 percent showed symptoms of clinical depression.
  • Fourteen percent had been electronically bullied, 16 percent had been bullied at school, and 10 percent had been bullied because of perceived sexual orientation.
  • Twenty-seven percent described themselves as overweight. Forty-four percent (and 57 percent of girls) were trying to lose weight, and 11 percent of teens went without eating for 24 hours.
  • Forty percent of teens had tried cigarettes, 33 percent had tried marijuana, and 5 percent had tried cocaine.
  • More than half of black students and 30.5 percent of all students watched television for more than three hours a day.
  • Nearly one-third ate fruits two or more times per day over the past seven days; one-fourth drank at least one soda per day over the past seven days.

“There are a lot of topics, and there is a lot of work to be done,” Poore said.

This post was originally published by Campus Progress.


Related Stories:

Teens in Sexual Relationships Are Less Likely to Act Out

New York City Mandates Comprehensive Sex Education

Teen Birth Rate Hits Record Low


Photo from fisserman via flickr creative commons


LMj Sunshine
James Merit5 years ago

Thank you for info.

LMj Sunshine
James Merit5 years ago

Thank you.

Kasia Y.
Kasia Y.6 years ago

We should provide sex education, and anyone who disagrees (Conservatives) should be enrolled in therapy for their mental disorder.

Xil Lidom
Xil L6 years ago

The taboo is outdated. Parents must talk about the consequences of a teenage pregnancy and parenting at such young age to their children. I feel for some reason that these pregnancies are blamed on young women and thus they are more subjeted to speaches than the young men. This comes down to that it is mainly mothers talking to daughters while father to son talks are still greatly dismissed. A tap on the back, virility test, be a man...Young girls are being adressed on the matter much more than the young men. It takes two to tango......

Lika S.
Lika P6 years ago

I home school, and I have a comprehensive lesson plan that started as a brief intro in 4th grade, a bit more scientifically detailed in 5th grade, and getting ready to do the 6th grade version... Because I know my son and how he thinks, I can gear it specifically for him. This way, he gets the info he needs, and we keep open communication.

No, it's not easy to teach it to the opposite gender, but, when the parent is in charge, it can work. Sex shouldn't be embarrassing. It's what brings the next generation to us. Plus it keeps relationships together, and we all will experience it in a positive way when we're old enough. Shouldn't we instill those high values to our children?

Faith Purdy
Faith Purdy6 years ago

as someone who's been through these 'sexual education' classes i can honestly say that a lot of the information is either entirely wrong, or facts are skewed to make kids thing sex and abortion is dangerous and wrong. i can also confidantly say that most of the kids in these classes think they are bull**** and don't retain any of the information past the test date.

colleen p.
colleen p6 years ago

i wish was an over sexed, pretty horndog teen who everyone loves. i just make pervy jokes and have phobias

Jennifer M.
Jennifer M6 years ago

Parents need to stop thinking their teens are perfect little angels!! GROW UP PARENTS. Kids are having sex whether you like it or not. Time to pull your head out of your ass and teach them how to protect themselves. My mom told me that if I ever even thought about sex that she would put me on birth control. I thought about it, told her, and she drove me to Planned Parenthood. It was there that I learned how to use condoms, learned about the morning after pill, and was prescribed birth control pills. The thought never crossed my mind to turn into some big slut like most parents think girls will do if they are allowed birth control. I didn't even have sex for the first time until after being on birth control for over a year! It just made me feel better that I was safe and knew how to protect myself if the day did come, because it's usually not something that is planned. We need to stop with the abstinence crap because it is just unrealistic. Time to teach kids the truth!

Ira Herson
Ira Herson6 years ago

I cannot understand the reluctance of parents to teach basic sex education to their children or societies hesitation.

We live in a world where knowledge of consequences make a difference. Teaching sex education does not mean that you are condoning behaviour that is unacceptable. You teach your children not to put their hands in fire. This does not mean that you want them to start fires.

There are many reasons young adults (teenagers) want to have sex and many will. If they do not know or understand the risks of unsafe sex then unsafe things will happen.

I have three children all adult now. I and my partner taught them all about sex. We made sure that they understood the processes and risks . I also taught them about drugs, shopping and cooking. Personal hygiene and good study habits. Guess what? none of them are on drugs, pregnant or unemployed.

If you do not teach your children about the world in an honest way and give them respect then you will not prepare them for the problems that will face them and you will do them a disservice. Any parent that thinks sex education is a religious question and not simply biological is either stupid or crazy. Ethics and morals are also needed to be taught as all life lessons.

Give your kids the tools they need. It may be difficult but who said being a parent is easy?

Miranda Lyon
Miranda Lyon6 years ago

Our school district eliminated the high school nurse position as part of budget cuts. The school nurse had been extremely responsible in providing sex education to our student body. After she left, there was no formal program of sex education in place. The last year she was with us, there were 3 pregnancies in population of approximately 125 girls. The next year there were 14 in about the same overal population. The next year after that there were 23 in a school population of less than 100 girls. How hard is it to understand this?