Breaking Down Myths About Comprehensive Sex Ed

The following post was written by Julie, a Planned Parenthood Arizona intern and an Arizona State University student majoring in biological anthropology and women and gender studies. She has a passion for reproductive health, and hopes one day to pursue medical school and become a provider for an organization like Planned Parenthood.

Opponents of sex education take many forms. Some are large organizations with a broad mission of promoting conservative values, while others are small, local groups who work to establish abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in schools. They cite anything from “reversing the decline in moral values in our nation” to “restraining evil by exposing the works of darkness” as a mission statement, but they all share a common theme: the mischaracterization of sexuality education programs through inaccurate descriptions of research, and the use of fear tactics to promote their own agenda.

Below, you’ll find some of the common myths that opponents preach about comprehensive sexuality education, plus the research-based facts that debunk them.

Myth: Sex education only encourages teens to have more sex.

Fact: Evidence shows that teens who receive sexuality education wait longer to have sex and have fewer partners than teens who don’t. Young people going through puberty are naturally curious about their sexuality, especially when they’re bombarded with sexual imagery through TV, movies, and the Internet. Comprehensive sex education doesn’t pique their interest, it gives them the tools to understand and interpret the sexual messages they receive on a daily basis.

Myth: Premarital pregnancy and STD rates have skyrocketed since sex education began in the 1960s.

Fact: This is a blatant untruth that opponents of sexuality education can’t even back up with data. Teen pregnancy rates increased slightly in the mid-20th century, but CDC reports show that national averages have been on a steady decline since then. In fact, states that require comprehensive sex education in their classrooms have the lowest rates of teen pregnancy in the country. The numbers don’t lie — comprehensive sex ed works.

Myth: Sexuality education teaches kids how to have sex.

Fact: This one is so wrong it’s laughable on one hand, and insulting on the other. Comprehensive sex ed teaches about a broad range of topics, including human development, healthy relationships, and personal safety. It focuses on giving young people the information they need in order to make responsible and educated decisions, not sex techniques or tips. It’s a school curriculum, not an issue of Cosmopolitan magazine.

Myth: Supporters of sex education don’t care about young people or their morality; they just want all teens to have sex.

Fact: In fact, supporters of comprehensive sex education care immensely about young people. We want them to be able to avoid negative consequences of early sexual activity, and to help them to grow into sexually healthy and responsible adults. The fear and shame tactics utilized by abstinence-only-until-marriage programs are irresponsibly ineffective.

It’s time to stop cheating students out of education that they need to protect their health. Arguments used against comprehensive sex education don’t have any basis in data or researched facts — only in fear, misunderstanding, and stigma. The best way to invest in the health of the next generation will be to empower them with the resources that comprehensive education provides.

More tips on how to debunk myths and become an advocate for comprehensive sexuality education are available from Community Action Toolkit. You can find more information on the opposition to comprehensive sexuality education programs here.