Reproductive Health

Sex Education in the U.S.

2 min read

What is Sex Education?

When people think of sex education, they may think of a physical education teacher instructing high school students on how to put a condom on a banana. The sex education received in school can vary a lot based on where you live; it may only focus on abstinence (not having sex), or it may involve teaching healthy relationship communication, puberty, sexual orientation, STI prevention, consent, and contraception. 

There are three main sex education curricula* used in the United States: 

  • Comprehensive Sex Education teaches youth that sexuality is a healthy and normal part of the human experience. The program also teaches that abstience is the most effective way for teens to avoid unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases and infections. However, the curricula equips students with education and decision-making skills to allow them to make their own decisions about their sexual lives. 
  • Abstinence-Plus programs promote abstinence as the safest form of contraception, and also includes educational information about contraception and condoms. 
  • Abstinence-Only programs (or Sexual Risk Avoidance Programs) teach abstience as the only moral option for teenagers. It does not provide information on the use of contraception or condoms to prevent STIs, or unintended pregnancies. 

What is the history of Sex Education in the United States?

Abstienence only until marriage (AOUM) sex education was adopted by the United States government as a singluar approach to adolescent sexual and reproductive health in the 1990’s. 49 out of 50 states accepted the federal funds to promote AOUM in the classroom. A CDC study has proven that AOUM does not help reduce sexual risk behavior or improve health outcomes. 

39 states and D.C. require sex education and/or HIV education. Of those 39 states, only 18 require that sex and/or HIV education must be medically accurate. Here is a state-by-state breakdown of sex education in each state.

There are currently two federally-funded programs for evidence-based and medically accurate sexual education. The Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPPP) and the Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP). Both programs aim to prevent teen pregnancy and STIs by emphasizing contraceptives and abstinence. However, neither of these programs offer education about gender, sexuality, or healthy relationship communication. 

According to a study done on participants from a 2016-2017 curriculum, among those who participated in PREP 70% reported they were more likely to use birth control and 77% were more likely to use a condom after participating. 87% of the participants felt well-respected by the program, and a majority of them said that the program helped them prepare for adulthood. 

While there are many strides forward in educating students on their sexual health, there are still many improvements to be made. A majority of schools allow parents or guardians to exclude their children from sex education.  

The Benefits of Comprehensive Sex Education in the United States 

Comprehensive sex education covers a wide range of topics including relationships, communication and decision-making skills, sexual behavior, sexual health, and cultural aspects of sexuality and gender. 

Sexually transmitted infections or STIs are a major theme covered in comprehensive sexual education. While young people from the ages of 15 to 24 represent 25% of the sexually active population, they acquire half of all new STIs (about 10 million new cases per year). While the CDC analysis reveals the annual number of new STIs is roughly equal among genders, people with vaginas are more likely to experience long-term health complications from untreated STIs. 

Here at Twentyeight Health, we are passionate about providing free, medically accurate sexual and reproductive health content to anyone who needs it. No matter what sex education you received in school, we’re here to help you navigate your health. 

*Credit: Dickson, R. et. al. (updated, 2022) "Sex Education Statistics – The state of sexual education (+Dataset)". Accessed at

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If you are interested in learning more about your sexual health and reproductive options, please visit our Sex+ Health Guide here

With the participation of
Dr. Eddie Garcia

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