Current state of sex education in the United States

Almost all students in the U.S. receive some form of sex education at least once between grades 7 and 12; many schools begin addressing some topics as early as grades 4 or 5. However, what students learn varies widely, because curriculum decisions are so decentralized. Many states have laws governing what is taught in sex education classes or allowing parents to opt out. Some state laws leave curriculum decisions to individual school districts.

For example, a 1999 study by the Guttmacher Institute found that most U.S. sex education courses in grades 7 through 12 cover puberty, HIV, STDs, abstinence, implications of teenage pregnancy, and how to resist peer pressure. Other studied topics, such as methods of birth control and infection prevention, sexual orientation, sexual abuse, and factual and ethical information about abortion, varied more widely.

There have been numerous studies on the effectiveness of both approaches, and conflicting data on American public opinion. Public opinion polls conducted over the years have found that the majority of Americans favor broader sex education programs over those that teach only abstinence, although abstinence educators recently published poll data with the opposite conclusion. The poll sponsored by the National Abstinence Education Association and conducted by Zogby International found that:

    When parents become aware of what abstinence education vs. comprehensive sex education actually teaches, support for abstinence programs jumps from 40% to 60%, while support for comprehensive programs drops from 50% to 30%. This sharp increase in support of abstinence education is seen across all political and economic groups. The majority of parents reject the so-called "comprehensive" sex education approach, which focuses on promoting and demonstrating contraceptive use. Sixty-six percent of parents think that the importance of the "wait to have sex" message ends up being lost when programs demonstrate and encourage the use of contraception.

Experts at University of California, San Francisco also encourage sex educators to include oral sex and emotional concerns as part of their curriculum. Their findings also support earlier studies that conclude:

    ...that sexual risk-taking should be considered from a dynamic relationship perspective, rather than solely from a traditional disease-model perspective. Prevention programs rarely discuss adolescents’ social and emotional concerns regarding sex....Discussion about potential negative consequences, such as experiencing guilt or feeling used by one's partner, may lead some adolescents to delay the onset of sexual behavior until they feel more sure of the strength of their relationship with a partner and more comfortable with the idea of becoming sexually active. Identification of common negative social and emotional consequences of having sex may also be useful in screening for adolescents at risk of experiencing more-serious adverse outcomes after having sex.

However, according to a 2004 NPR survey, a majority of the 1001 parent groups polled wanted complete sex education in the schools. Respondents were relatively undivided over the issue. Over 80% of polled parents agreed with the statement "Sex education in school makes it easier for me to talk to my child about sexual issues", and under 17% agreed with the statement that their children were being exposed to "subjects I don't think my child should be discussing". Additionally 90% believed that their children’s sexual education was “not too early”. The study also reports that 49% of the respondents were "somewhat confident" that the values taught in their children's sexual education classes were similar to those taught at home, and 23% were somewhat less confident.

On September 15, 2010, The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta released a government report that found that "almost all U.S. teens have had formal sex education, but only about two-thirds have been taught about birth control methods." Many teenagers are reportedly not absorbing the sex education lessons. The report from CDC is based on face-to-face interviews with nearly 2,800 teenagers in their homes from 2006 through 2008.


Federal Funding for Sex Education Programs 2011
In 2010, Congress eliminated two federal programs that had been funding abstinence-only education; the Adolescent Family Life (AFL) Prevention program and the Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) program; $13 million and $99 million a year, respectively for a total of $112 million a year.

That same year, two new evidenced-based sex education programs were initiated; the Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP), and the Teen Pregnancy Prevention (TPP) initiative; $55 million and $100 million, respectively, for a total of $155 million a year.

Funding for Title V, Section 510 abstinence-only education had expired in 2009, but was reinstated by a provision in the 2010 health care reform law by Senator Orrin Hatch. Although this funding stands at $50 million a year, only $33 million seems to have actually been awarded.