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Changes in Sexuality Education from 1988-1999

October 13, 2000

A note from TheBody.com: Since this article was written, the HIV pandemic has changed, as has our understanding of HIV/AIDS and its treatment. As a result, parts of this article may be outdated. Please keep this in mind, and be sure to visit other parts of our site for more recent information!

A study in the current issue of Family Planning Perspectives, compares findings from surveys of 7th through 12th grade public school teachers responsible for the school subjects that typically include sexuality education.

Data was collected from a nationally representative sample of 3,754 teachers of grades 7 through 12 in 1999. Results were compared with findings from a comparable national survey conducted in 1988. The samples for both surveys were drawn from teachers of biology, health education, family or consumer science, and physical education. School nurses were also included.

Overall Findings

  • An estimated 81,000 teachers and school nurses taught sexuality education in grades 7 through 12 during the 1999 school year. Of these, 30% were health education teachers and 28% were physical education teachers.
  • Similarly, in 1988, 57% of all sexuality education instructors were health education or physical education teachers.

Topics Covered

  • In 1999, 95% of teachers taught information about STDs compared to 82% in 1988.
  • In 1999, 95% of teachers taught abstinence from intercourse compared to 89% of teachers in 1988.
  • In both 1999 and 1988, 94% of teachers taught how HIV is transmitted.
  • In 1999, 51% of teachers taught sexual orientation compared to 69% in 1988.

Skills/Concepts Covered

  • In 1999, 95% of teachers taught sexual abstinence as a form of STD/HIV prevention compared to 91% of teachers in 1988.
  • In 1999, 91% of teachers taught about possible negative consequences of sexual intercourse for teenagers compared to 86% of teachers in 1988.
  • In 1999, 59% of teachers taught their students the names of clinics or other specific sources of help compared to 65% of teachers in 1988.
  • In 1999, 78% of teachers taught use of condoms as a form of STD/HIV prevention compared to 89% of teachers in 1988.
  • In 1999, 60% of teachers taught how individual birth control methods work compared to 71% of teachers in 1988.
  • In 1999, 33% of teachers taught the proper use of a condom by using printed materials, films, or demonstrations compared to 37% of teachers in 1988.
  • In 1999, 31% of teachers showed actual birth control devices to their students compared to 34% of teachers in 1988.

What Teachers Think Should Be Taught

  • In 1999, 90% of teachers surveyed felt that abstinence from intercourse should be taught in grade seven and 99% in grade 12. In contrast, in 1988, 79% felt this should be taught in grade seven and 97% in grade 12.
  • In 1999, 51% of teachers surveyed felt that birth control methods should be taught in grade seven and 93% in grade 12. In contrast, in 1988, 57% felt this should be taught in grade seven and 99% in grade 12.
  • In 1999, 40% of teachers surveyed felt that sexual orientation should be taught in grade seven and 79% in grade 12. In contrast, in 1988, 54% felt this should be taught in grade seven and 95% in grade 12.

Most Important Topic

  • In 1999, 41% of teachers cited abstinence as the most important message they wanted to convey to their students compared to 25% of teachers in 1988.
  • In 1999, 21% of teachers cited responsibility as the most important message they wanted to convey to their students compared to 38% in 1988.

The findings suggest that steep declines occurred between 1988 and 1999 in teacher support for coverage of many topics including: birth control, abortion, information on obtaining contraceptive and STD services, and sexual orientation. Moreover, the proportion of teachers actually addressing these topics also declined.

The authors conclude that many of the changes that occurred between 1988 and 1999 reflect the increasingly strong promotion of abstinence as the only appropriate option for adolescents. The authors note that while some abstinence instruction also covers birth control and condoms as effective methods of prevention, many students are not receiving accurate information on these topics.

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For more information:

J. E. Darroch, et al., "Changing Emphases on Sexuality Education in U.S. Public Secondary Schools, 1988-1999," Family Planning Perspectives, 32 (5), pp. 204-11, 265.

A note from TheBody.com: Since this article was written, the HIV pandemic has changed, as has our understanding of HIV/AIDS and its treatment. As a result, parts of this article may be outdated. Please keep this in mind, and be sure to visit other parts of our site for more recent information!



  
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This article was provided by Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. It is a part of the publication SHOP Talk: School Health Opportunities and Progress Bulletin.
 
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