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Sex Ed Now Nearly Universal for Teen Boys

Document date: September 26, 2000
Released online: September 26, 2000
Contact: Susan Brown (202) 261-5702
  Renu Shukla (202) 261-5278

WASHINGTON, D.C., September 26, 2000—Nearly all teenage boys—98 percent—now report receiving formal education about sex or HIV, and 70 percent report receiving such instruction before ever having sexual intercourse, according to a new Urban Institute study. But the study reveals that while nearly all African-American and Hispanic teen boys report receiving sex or HIV education at some point, they are far less likely than their white peers to report receiving such instruction before ever having sexual intercourse.

The study, based largely on analysis of the National Survey of Adolescent Males (NSAM), also shows that teen boys are receiving sex education on average a year younger than in 1988. Comparison with comparable survey data from girls shows that teenage males were less likely than teenage girls to report receiving reproductive health education before ever having sexual intercourse.

"These findings come on the heels of recent trends toward less sexual activity and increased condom use among teenage boys," notes Lindberg, co-author of "Adolescents' Reports of Reproductive Health Education, 1988 and 1995," in the September/October issue of Family Planning Perspectives, released today. "They add to a growing body of evidence that sex education does not necessarily encourage sexual activity."

The analysis, written by Urban Institute researchers Laura Duberstein Lindberg, Freya Sonenstein, and Leighton Ku, is based on data from the 1988 and 1995 NSAM and the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), which surveyed females. The NSAM, covering boys ages 15 to 19, asked teen boys whether they had ever received formal instruction in school or in an organized program in topics concerning AIDS, other sexually transmitted diseases, birth control, how to say no to sex, and, in 1995, how to put on a condom.

Key Findings

  • More teenage boys report getting formal sex or HIV education, on average at a younger age. Between 1988 and 1995, the share of teenage boys who received some formal sex education grew from 93 percent to 98 percent. The share of who received instruction about AIDS grew from 73 percent to 97 percent. The share that was taught how to say no to sex grew from 58 percent to 75 percent. The median age at which teenage boys had their first sex-education class dropped by one year, from age 14 to age 13.
  • Some groups of teenage boys lack access to formal sex education. Teenage boys who had dropped out of school reported receiving much less sex education than those who had stayed in school. Sexually experienced Hispanic or African-American teenage boys are less likely to have had such instruction before ever having sexual intercourse than were their white peers. In 1995, while 76 percent of white teenage boys report having had sex education before ever having sexual intercourse, the share was 68 percent for Hispanic teenage boys and only 54 percent for African-American teenage boys.
  • Teenage boys get less sex education than teenage girls about certain topics and are less likely to receive that education before ever having sexual intercourse. In 1995, teenage boys ages 15 to 17 were much less likely than girls of that age to report having instruction about birth control, STDs, and how to say no to sex. Teenage boys were much less likely than teenage girls to report receiving sex education before ever having sexual intercourse—about half of teen boys compared to three-quarters of teen girls.
  • Despite the increased provision of formal sex or HIV education, communication between teenage boys and parents about these topics has remained fairly stable. In both 1988 and 1995, about three-quarters of young men reported ever having spoken with their parents about either AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, birth control, or what would happen if their partner became pregnant.

Study Limitations

The authors note that since the surveys rely on self-reports of teenage males, there may be some biases or measurement error in young men's recollections of what they were taught and their categorization of the topic of instruction they received. Nevertheless, what teenage boys remember about sex education may be more of an influence on their behavior than an external measure of the curriculum, according to the authors.

Next Steps

In the September/October issue of Family Planning Perspectives, another article reports on a survey of teachers that shows that since 1995, many schools have shifted toward instruction about abstinence and away from instruction about the use of contraception or condoms. While little is known about the impact of such a trend on teen behavior, research indicates that comprehensive sex and HIV education—that includes encouragement of youth to delay having sex and to use condoms responsively if already sexually active-can reduce sexual risk-taking among youth.

"It is important to understand how sex and HIV education is changing for America's students," concludes Lindberg. "The nation's educators continue to have an important obligation to provide the best and safest information and should try to reduce differences in access to appropriate education by race, gender, and school attendance."


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