|Comprehensive Sex Education and Academic Success|
Effective Programs Foster Student Achievement
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Several recent studies have shown that healthy teens generally do better in school than their less healthy peers.[1,2,3,4] Teens may have little control over some factors – such as chronic illness – that may contribute to their poor health and difficulties in school. However, when armed with acc rate information and skills, teens can eliminate or minimize other factors that threaten their success in school. In particular, health education including comprehensive sex education provides adoles- cents with the information and skills they need to avoid many health risks, including unintended or unwanted pregnancy as well as most sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV.
HealtH and academic acHievement are linked
Sexual riSk taking and itS conSequenceS can affect StudentS’ Performance at ScHool
Forty-six percent of high school students report ever having had sex, and thirty-four percent report being currently sexually active. Sexual intimacy is a part of many students’ lives. But students who do not use contraception consistently and correctly face serious health risks—and therefore, serious academic risks.
HealtH diSParitieS are interrelated and Have a devaStating effect on academic Performance
It is well known that students with lower socio-economic status as a whole have lower academic performance. Research has found that poor health may be a major cause for this outcome.
HealtH ProgramS, including HealtH education, can HelP reduce HealtH diSParitieS and aSSiSt YoutH to Succeed in ScHool
Studies have repeatedly found that health programs in school help young people succeed. The most effective strategy is a strategic and coordinated approach to health that includes family and community involvement, school health services, a healthy school environment, and health education.[3,5,14]
comPreHenSive Sex education ProtectS Student HealtH
Evaluations of comprehensive sex education programs show that these programs can help youth delay onset of sexual activity, reduce the frequency of sexual activity, reduce the number of sexual partners, and increase condom and contraceptive use.[17,18,19]
The evidence shows youth who receive comprehensive sex education are NOT more likely to become sexually active, increase sexual activity, or experience negative sexual health outcomes. Effective programs exist for youth from a variety of racial, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds.[17,18,19]
Researchers studied the National Survey of Family Growth to determine the impact of sexuality education on youth sexual risk-taking for young people ages 15-19, and found that teens who received comprehensive sex education were 50 percent less likely to experience pregnancy than those who received abstinence-only education.
Conversely, abstinence-only programs have not been proven effective at lowering teen pregnancy or STI rates, increasing young people’s knowledge, or even helping them remain abstinent. A congressionally mandated study of four popular abstinence-only programs by the Mathematica found that they were entirely ineffective. Students who participated in the programs were no more likely to abstain from sex than other students and no better protected from teen pregnancy, STIs, and HIV.
Providing comPreHenSive Sex education HelPS StudentS acHieve academic SucceSS
Schools have a vested interest in keeping students healthy: by doing so, they help students get higher grades and attain their academic goals. Students who are involved in pregnancy or experience STIs or HIV face major obstacles to academic success, but schools have the opportunity to help students avoid these barriers to success. Comprehensive sex education helps students protect their sexual health and avoid these negative outcomes. By providing comprehensive sex education programs, schools support student health and foster their academic achievement.
Written by Emily Bridges, MLS, and Sue Alford, MLS Advocates for Youth © August 2010
1. CDC. Sexual Risk Behaviors and Academic Achievement. Atlanta, GA: CDC, (2010); http://www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/ health_and_academics/pdf/sexual_risk_behaviors.pdf; last accessed 5/23/2010.
2. CDC. Health-Risk Behaviors and Academic Achievement; Atlanta, GA: CDC, (2010); http://www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/ health_and_academics/pdf/health_risk_behaviors.pdf; last accessed 5/23/2010.
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11. CDC. STD Surveillance, 2008 Atlanta, GA: Author, 2009
12. Costello, Keeler, & Angold, 2001; National Center for Education Statistics, 2007
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14. Society of State Directors of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. Making the connection: Health and student achievement.* [ppt 5.2MB].
15. Murray NG, Low BJ, Hollis C, Cross AW, Davis SM. Coordinated school health programs and academic achievement: A systematic review of the literature. Journal of School Health 2007;77(9):589–600.
16. Dilley J. Research Review: School-Based Health Interven- tions and Academic Achievement. Washington State Board of Health, 2009. http://here.doh.wa.gov/materials/research-review-school-based-health-interventions-and-academic-achievement/12_HealthAcademic_E09L.pdf
17. Alford S, Bridges E, Gonzalez T, et al. Science and Success: Sex Education and Other Programs that Work to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, HIV & Sexually Transmitted Infections. 2nd ed. Washington, DC: Advocates for Youth, 2008; http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/storage/advfy/documents/sciencesuccess.pdf; last accessed 5/23/2010.
18. Kirby D. Emerging Answers 2007: Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Washington, DC: National Campaign to Prevent Teen & Unplanned Pregnancy, 2007; http://www. thenationalcampaign.org/EA2007/EA2007_full.pdf; last accessed 5/23/2007.
19. Advocates for Youth. Comprehensive Sex Education: Research and Results [The Facts] 2009; http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/storage/advfy/documents/fscse.pdf; last accessed 5/23/2010.
20. Kohler et al. “Abstinence-only and Comprehensive Sex Education and the Initiation of Sexual Activity and Teen Pregnancy.” Journal of Adolescent Health, 42(4): 344-351.
21. Trenholm et al. Impacts of Four Title V, Section 510 Abstinence Education Programs. Princeton: Mathematica Policy Research, 2007. Accessed from http://www.mathematicampr.com/publications/PDFs/impactabstinence.pdf on July 15, 2009.