17

Nicole Cushman claims in Vice:

"[P]arents seem to be under the impression that teaching this information was going to encourage the kids to go out and have sex."

"We know from decades of research that that's simply not true," she says. "The more we can arm young people with information, the more likely they will wait to have sex."

I know that studies show that accurate Sex Ed - unlike other programs such as abstinence-only - reduces pregnancy and STD rates, but I am not aware of any studies showing that it also increases the time young people will wait to have sex.

I could only find one relevant link (which is currently offline). The preview claims that:

Researcher Douglas Kirby for the National Campaign to End Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy examined studies of prevention programs which had a strong experimental design and used appropriate analysis. Two-thirds of the 48 comprehensive sex ed programs studied had positive effects.

  • 40 percent delayed sexual initiation, reduced the number of sexual partners, or increased condom or contraceptive use.
  • 30 percent reduced the frequency of sex, including a return to abstinence.
  • 60 percent reduced unprotected sex.

It cites: Kirby D. “Sex and HIV Programs: Their Impact on Sexual Behaviors of Young People Throughout the World.” Journal of Adolescent Health 40 (2007) : 206-217.

Does comprehensive Sex Ed increase the time young people wait to have sex, and/or reduce the frequency with which they have sex?

16

That article by Kirby et al. is freely available via ReseachGate. It seems to be the only major metastudy to address the question. Quoting from the abstract:

This paper reviews 83 studies that measure the impact of curriculum-based sex and HIV education programs on sexual behavior and mediating factors among youth under 25 years anywhere in the world... The evidence is strong that programs do not hasten or increase sexual behavior but, instead, some programs delay or decrease sexual behaviors or increase condom or contraceptive use.

On page 210, there is a helpful data table. It shows that among all the programs examined worldwide, 22 of them (42% of those studied) delayed initiation of first sex while 29 of them had no effect. Twenty-nine percent (just under 30%) of them (9 out of 31 relevant programs) reduced frequency of sex, and 35% (12 out of 31) reduced the number of partners. In both cases, most of the others had no effect.

I only found one relevant and freely available study published more recently than this meta-analysis, with consistent results:

Abstinence-only education did not reduce the likelihood of engaging in vaginal intercourse... but comprehensive sex education was marginally associated with a lower likelihood of reporting having engaged in vaginal intercourse...

Returning to the original quote from Vice, notice that the last phrase ("the more likely they will wait to have sex") is more of a prediction than a statement of fact, so it is inherently debatable. But overall, the quote is supported by the best available evidence.

  • Yeah, I wish people would avoid characterizing outcomes that are described by scientists as "marginally associated." That pretty much guarantees the claims will be overstated. – PoloHoleSet Apr 24 '17 at 16:21
  • I haven't dug enough to say this with confidence, but it could be that the claims aren't so much overstated as just vague. Some individual studies show a more-than-marginal effect, and so some programs may be very effective, but it depends on what kind of programs. – Brian Z Apr 24 '17 at 17:47
  • My comment was more a generalized one, vs specific to sex ed. Anything that gets mentioned, including if they find there was more of x than y, but the difference was not significant, will get cited as meaningful by people with an agenda. Those words ("marginally associated") should mean "leave it alone" to any policy advocates trying to glean meaning or ammunition for their positions. But it doesn't, and that dumbs-down the discourse, sadly. – PoloHoleSet Apr 24 '17 at 17:51
  • Point taken. I think the confusion comes from the fact that there are two fundamentally different agendas here. Public health experts what to reduce disease, early pregnancy and the risky behaviors that cause them. Their conservative critics want to reduce sexual activity in general. These are two different things. – Brian Z Apr 24 '17 at 18:06
  • In any case, good answer. +1 – PoloHoleSet Apr 24 '17 at 18:29

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