“Comprehensive sex education” is a vague term. It’s often used in opposition with “abstinence-only,” but that only means that, at a baseline, it includes information about contraception and sexually transmitted diseases. What would it mean to be truly “comprehensive?” Well, in the beginning, there were single-celled organisms …
The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States says “Comprehensive sex education includes age-appropriate, medically accurate information on a broad set of topics related to sexuality including human development, relationships, decision-making, abstinence, contraception, and disease prevention.”
In a new study, Nicole Haberland, a senior associate at the Population Council, makes the case that “comprehensive” should include gender and power dynamics. The study, published in International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, reviewed evaluations of 22 sex-education programs for adolescents and young adults, comparing how effective they were in reducing pregnancy and STIs.
Ten of the programs had at least one lesson on gender and power, and 80 percent of them saw significant decreases in pregnancy or STIs compared with a control group. Of the 12 programs that did not address these issues, 17 percent led to those positive outcomes. Teaching about power and gender roles was a consistent predictor of better health outcomes, even when Haberland accounted for other variables like sample size and whether the studies were longitudinal.