When Should Sex Education Be Taught?

  • As it stands now, the average age of first sex is around 17, a number that indicates teens are waiting longer to have sex. Puberty begins much earlier, on average at 10.5 for girls and between 11.5 and 12 for boys,[1] while sexual development begins at birth. When it comes to sex education,the earlier, the better.

    Sex education for young adolescents looks vastly different for that of adolescents  yet it is just as necessary . A recent study from Georgetown concludes that sex education for “very young adolescents” aged 10-14 “is imperative to lay foundations for future health relationships and positive [sexual and reproductive health].”[2] Sex education among young adolescents is useful because they are still developing their sexual and gender identity.

    Beyond this benefit, beginning sex education earlier ensures that young adolescents will receive the information they need to protect themselves from STIs and unintended pregnancy before they begin experimenting sexually. That is not currently the case, with a majority of teen females reporting that they did not receive sex education until after their first intercourse.[3] The study did not ask about other sexual activities but it would be an educated conclusion that it therefore did not capture the true percentage of individuals who engaged in sexual behaviors of some sort before their sex education class.

    Waiting until after teens have begun sexual activity also means that prevention messages may not be as effective. This is partially due to the fact that  young adolescents process risks differently than adults. Specifically, they use more primitive parts of their brain as compared to those devoted to reasoning, planning and complex thought. As a result, prevention messaging after the initiation of sex may be a moot point. If the teen hasn’t gotten a disease or pregnant yet, then they must be safe.

    Taken together, this leads to one conclusion: sex education should coincide with individuals’ sexual development and age. It can begin as early as pre-school by teaching the proper names for body parts, respect for “yes means yes,” and the rules about touching one’s own genitals as a private activity. By being age-appropriate and medically accurate, such comprehensive sex education will decrease sexual risk taking, sexual shame, and sexual and reproductive health problems.

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    [1] Adkins, D. (2013). When is puberty too early? Duke Medicine. http://www.dukemedicine.org/blog/when-puberty-too-early

    [1] Igras, S. M., Maciera, M., Murphy, E., & Lundgren, R. (2014). Investing in very young adoelscents’ sexual and reproductive health. Global Public Health: An International Journal for Research, Policy, and Practice, 9(5): 555-569

    [1] Cox, S., Pazol, K., Warner, L., Romero, L., Spitz, A., Gavin, L., & Barfield, W. (2014). Vital Signs: Births to Teens Aged 15-17 Years – United States, 1991-2012. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly, 63.

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