Throughout history, we have not always had a world where we focused on intimate hygiene and the details of sexual activity. “Traditionally, in early American history, the home was the place where discussions of sex took place, and, even then, the conversations tended to be minimal, usually a mix of practical physiology and moral instruction, grounded in religious standards.” 1During the early 1900s, there were significant issues with men getting sexual diseases, leading to increased deaths. This led to increased conversations surrounding the importance of education about people’s bodies and how they function. However, over the decades, this transformed into sex education being implemented in schools, birth control being used for eugenic purposes, abortion conversations, and abstinence-based education. 

Comprehensive sex education is a progressive form of sex education that goes beyond the teachings of the past. “CSE (comprehensive sex education) entails a curriculum-driven teaching process about the physical, cognitive, emotional, and social aspects of sexuality. The core underlying factors are well-being, dignity, and respectful sexual and social relationships.”2 This means covering” topics like “what, when, and how” about intimacy and relationships, sexual identity, gender roles, body image, sexual decision-making, sexually transmitted infections (STI), reproductive health, and contraception.”2 CSE differs from abstinence-based education, which withholds certain truths about sex-related topics from children and focuses in a more avoidant way by teaching that sex should be avoided. ‘’Abstinence-only programs, also known as ‘sexual risk avoidance programs,’ teach that abstinence from sex is the only morally acceptable option for youth and the only safe and effective way to prevent unintended pregnancy and STIs.’’ 3Abstinence-based education generally does not discuss contraceptive methods or condoms unless it emphasizes their failure rates. 


Why Isn’t Comprehensive sex education the norm?

While many professionals prefer comprehensive sex education, it is not the primary teaching method. “According to the 2018 CDC School Health Profiles, fewer than half of high schools and less than a fifth of middle schools teach all 20 topics recommended by the CDC as essential components of sex education.”4Unfortunately, while it might be nice to view our school system as one without religious influence, that is not true. Religion has caused sexist beliefs about a women’s worth being related to her sex life and caused lesson plans to revolve around shaming people for wanting to explore their bodies. These programs also teach about “respect” and the fact that to respect yourself, you must protect your body from outside influences. Another cause is general conservatism. For years, it has been accepted to teach abstinence-based education, but since comprehensive sex education is a newer topic, there is much pushback. “Many conservatives cherish abstinence education…because it communicates the values of self-discipline and sexual abstinence until marriage, embraced as central virtues, particularly in the conservative Christian community.” 5Straying away from these traditional beliefs is controversial and sensitive to many. An additional reason for abstinence-based education that does not revolve around the views of many traditional people is that abstinence-based education is easier and more accessible for schools with fewer resources. To have comprehensive education, there needs to be enough funding for administrators to have oversight and provide resources. While this is a general thing throughout the United States, specifically in Chicago, “better-funded schools on the city’s north side are more likely to comply with the sex-ed guidelines than those on the south and west sides, areas largely populated by lower-income people of color.’’6 More impoverished “Schools are providing scant support to caregivers to enable them to talk to their kids about sexual health issues, leaving parents and guardians on their own to navigate these conversations.” 6 While funding is a valid reason for the lack of comprehensive sex ed, a culture around chastity and religious influence also has an impact. 


What effect has abstinence-based education had?

Many people argue that abstinence-based education does not help delay sexual activity at all. However, the majority is focused on how it affects students’ psychological state and how it withholds vital medical information from them.

A substantial effect is how this education makes the children feel about themselves. Through research, professionals have found that abstinence sex education relies on shame and scaring kids into not having sex. Many end up feeling worthless and ashamed for having sexual feelings or partaking in sex. “Purity culture teaches youth that their only value is their purity. If that fails, then they are essentially worthless, leaving youth indoctrinated into this culture with an immense hurdle of shame and low self-worth to overcome.” 7

The purity culture ingrained in abstinence-based education also leads to girls feeling like they cannot speak up about sexual violence because of thoughts surrounding blame and that even though they were violated, they also are still at fault and are “ruined.” It is essential to understand that this disproportionately affects girls because a massive part of the education is that teenage boys as inherently super sexual creatures and that women need to be mindful of this and act in ways that ensure the boys will not essentially pounce on them. “Because men are supposedly ruled by their hormones, abstinence-only programs also teach that women must act as the gatekeepers of these ‘uncontrollable’ male sexual impulses.” 8 This kind of language makes women out to be responsible for their behavior and creates an atmosphere for teenagers that allows sexual assault because it blames the victim instead of teaching young teens to control their urges and the importance of consent. So, the direct effect of shame can spiral into more serious situations in which young girls are scared to speak up about dangerous situations because of fear that they are to blame.’

Furthermore, since abstinence-only education teaches that kids should completely avoid sex, it does not comprehensively go into the importance and the nuances surrounding consent. In an age where rape and sexual assault are common, schools must educate on how to say no, withdraw consent, and engage in safe sexual relationships. The fact that “Only 8 states mandate their sex-ed courses to teach about consent.” is ridiculous and leads to “difficulty determining healthy boundaries and consent.” 9

In addition to being a colossal failure for heterosexual teens, federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, by definition, exclude LGBT teens. 10 Since abstinence-based education is conservative, it is unsurprising that LGBT teens are excluded. However, the effects of this are that these kids will not know what their own sexual experiences will look like and how to navigate relationships. This also leads to the feelings within these kids that there is something wrong with them, and it is telling them that they do not deserve proper sex education. Since “sexual minority (e.g., lesbian and bisexual) women reported engaging in sexual intercourse with a male partner earlier than their heterosexual peers.”, these groups must receive sex education with total honesty 11. LGBT teens also have higher rates of STIs, pregnancies, and HIV than heterosexual kids 12. Exposure to positive conversations revolving around their identities can make kids feel affirmed and accepted. 

“Research shows that when young people fail to receive high-quality, inclusive sex education, they are more likely to experience adverse sexual health outcomes, including sexually transmitted infections (STIs), unintended pregnancies, and sexual violence. 12This is because kids are not taught about all sex-related aspects, so they are more prone to avoidable mistakes.

Inadequate sex education also leads kids to turn to more informal sources of sex education. This can be in the form of watching porn to understand sex, but the problem with this is that porn is not realistic, and there are no restrictions on it, so kids can see a plethora of horrible content like incest and assault. Another informal source kids sometimes refer to is the internet, which is laden with bad advice and is not monitored, leading to negative outcomes.


Decisions about sex education are usually made at the state and local level — no federal laws dictate what sex education should look like or how it should be taught in schools. 13 So, for comprehensive sex education to be more widely accepted, state governments need to change the current requirements for sex education. However, individual schools can go beyond the requirements set by the states and take personal responsibility, but this can be hard to do without government assistance. All 50 states need to be creating their lesson requirements around what is in the comprehensive sex education curriculum. However, in the future, it would be great if a federal mandate required the CSE curriculum to be applied in all the states so there would be fewer decisions left to the states. Nevertheless, while we wait for that progress, some organizations are campaigning and advocating for better sex education. Some programs working hard to increase access to better sex education are Advocates for Youth, URGE: Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity, SIECUS: Sex Ed for Social Change, Healthy Teen Network, Planned Parenthood, and Power to Decide. 14

1.Huber, V. J., & Firmin, M. W. (2014). A history of sex education in the United States since 1900. International Journal of Educational Reform, 23(1), 25+.

2.Banerjee D, Rao TSS. Comprehensive Sex Education—Why Should We Care? Journal of Psychosexual Health. 2022;4(2):73-75. doi:10.1177/26318318221092076

3.Published: Jun 01, 2. (2018, June 01). Abstinence education programs: Definition, funding, and impact on Teen sexual behavior. Retrieved January 3, 2023, from

4.Parenthood, P. (n.d.). State of Sex Education in USA: Health education in schools. Retrieved January 2, 2023, from

5.What ‘abstinence (sex) education’ means to Liberals & Conservatives: Allsides red blue translator. (n.d.). Retrieved January 3, 2023, from,in%20the%20conservative%20Christian%20community.

6.Bader, E., Lauren Walker / Truthout; Adapted: Narisara Nami / Javier Zayas Photography / Getty Images, Eleanor J. BaderEleanor J. Bader is an award-winning journalist who writes about domestic social issues, Preston, C., Jogee, T., Conley, J., . . . Mullen, B. (2021, January 27). Most of US wants Sex Ed in schools. why isn’t it federally mandated and funded? Retrieved January 4, 2023, from

7.Leon, K. (2021, April 21). The shame of purity culture and abstinence-only sex education. Retrieved January 4, 2023, from

8.Kay, J. F., & Jackson, A. (2008). (rep.). Sex, Lies, and Stereotypes (pp. 19–27). New York, NY: Legal Momentum

9.How sex ed in the U.S. perpetuates rape culture. (2020, June 11). Retrieved January 6, 2023, from

10.”abstinence-only” education not A free pass for anti-gay discrimination: News & commentary. (2022, August 29). Retrieved January 9, 2023, from

11.Bodnar, K., & Tornello, S. L. (2019). Does Sex Education Help Everyone? Sex Education Exposure and Timing as Predictors of Sexual Health Among Lesbian, Bisexual, and Heterosexual Young Women. Journal of Educational & Psychological Consultation, 29(1), 8–26.

12.Yurcaba, J. (2020, October 13). Sex ed that excludes LGBTQ+ people is tied to worse health outcomes. Retrieved January 9, 2023, from

13.Parenthood, P. (n.d.). Sex education laws and state attacks. Retrieved January 9, 2023, from,should%20be%20taught%20in%20schools.

14.Diamondstein, M. (2022, January 16). Federal Bill would promote youth sex education in U.S. Retrieved January 9, 2023, from

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