Abstinence Only Versus Comprehensive Sexual Education Programs

From UBC Wiki

Types of Sexual Education

Sexual education in schools comes in many different forms. Abstinence only sexual education programs are those that focus on teaching adolescents to avoid having sex all together. Comprehensive sexual education is a different form of education, which focuses on teaching adolescents how to practice safe sex by providing students with the information they need to make their better decisions. [1]

Abstinence Only

Abstinence only programs do not discuss contraception or relationships and often rely on scare tactics to divert teens from participating in sexual interactions. Many places in the world practice this form of sexual education due to religious beliefs, or beliefs that only through abstinence can they protect their child. Many people believe that it should be the job of the parents to discuss sexuality with their children, but unfortunately this rarely happens. [2] Research shows that abstinence only sexual education does not decrease the amount of sex that is had by adolescents. Teens who receive abstinence only sexual education do not only lack the information to make informed decisions regarding sex, but also lack insight into healthy relationships, and maintaining a healthy body. In addition to these problems with abstinence only programs, these programs generally define ‘sex’ as an act that occurs between a female and a male and involves penetration of the penis into the vagina. Not only does this definition exclude a huge number of individuals who partake in sex in differing ways, but this also leaves students with the impression that other forms of sex do not ‘count’ as loosing ones virginity. Although participating in activities such as anal sex can be safe, there is more risk involved with such a practice. A problem therefore arises when adolescents who have never learned about contraceptives, sexually transmitted infections, or sexuality proceed to have anal intercourse. [1]

Comprehensive Sexual Education

Although the following is what comprehensive sexual education aims for, this section refers to the goals of comprehensive sexual education, not necessarily what every program does.

Comprehensive sexual education delves into discussions of gender, sexuality, relationships, sex, sexual orientation, gender diversity, issues of choice, contraceptives, anatomy, and so much more. [3] [4] This form of sexual education works to empower adolescents by providing them with the information they need to make their own decisions. Research has shown that comprehensive sexual education leads to a higher rate of contraceptive use, which substantially decreases the number of unwanted and teenage pregnancies that occur. [3] Through teaching adolescents about sex and all concepts related to sex, these teenagers are far more likely to have a healthy sex life. While many people are concerned that these methods will increase sexual activity in adolescents, the research shows that that is in fact false. Not only does this form of education empower individuals with knowledge, it also instills a sense of responsibility in both females and males [5] .

Sexual Education On The Main Stage

Although many individuals believe that a child’s parents should be the only people to teach their child about sexuality, the general population agrees with the aims of comprehensive sexual education. This public opinion can be seen by President Barack Obama’s removal of funding towards abstinence only education in the United States in his 2017 budget for the country. This decision was made largely due to the fact that there is no proof revealing that abstinence only sexual education works to delay initiation of intercourse or decrease numbers of teenage pregnancies.[6]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Levay, S., Baldwin, J., & Baldwin, J. (2015). Discovering human sexuality (Third ed.). Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates Inc.
  2. Herrman, J. W., Solano, P., Stotz, L., & McDuffie, M. J. (2013). Comprehensive sexuality education: A historical and comparative analysis of public opinion. American Journal of Sexuality Education, 8(3), 140-159. doi:10.1080/15546128.2013.828342.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Bennett, S. E. (01). School-based teenage pregnancy prevention programs: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Adolescent Health, 36(1), 72; 72-81; 81.
  4. Schulkind, J. (05). Sex and relationship education should be statutory. The Lancet (British Edition), 385(9982), 2042; 2042-2043; 2043.
  5. Mabray, D., & LaBauve, B. J. (2002). A multidimensional approach to sexual education. Sex Education, 2(1), 31-44. doi:10.1080/14681810220133604.
  6. Women in the world staff. (2016). President Obama cuts funding for all abstinence-only sex education. New York Times.