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J Sch Health. 1982 Dec;52(10):611-3.

Reduction of teenage pregnancy as a rationale for sex education: a position paper.


There is little doubt that the present level of interest in initiating sex education programs in the schools stems from the effort to reduce the teenage pregnancy rate. While one can hardly challenge the respectability of the goal to reduce teenage pregnancy, the writers take the view that the focus on reducing teenage pregnancy may be counter-productive to the establishment of effective sex education programs in school for the following reasons. 1. It promotes a narrow and incorrect understanding of human sexuality and sex education. 2. It creates misunderstanding of what constitutes a comprehensive sex education program. 3. Because the focus is on the junior/senior high youngster the assumption is left that sexuality occurs only between grades six and twelve. 4. It focuses primarily on the female and provides little education for the male. 5. It implies that the majority of teenagers want sex and not babies. 6. It implies that advocating sexual restraint is moralizing (and moralizing is bad) but teaching students that they should use contraceptives to avoid pregnancy is not moralizing. 7. The contraception approach presents human sexuality as a negative behavior because it conveys the impression that sex will get you into trouble if you do not know what to do.


The goal of reducing teenage pregnancy is a questionable basis on which to argue for or establish sex education programs in the schools. In fact, introducing sex education programs in the schools primarily for the purpose of reducing the teenage pregnancy rate may be counterproductive to the development and establishment of effective and sound sex education in the schools. Emphasis on the reduction of teenage pregnancy through sex education in the schools promotes a narrow and incorrect understanding of human sexuality. Such a focus leaves the impression that sexuality is primarily physical. The equally important mental-emotional and social aspects of human sexuality tend to receive secondary attention. Young people have concerns about their sexuality in addition to how not to get pregnant. They are concerned about how to deal with sex and sexuality in terms of human relationships and as an aspect of relating to others. Sex education specialists are aware that dispensing information about reproductive physiology and contraception constitutes a small fraction of an effective sex education program. Unfortunately, with the emphasis on birth control, parents begin to regard sex education as the teaching of teenagers, specifically girls, "how to do it and not get pregnant." Growing lack of parental and public support of so called sex education programs is easy to understand when reproductive physiology and pregnancy prevention become the instructional core and basis of such programs. Additionally, when the goal is on the reduction of teenage pregnancy, the instruction in sex education programs is limited almost exclusively to junior and senior high school students. This practice is in direct opposition to the philosophy that effective school sex education programs should start in the lower grades. Also, sex education based on reproductive physiology and contraception focuses primarily and almost totally on the female teenager's responsibility for preventing pregnancy. Some lip service is given to the male's role in contraception, but the 18th century assumption that the female is still basically responsible for becoming pregnant is promulgated. The focus on teenage pregnancy as the issue in sex education seems to imply that the majority, if not all, teenagers want sex but not babies. Finally, in the context of birth control instruction, sex takes on the connotation of basically a negative behavior. Unless school systems have a firmer rationale for sex education in the curriculum than dealing with the teenage pregnancy problem, sex education programs have little to recommend their inclusion in schools.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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