Teachers on Sex Ed

By Priscilla Pardini

With more and more sex ed teachers focusing on abstinence – often against their better judgment – many students are not receiving the kind of information those very teachers feel they need, according to research by the Alan Guttmacher Institute.

In 1988 just one teacher out of 50 taught that abstinence was the only way to avoid getting pregnant or acquiring a sexually transmitted disease. That compares to one out of four in 1999, according to surveys of teachers conducted by the institute and published in an article in Family Planning Perspectives in 2000. (More recent research by the institute estimates that about 35 percent of teachers follow an abstinence-only curriculum today.) Yet, despite the growing popularity of abstinence-only curricula, nine out of 10 sex education teachers say they believe students need to learn about contraception. Teachers surveyed in 1999 were less likely to teach a curriculum that included information on birth control, abortion, contraceptive services, treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, and sexual orientation than teachers polled in 1988. In 1988, for example, 87 percent of teachers “taught that condoms can be an effective means of preventing STDs and HIV for sexually active individuals.” That compares with 59 percent in 1999. One in four teachers reported being told not to teach about contraception; one in three said they did not teach about contraception because they feared “negative community reaction.”

Finally, according to researchers, many teachers teaching an abstinence-only sex education curriculum “did not appear to accept the notion that contraceptive use is unacceptable for young people.” For example, “Among teachers who instructed students that abstinence is the only means of avoiding pregnancy and STDs, four in 10 also taught that birth control can be effective in preventing pregnancy or that condoms can be effective in preventing HIV and other STDs.”