The Blog

Why Sex Ed Is a Matter of Public Health

We don't need studies to tell us that people who don't understand how to prevent pregnancy end up either as underage parents or abortion statistics. The key to reducing the need for abortions is reducing the number of pregnancies.
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I've been tweeting about recent national news that HIV has reached a crisis in one county in Indiana, and that Texas just voted to divert HIV prevention funds to pay for abstinence-only education. One of the points I've hammered home is that the ultimate cost of refusing to teach youngsters the facts about sex translates into the spread of STDs.

A few critics have questioned why I link HIV in addicts (the HIV crisis in Indiana is probably a result of shared needles rather than sexual contact) to sex education. On the surface perhaps they do sound different to people who themselves haven't had a comprehensive sex education. To sexologists, though, the links between any number of social problems and the lack of evidence-based sex education are glaringly obvious.

Here are just two ways in which the absence of comprehensive sex education impacts public health in America.

1. This is an STD pandemic in the United States.

According to the 2013 CDC STD overview, new infections are pandemic.

STDs are a significant health challenge facing the United States. CDC estimates that nearly 20 million new sexually transmitted infections occur every year in this country, half among young people ages 15-24, accounting for almost $16 billion in health care costs. Each of these infections is a potential threat to an individual's immediate and long-term health and well-being. In addition to increasing a person's risk for acquiring and transmitting HIV infection, STDs can lead to severe reproductive health complications, such as infertility and ectopic pregnancy.

No comprehensive sex ed = no reliable information on how STDs are transmitted and no understanding of how to prevent them. This includes all the drug addicts who, without proper education, may think of HIV as a "gay disease," or otherwise not understand the risk of being exposed to another person's blood.

Failure to teach safe sex is literally leaving the public at risk of destroying their lives and their fertility. Failure to teach kids about condom use, and what they can and cannot protect you from (condoms will not prevent HPV; on the other hand, they will prevent HIV, etc.) adds to the problem. Failure to educate is currently responsible for an unprecedented spike in new syphilis infections as well.

Meanwhile, for the cold-hearted, you can also boil this down to big, big numbers because the amount of money the U.S. spends to treat STDs and their potentially tragic outcomes (infertility, cancers, blindness, and death to mention a few) is a multiple of the $16 billion mentioned above by the CDC.

2. Unwanted pregnancies are linked to lack of comprehensive sex ed.

Researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle found that teenagers who received some type of comprehensive sex education were 60 percent less likely to get pregnant or get someone else pregnant. And in 2007, a federal report showed that abstinence-only programs had "no impacts on rates of sexual abstinence." ... Additionally, research shows that abstinence-only strategies could deter contraceptive use among teenagers, thus increasing their risk of unintended pregnancy

We don't need studies to tell us that people who don't understand how to prevent pregnancy end up either as underage parents or abortion statistics. The key to reducing the need for abortions is reducing the number of pregnancies. It's oddly simple: teach your kids how to use contraceptives and most of them will choose to avoid getting pregnant.

Abstinence doesn't work. Even Evangelical Christians have premarital sex at the same rate as non-religious Americans. Meanwhile, abstinence programs have been shown to increase unwanted pregnancy rates. States which offer comprehensive sex ed see a decline in teen pregnancy. Yes, strange but true: it's sexual conservatism that drives up the abortion rates and underage pregnancy, not liberal thinking.


I could spend the rest of my life explaining the public health crisis engendered by anti-sex ideology. (That's why I write books, so I don't have to bore you here.) Whether it's the anti-sexual reasons circumcision became enshrined in American pediatric medicine, the overuse of episiotomy in childbirth, the lack of post-natal sexual health care for new moms, or the billion-dollar industries of charlatans and quacks who offer wrongful therapy, phony pills and other snake oils to Americans desperate for sexual remedies, the lack of sex ed leads to misery for adults. It's almost as if politicians deliberately keep the general public ignorant so that pharmo-religious forces can keep raking in the profits for treating problems that would not exist in the first place if the public was better educated.

What really kills me is this: people who oppose sex ed do so largely because they think sex itself is shameful, embarrassing, and irrelevant to "the way things should be." They can't accept that humans are much products of biology as intellect or spirituality.

Don't be a tragic sex statistic. Educate yourself and educate your kids on the realities of sex -- that includes not just how to prevent bad or unwanted things, but also how to enjoy the gifts of joy and satisfaction our bodies can provide when we engage in safe, consensual, healthy sex. You can start by reading one of my books.