Does sex education lead to earlier or increased sexual activity in youth?
In light of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, this literature review of 19 studies examined sexual behavior of high school and/or college students who have received sexual education (i.e., age at first intercourse or levels of sexual activity). 15 studies were conducted in the US. One study compared the US with other countries. The three remaining studies were conducted in Mexico, Thailand, and Denmark. None of the studies indicated that sexual education contributed to earlier or increased sexual activity in youth. Six studies suggested that sexual education either caused a delay in the onset of sexual activity or a reduction in overall sexual activity. Two studies found that access to counseling and family planning services did not lead to earlier or increased sexual activity. Sexually active youth in 10 studies adopted safer sex practices after attending sexual education. The most effective school programs promoted both delay in sexual intercourse and protected sex when youth are sexually active. They were most effective when provided before youth become sexually active and when they focused on skills and social norms rather than knowledge. Public information campaigns on HIV/AIDS had no effect on age at first intercourse and did not increase sexual activity in youth. They did effect a large increase in use of condoms and of contraception. More research is needed to learn if school-based sex education has consistent effects across cultures.