Teen Sex Ed Taught Mostly by Schools, Families, Study Shows

Filed under: In The News, Sex, Research Reveals: Teens

teens sex ed

Girls are more likely than boys to be exposed to information about hormonal birth control. Source: Getty

Ask most parents, and they'll agree it's crucial kids receive accurate, trusted information about sexual issues.

But while you might assume teens are getting their sex ed from "Jersey Shore" reruns or naughty online sites, schools and family are the most common and trusted sources when it comes to contraceptive and sexual health information.

According to a study published this week in the Journal of Adolescent Research, a majority of teens will have sex by age 18, putting them at risk for unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Previous research reveals the main sources of sexual health information to be school, friends and parents -- with media, romantic partners, health care providers, siblings and the Internet also playing a role. But previous studies only paint a partial picture, the researchers say.

The results of this study were based on interviews conducted in 2008 with 58 high school juniors and seniors recruited from three racially and ethnically diverse public high schools of different sizes -- one in Indiana and two in New York City -- each of which had a very different approach to sex education.

Overall, most of the teens interviewed said they had been exposed to information about contraception at school, from family members and from friends -- which is consistent with previous studies. Strikingly, less than one-third of teens said they had received some type of contraceptive information from a doctor, according to the findings.

Nearly all of the students exposed to a comprehensive sex education program said they received information about contraception at school. Meanwhile, at the schools with less extensive sex education, teens recalled much more superficial information.

Many students said they were dissatisfied with the information they received at school.

"I think that they should really cover things like birth control because they don't really say a lot about that," a 17-year-old girl from Indiana (who was a virgin) told the researchers. "They say use a condom, pretty much. And I think they should use more talk about birth control; say what kind of options are available and what are the side effects and risks to the person taking them."

Most of the teens said they trust the information they receive at school because teachers have fact-based knowledge or expertise about sexual health and are responsible for educating teens.

Only a few students said they had not received any information at school about condoms, birth control or safe sex.

Most teens said they received contraceptive information from family members, but there were gender differences. Girls were more likely to receive information about hormonal methods, while boys most commonly received superficial information about condoms in what the authors refer to as "safe sex sound bites."

"Well, um, my dad told me one time to be careful, and my mom basically said the same thing in a different way. So they basically know, but, just only be careful, basically," a 19-year-old boy from a New York school (who was sexually experienced) told the researchers.

Most teens had discussed contraception with their friends, and said contraception is promoted and encouraged among friends. Many boys said their friends advocated using condoms or used condoms themselves. However, the teens said they were skeptical of at least some of the sexual health information they got from friends.

Asian girls were more likely than girls of any other race or ethnicity to say they had not received any contraceptive information from family members; they were also less likely to discuss sexual issues with their friends.

The researchers also found:

  • Slightly more than one-third had talked with a boyfriend or girlfriend about contraception.
  • More than one-third said they were exposed to contraceptive messages in television and movies, but most commonly as part of a storyline and not as a source of new information.
  • Books and magazines were seen as sources of factual information about contraceptive information; girls reported this more often, citing magazines like CosmoGirl and Seventeen.
  • Only slightly more than one-third said they had been exposed to contraceptive information on the Internet, and they were more likely to distrust than trust the information found online.
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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.