The association between sex education and youth's engagement in sexual intercourse, age at first intercourse, and birth control use at first sex

J Adolesc Health. 2008 Jan;42(1):89-96. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2007.08.002. Epub 2007 Nov 7.


Purpose: Sex education is intended to provide youth with the information and skills needed to make healthy and informed decisions about sex. This study examined whether exposure to formal sex education is associated with three sexual behaviors: ever had sexual intercourse, age at first episode of sexual intercourse, and use of birth control at first intercourse.

Methods: Data used were from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth, a nationally representative survey. The sample included 2019 never-married males and females aged 15-19 years. Bivariate and multivariate analyses were conducted using SUDAAN. Interactions among subgroups were also explored.

Results: Receiving sex education was associated with not having had sexual intercourse among males (OR = .42, 95% CI = .25-.69) and postponing sexual intercourse until age 15 among both females (OR = .41, 95% CI = .21-.77) and males (OR = .29, 95% CI = .17-.48). Males attending school who had received sex education were also more likely to use birth control the first time they had sexual intercourse (OR = 2.77, 95% CI = 1.13-6.81); however, no associations were found among females between receipt of sex education and birth control use. These patterns varied among sociodemographic subgroups.

Conclusions: Formal sex education may effectively reduce adolescent sexual risk behaviors when provided before sexual initiation. Sex education was found to be particularly important for subgroups that are traditionally at high risk for early initiation of sex and for contracting sexually transmitted diseases.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Coitus / psychology*
  • Contraception / psychology
  • Contraception / statistics & numerical data*
  • Contraception Behavior / psychology
  • Contraception Behavior / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Health Promotion / methods
  • Health Promotion / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Odds Ratio
  • Program Evaluation
  • Risk-Taking
  • Sex Distribution
  • Sex Education / statistics & numerical data*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States