Consequences of sex education on teen and young adult sexual behaviors and outcomes

J Adolesc Health. 2012 Oct;51(4):332-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2011.12.028. Epub 2012 Mar 7.


Purpose: This study examined whether formal sex education is associated with sexual health behaviors and outcomes using recent nationally representative survey data.

Methods: Data used were from 4,691 male and female individuals aged 15-24 years from the 2006-2008 National Survey of Family Growth. Weighted bivariate and multivariate analyses were conducted by gender, estimating the associations of sex education by type (only abstinence, abstinence and birth control, or neither) before first sexual intercourse, and sexual behaviors and outcomes.

Results: Receipt of sex education, regardless of type, was associated with delays in first sex for both genders, as compared with receiving no sex education. Respondents receiving instruction about abstinence and birth control were significantly more likely at first sex to use any contraception (odds ratio [OR] = 1.73, females; OR = 1.91, males) or a condom (OR = 1.69, females; OR = 1.90, males), and less likely to have an age-discrepant partner (OR = .67, females; OR = .48, males). Receipt of only abstinence education was not statistically distinguishable in most models from receipt of either both or neither topics. Among female subjects, condom use at first sex was significantly more likely among those receiving instruction in both topics as compared with only abstinence education. The associations between sex education and all longer-term outcomes were mediated by older age at first sex.

Conclusions: Sex education about abstinence and birth control was associated with healthier sexual behaviors and outcomes as compared with no instruction. The protective influence of sex education is not limited to if or when to have sex, but extends to issues of contraception, partner selection, and reproductive health outcomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Contraception Behavior / psychology
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Qualitative Research
  • Sex Education*
  • Sex Factors
  • Sexual Behavior*
  • United States
  • Young Adult