Adolescent Sexuality and Sex Education

Sexual development is an integral and important part of human development. Sexual health is an important component of health throughout the life-span. Sex education is a major component of comprehensive health education, the goal of which is to help children and adolescents become healthy adults with responsible health behaviors. “Family life education” often is considered to be a euphemism for “sex education,” however sex education is only one part, albeit a vital part of family life education. Family life education encompasses a broad range of topics that prepare young people for marriage, parenthood, and family responsibilities. Sex education often is approached with great anxiety and addressed in little detail in schools, in community programs, and even in the home.

There is a pervasive fear in the United States that sex education will promote adolescent sexual activity and increase the risk of pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and HIV infection among teenagers. Careful and objective scholarly research during the last two decades has shown that sex education does not increase rates of sexual activity among teenagers and does increase knowledge about sexual behavior and its consequences. It also increases prevention behaviors among those who are sexually active.

Young people are exposed to numerous influences upon their sexual attitudes and behaviors every day from the media, their peers, their parents, and other adults. Sex education/family life education is valuable in its ability to truthfully educate young people about sex and its risks, to provide them with knowledge to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy and STIs, including HIV infection. Young people must have accurate and sufficient information to make responsible choices and to become responsible adults. Teaching correct information about sexuality or any other topic in school does not prevent any parent from teaching and modeling values and expectations in the home, rather it should assist parents in providing opportunities for family communication. References on media and adolescent sexuality can be found in the Resource Guide: Children, Adolescents, and the Media on this site.

Fellows may be asked their opinion about sex education by patients who have adolescent children, by school personnel, or by community leaders. They may be invited to participate in the development, review, or revision of family life education programs, especially in the schools. ACOG long has supported comprehensive, age-appropriate sexuality education from Kindergarten through twelfth grade. ACOG encourages its members to advocate for and to participate in such education. ACOG’s Committee on Adolescent Health Care has created a document “Strategies for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention,” which describes effective programs and models, including several family life education curricula and includes an annotated guide to many resources.

The following resources are available from ACOG:

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Guidelines for Adolescent Health Care. Washington, DC:ACOG; 2011.

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You and your sexuality: especially for teens. ACOG Patient Education Pamphlet AP042. Washington, DC: ACOG; 2006.

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Primary and preventive health care for female adolescents. In: Tool kit for teen care. 2nd ed. Washington, DC: ACOG; 2009.

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Growing up: especially for teens. ACOG Patient Education Pamphlet AP041. Washington, DC: ACOG; 2007. 

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Guidelines for women's health care: a resource manual. 3rd ed. Washington, DC: ACOG; 2007.

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Adolescent sexuality: a presentation resource kit. 4th ed. Washington, DC: ACOG; 2006.

Addressing health risks of noncoital sexual activity. ACOG Committee Opinion No. 417. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Committee. Obstet Gynecol 2008;112:735-7. 

The resources listed below are for information purposes only.  Referral to these sources and sites does not imply the endorsement of ACOG.  Further, ACOG does not endorse any commercial products that may be advertised or available from these organizations or on these web sites. These lists are not meant to be comprehensive.  The exclusion of a source or site does not reflect the quality of that source or site.  Please note that sites and URLs are subject to change without notice.

Bay-Cheng LY. SexEd.com: values and norms in web-based sexuality education. J Sex Res 2001;38:241-51.

Bennett SE, Assefi NP. School-based teenage pregnancy prvention programs: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. J Adolesc Health 2005;36:72-81.

Bleakley A, Hennessy M, Fishbein M. Public opinion on sex education in US schools. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2006;160:1151-6.

Eisenberg ME, Bernat DH, Bearinger LH, Resnick MD. Support for comprehensive sexuality education: perspectives from parents of school-age youth. J Adolesc Health 2008;42:352-9.

Haffner DW. Facing facts. Sexual health for American adolescents. J Adolesc Health 1998;22:453-9.

Jemmott JB 3rd, Jemmott LS, Fong GT. Efficacy of a theory-based abstinence-only intervention over 24 months: a randomized controlled trial with young adolescents. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2010;164:152-9.

Kim CR, Free C. Recent evaluations of the peer-led approach in adolescent sexual health education: a systematic review. Perspect Sex Reprod Health 2008;40:144-51.

Kirby BD. Understanding what works and what doesn't in reducing adolescent sexual risk-taking. Fam Plann Perspect 2001;33:276-81.

Kirby D. Sexuality and sex education at home and school. Adolesc Med 1999;10:195-209, v.

Kirby DB, Laris BA, Rolleri LA. Sex and HIV education programs: their impact on sexual behaviors of young people throughout the world. J Adolesc Health 2007;40:206-17.

Kohler PK, Manhart LE, Lafferty WE. Abstinence-only and comprehensive sex education and the initiation of sexual activity and teen pregnancy. J Adolesc Health 2008;42:344-51.

Lindau ST, Tetteh AS, Kasza K, Gilliam M. What schools teach our patients about sex: content, quality, and influences on sex education. Obstet Gynecol 2008;111:256-66.

Meschke LL, Bartholomae S, Zentall SR. Adolescent sexuality and parent-adolescent processes: promoting healthy teen choices. J Adolesc Health 2002;31:264-79.

Monasterio E, Hwang LY, Shafer MA. Adolescent sexual health. Curr Probl Pediatr Adolesc Health Care 2007;37:302-25.

Mueller TE, Gavin LE, Kulkarni A. 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;42:89-96.

Ott MA, Santelli JS. Approaches to adolescent sexuality education. Adolesc Med State Art Rev 2007;18:558-70, viii.

Rosenbaum JE. Reborn a virgin: adolescents' retracting of virginity pledges and sexual histories. Am J Public Health 2006;96:1098-103.

Santelli J, Ott MA, Lyon M, Rogers J, Summers D. Abstinence-only education policies and programs: a position paper of the Society for Adolescent Medicine. J Adolesc Health 2006;38:83-7.

Santelli J, Ott MA, Lyon M, Rogers J, Summers D, Schleifer R. Abstinence and abstinence-only education: a review of U.S. policies and programs. J Adolesc Health 2006;38:72-81.

Schaalma HP, Abraham C, Gillmore MR, Kok G. Sex education as health promotion: what does it take? Arch Sex Behav 2004;33:259-69.

Sulak PJ, Herbelin S, Kuehl AL, Kuehl TJ. Analysis of knowledge and attitudes of adult groups before and after attending an educational presentation regarding adolescent sexual activity. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2005;193:1945-54.

Sulak PJ, Herbelin SJ, Fix DD, Kuehl TJ. Impact of an adolescent sex education program that was implemented by an academic medical center. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2006;195:78-84.

Thomas MH. Abstinence-based programs for prevention of adolescent pregnancies. A review. J Adolesc Health 2000;26:5-17.

Sexuality education for children and adolescents. American Academy of Pediatrics. Pediatrics 2001;108:498-502.

Wilson KL, Goodson P, Pruitt BE, Buhi E, Davis-Gunnels E. A review of 21 curricula for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. J Sch Health 2005;75:90-8.

BOOKS FOR ADULTS (PARENTS/PROFESSIONALS) - Books listed in this resource guide often may be found in university, secondary school, and/or public libraries along with similar books on this topic.

Bailey K, editor. Sex education. Detroit (MI): Greenhaven Press; 2005.

Coleman JC. Sex and your teenager: a parent’s guide. New York (NY): Wiley; 2001.

Gordon S, Gordon J. Raising a child responsibly in a sexually permissive world. 2nd ed. Avon (MA): Adams Media Corporation; 2000.

Haffner DW. Beyond the big talk: every parent’s guide to raising sexually healthy teens – from middle school to high school, and beyond. 2nd ed. New York (NY): Newmarket Press; 2008.

Luker K. When sex goes to school: warring views on sex--and sex education--since the sixties. New York (NY): Norton; 2006.

Marcovitz H. Teens and sex. Gallup youth survey: major issues and trends. Broomall (PA): Mason Crest Publishers; 2004.

Roleff TL, editor. Teenage sexuality: opposing viewpoints. San Diego (CA): Greenhaven Press; 2001.

Roffman DM. Sex and sensibility: the thinking parents guide to talking about sex. Cambridge (MA): Perseus; 2002.

Roleff TL, editor. Teen sex. San Diego (CA): Greenhaven Press; 2002.

Richardson J, Schuster MA. Everything you never wanted your kids to know about sex, (but were afraid they’d ask): the secrets to surviving your child’s sexual development from birth to the teens. New York (NY): Crown Publishers; 2003.

BOOKS FOR ADOLESCENTS

Younger – Preteen, Middle School

American Medical Association. Boy's guide to becoming a teen: getting used to life in your changing body. San Francisco (CA): Jossey-Bass; 2006.

American Medical Association. Girl's guide to becoming a teen: getting used to life in your changing body. San Francisco (CA): Jossey-Bass; 2006.

Harris RH. It’s perfectly normal: a book about changing bodies, growing up, sex and sexual health. 3rd ed. Somerville (MA): Candlewick Press; 2009.

Kemp K. Healthy sexuality. New York (NY): Franklin Watts; 2004.

Madaras L. The "what’s happening to my body?" book for boys. 3rd rev. ed. New York (NY): Newmarket Press; 2007.

Madaras L. The "what’s happening to my body?" book for girls. 3rd rev. ed. New York (NY): Newmarket Press; 2007.

Older – High School, Young Adult

Basso MJ. The underground guide to teenage sexuality: an essential handbook for today’s teens and parents. 2nd ed. Minneapolis (MN): Fairview Press; 2003.

Columbia University’s Health Education Program. The "Go Ask Alice" book of answers: a guide to good physical, sexual, and emotional health. New York (NY): Holt; 1998.

Gordon S. How can you tell if you’re really in love? A guide to finding your own voice. Holbrook (MA): Adams Media; 2001.

Holmes M, Hutchison T. Hang-ups, hook-ups, and holding out: stuff you need to know about your body, sex, and dating. Deerfield Beach (FL): Health Communications; 2007.

Hyde MO, Forsyth EH. Safe sex 101: an overview for teens. Minneapolis (MN): Twenty-First Century Books; 2006.

Kittleson MJ, editor. The truth about sexual behavior and unplanned pregnancy. New York (NY): Facts on File; 2005.

Pardes B. Doing it right: making smart, safe, and satisfying choices about sex. New York (NY): Simon Pulse; 2007.

Radziszewicz T. Ready or not? A girl’s guide to making her own decisions about dating, love, and sex. New York (NY): Walker; 2006.

Westheimer RK, Lehu PA. Dr. Ruth’s guide to teens and sex today: from social networking to friends with benefits. New York (NY): Teachers College Press; 2008.

ORGANIZATIONS/WEBSITES

Advocates for Youth
www.advocatesforyouth.org

Answer

Center for Applied Psychology

Rutgers University
http://answer.rutgers.edu
www.sexetc.org 

Guttmacher Institute
www.guttmacher.org

Healthy Teen Network
www.healthyteennetwork.org

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy
www.thenationalcampaign.org

Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS)
www.siecus.org

Educational materials for adolescents

ETR Associates
www.etr.org

Journeyworks Publishing
www.journeyworks.com

Websites for Adolescents

The Birds & Bees Project
www.birdsandbees.org

Center for Young Women’s Health
www.youngwomenshealth.org

GirlsHealth.gov
www.girlshealth.gov

Girls Incorporated
www.girlsinc.org/index.html

Go Ask Alice!
www.goaskalice.columbia.edu

Iwannaknow.org
www.iwannaknow.org

Planned Parenthood of the Southern Finger Lakes: SexTalk.org
www.sextalk.org

Contact:

Caitlin Phelps, MA
Director of Gynecology
cphelps@acog.org

Lyndona Charles
Special Assistant, Gynecology and Ethics
lcharles@acog.org