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Most Teens Receive Formal Sex Ed

Girls, Boys Receive Different Types of Information on Sex, Study Finds

By Denise Mann
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Sept 16, 2010 -- Nearly all teens get some formal sex education before they turn 18, but there are differences in what male and female teens are told and by whom, according to a new report released by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.

Ninety-seven percent of boys and girls received some type of sex education in schools or other places, such as a church or community center, before they turned 18, the new data show. Most of this sex education occurs during the middle school years (grades 6-8).

"More females than males have received formal instruction on how to say 'no' to sex, and more younger female teens than younger male teens have received instruction on birth control methods," study author Joyce Abma, PhD, a demographer at the National Center for Health Statistics in Hyattsville, MD, said during a podcast. "This could be reflecting society's regarding teen girls as needing to protect themselves more and prevent negative consequences."

Abma and colleagues culled data from the 2006-2008 National Survey of Family Growth to determine how many teens aged 15 to 19 years received formal sex education and whether they had talked to their parents about sex, birth control, and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

They found that younger girls are a bit more likely than younger males to discuss sex and birth control with parents, but this evens out with age. Male teens, however, were more likely than females to talk to their parents about condoms.

"It seems that parents are unaware of or missing important opportunities in sex-related conversations with their sons," says Kimberly Spector, an adolescent health educator in Los Angeles. "This may be because the perceived easiest and least awkward way to have 'the talk' with a teenage boy is to mumble something to the effect of 'If you're going to party, don't forget your party hat', while he is leaving for prom [or] it may be because parents are still subject to one of those age-old beliefs that dictates that responsibility in sexual matters falls primarily to the female, who can get pregnant."

Regardless of the reason, "it is equally important for parents to speak with their male and female adolescent children about more than just how to use a condom," she tells WebMD. "Just because a young male cannot carry a child does not mean he can't father one," she says.

It's not an easy conversation for anyone. "If parents can overcome feelings of fear and awkwardness that may thwart these conversations, and if they can get past assumptions about the adolescent male experience, they can have a valuable impact on their children's thinking."

SOURCES: Kimberly Spector, adolescent health educator, Los Angeles.Martinez, G, et al. NCHS Data Brief, 2010; vol 44: pp 1-8.CDC podcast with Joyce Abma.

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