February 5, 2008

Comprehensive Sex Education in Illinois Not All That

One-third of all sex education teachers in Illinois are not providing comprehensive instruction, according to a new study.

The survey by researchers from the University of Chicago Medical Center appears in the February 2008 issue of the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology (here’s the abstract). Among the findings: 30 percent of the state’s sex-education teachers had never received sex-education training. The national average is 18 percent.

“For this study, we set the bar for comprehensiveness fairly low relative to what most medical and public health organizations recommend,” said senior author Stacy Tessler Lindau, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology and medicine at the University of Chicago, “and one out of three programs failed to clear it.”

“Our children learn many of the skills they need to be healthy citizens and to take responsibility for their own health in school,” she said. “That should include information about sexual aspects of health. Physicians who care for adolescents need to know what students are, or are not learning, in school in order to fill gaps caused by deficits in program content, quality and teacher training.”

The survey of 335 sex education teachers in 201 public middle and high schools was was funded by the Illinois Campaign for Responsible Sex Education, a project of the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health and Planned Parenthood Chicago Area. The survey found that seven percent of the schools did not off any sex education. Here are some of the curriculum details from those that do:

The most frequently taught topics, covered by 96 percent of teachers, were HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Almost 90 percent of teachers covered abstinence. Among those who taught abstinence, 57 percent emphasized that it was the “best alternative,” 39 percent said it was the “only alternative,” and four percent described it as “one alternative.”

Practical skills — such as contraception, condom use, decision-making and communicating with a partner — and morally debated topics, such as abortion or sexual orientation, were among the least frequently taught. Teachers who had not received sex-education training were less likely to spend time on practical or morally debated topics.

Of the 17 topics, emergency contraception was mentioned least, taught by only 30 percent of teachers. Only 32 percent of teachers brought up homosexuality or sexual orientation, 34 percent taught how to use condoms, 37 percent taught how to use other forms of birth control, 39 percent discussed abortion and 47 percent taught students where to access contraception and sexual-health services.

The most common reason for omitting a topic was “not part of the curriculum.” Those who omitted condom use, however, most often cited “school or district policy.”


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