REALity March 2019

The Evidence on the Effects of Sex Education Curriculums

An authoritative review of research by the US research organization, the Institute for Research and Evaluation, was carried out on the effectiveness of sex education curriculums.  These curriculums were sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and a US government project called, Teen Pregnancy Prevention.

This review consisted of examining sex education studies spanning three decades.  It reviewed a total of 103 studies of school–based sex education studies, including 60 US studies and 43 non-US studies.  This review evaluated the outcomes of the curriculums according to a meaningful criteria of effectiveness for the 12 months after the operation of the programs.  The criteria covered key areas of abstinence, condom use (especially consistent condom use), pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STD) for teen populations.

The Key Findings

  1. The reviews of the 103 school-based sex education studies indicated that only six produced evidence of effectiveness. Only one of these six studies was by an independent evaluator (not the program’s developer) and the result of these six studies has not been replicated.
  1. The failure rate of the sex education programs in the key areas was 87%.
  1. In 16 studies (16%) there were 22 instances of harmful effects of the programs, such as increased sexually risky behaviour, STDs or pregnancy.
  1. One of the 103 studies did find a reduction in teen pregnancy, one found a reduction in STDs, but these results have not been replicated.
  1. There was no effectiveness found in increasing condom use.


This review of sex education outcomes has produced a different pattern of evidence than is typically reported.  This may be due to the fact that the claims that sex education curriculums have been effective were due to the fact that these studies employed lax definitions of effectiveness.

The review of three decades of research indicates that comprehensive sex education has not been an effective public health strategy in schools around the world.  In fact, it has been shown to be far more a failure than a success, and has produced a number of harmful results.

Why Sex Education Curriculums Fail and Why They Are Harmful

Although supporters of a sex education program may be well intentioned, the reality is they do not offer a solution to sexual harm, such as the exploitation of teenagers.  On the contrary, the programs fail to develop in students the capacity to differentiate between genuine affection and love, and sexual exploitation because these programs teach that there are no absolute sexual norms, and that all forms of sexual behaviour, provided there is mutual consent, are normal and to be expected.

These programs also create in young people the expectation that they will have a series of casual sexual relationships because serial sexual activity is portrayed as a normal part of growing up, that is relatively harmless, as long as it is consensual.

Consequently, young people have no adequate criteria to help them choose among competing lifestyles. As a result, their choices are arbitrary, based on their whims, thoughts and feelings of the moment.  That is, when all sexual alternatives are presented as being of equal value, young people find it difficult to perceive the different moral indications and social consequences of various lifestyles.  Also, these sex education programs obscure the fact that sexuality has genuine significance, and ought to be a part of a unique relationship between married spouses.

Finally, because the school-based sex education programs are presented as “objective”, they tend to use explicit sexual material which violates young people’s moral and natural modesty.  Such programs deprive them of a natural innocence, including freedom from sexual thoughts, images, desires and behaviours.  They also undermine students’ natural awareness that sexuality is personal, individual, and intimate.  In short, the programs encourage a promiscuous lifestyle, thus making it more difficult for young people to resist sexual abuse, and resist impulses.