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Does Comprehensive Sex Education Affect Teen Pregnancy Rates?

Info: 2209 words (9 pages) Nursing Essay
Published: 11th Feb 2020

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Tagged: pregnancy

Statement of Problem

The United States has ranked first among other first world countries in rates of both teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. In order to reduce these rates, the U.S. government decided to develop and financially support abstinence only sex education programs  in schools for more than a decade around the country (Stranger-Hall, 2011). However, debates and discussions have continued to talk about suspicions of comprehensive sex education only increasing risks of teen pregnancy and STI’s. This current study proposes to replicate the findings of Laura Duberstein Lindberg, Ph.D., and Isaac Maddow-Zimet (2012) on whether comprehensive sex education is associated with positive sexual behaviors/decisions and outcomes. Formal sex education versus abstinent-only education with no birth control, and to also include adolescents who received neither, is said to be associated with lower teen pregnancy rates despite running concerns (Lindberg 2012).  

Justification for and Significance of the Study

Ensuring that children and teens receive formal and comprehensive sex education in school is essential in the successfulness of the future and the lives of young males and females. There are sixteen million girls between the age of 15-19 that give birth each year; the leading cause of death for this age group is complications of pregnancy, specifically from unsafe abortions (Morris n.d.). By further introducing comprehensive sex education into schools, it will reduce risky sexual behavior and positive contraceptive use (Vivancos 2012). Increasing sexual knowledge should decrease teen pregnancy and avoidable death.

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Problem-based-learning (PBL) is education that includes the complexities of the real world and are the conduit to promoting real student learning and principles (PBL, n.d.). Education conducted that continuously activates a student’s participation and independence to critically think is what makes PBL different than other teaching methods such as instruction based learning. It has been studied and seen that PBL has long-term learning effects on students whom are able to be engaged and can allow them to create their own ideas and discussions on an issue (Wirkala, 2011). America’s sex education is narrow, and conservative at best (Illes, 2012). Problem-based-learning can re-image how we teach sex education and create robust material for students to learn from. This allows them to ask the necessary questions and to critically think about their decisions when faced with inevitable sexual options in their life. Research has found that with comprehensive sex education given to students there is a high predictor behind birth control and other formal contraceptive use (Green 2017).

The term of sex education is a broad; it is used to define the education about human sexual anatomy, sexual reproduction, sexual intercourse, and healthy preventative measures behind STI’s and pregnancy. Although comprehensive sex education is still a major topic of controversy amongst Americans, each state still dictates how much their students will learn in school. This is in spite of the positive effect between teenage pregnancies and STI’s with abstinence based sex education (Stranger – Hall, 2011). Findings show that abstinence only sex education actually has no relation to the decrease of teen pregnancy and actually shows that it continually will increase percentages of teen pregnancy. Comprehensive sex education has more of a positive long-term effect on the likelihood of safe sex during first intercourse and lower rates of teen pregnancy (Lindberg, 2012).

The United States abstinence only until marriage policies and programs are not effective. They violate adolescent rights, stigmatize or exclude many youth, and reinforce harmful gender stereotypes (Santelli, 2017). Adolescent sexual and reproductive health advancement should be based solely on empirical evidence and understanding, public health principles, and basic human rights. Also, empowering males and females and giving the attention to gender issues improves the outcome of teen pregnancy (Haberland 2014).  It is important to continue to move away from abstinence only education and provide a more engaging and encouraging manner of teaching about sex.

Several variables are present when discussing comprehensive sex education. It is seen that gender, race, socioeconomic status, and residence can have effects when looking at statistics. Specifically, when looking at increased odds of teen pregnancy it is see that it was correlated with a lower socioeconomic status, urban area and African American race.  It was found that when adjusted for all the variables that it was due to a lower level of sex education than those who received comprehensive sex education (Kohler 2007). It difficult to test this hypothesis in a lab setting. However, through research there have been multiple studies done that show the positive effects between children who receive higher levels of comprehensive sex education significantly affecting lower rates of teen pregnancy.




Students attending University of Rhode Island and taking a General Psychology class during the times of 8am and 4pm are going to answer a 44-question survey (PLOS, website). Students from this class will be randomly assigned to take this survey for an extra credit grade from their professor. Demographics will be collected to ensure that the population is representative based on race, age, gender and education. These students can be offered extra credit for taking the survey but otherwise there will be no compensation.

Study Design

The survey is from Explore PLOS called “Knowledge, Attitude and Practice Questionnaire about Contraception and Reproductive Health of University” that has been altered by revising questions to be geared towards American college students. Students from this class will be randomly assigned to take this. This questionnaire is online and available for the public, however, the specific one to be used for this study will have been altered and made additions to therefore the one formatted from will only be available. The questionnaire is generally short and should be completed in only 20 minutes. These questions ask overall knowledge of sexual anatomy and contraceptives/STI’s, contraceptive use during first sexual encounter, and unintended pregnancy. At the end of the survey, a question asking about the amount of sex education had in school growing up will be put in.

Independent and Dependent Variable

This study will be conducted as a correlational study. There will be three levels of educations that will include comprehensive sex education (level 3), abstinence only sex education (level 2) and no education at all (level 3) which are all answers on the survey given to the participants. Sex education will include any suggestions or teachings that talk about physical and verbal sexual acts along with options of avoidance of STI’s/teen pregnancy. Level 3 Comprehensive Education will include answers that participants have been taught on birth control/condoms/STI’s and consequences of unprotected sex regardless if abstinent-only sex was mentioned. Level 2 Abstinence only sex education are participants whose answer and define themselves as only being told to abstain from any sexual intercourse to avoid teen pregnancy/STI’s. Level 1 no education at all will serve as an empty control group and these are answers that have received neither formal education about sex or abstinence only sex education.

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Based on levels of education, the answers on the survey will look at how well the participants know about sexual anatomy and contraceptives/STI’s, the type of contraceptive used, if any, during initial sexual encounter, and if they occurred an unintended pregnancy. Questions based on knowledge will have an answer key for the best fitting answer and will look at only if they answered the questions correctly or not regardless of the specific answer given. When analyzing answers about contraceptive types, it will be regarded between a healthy and successful preventative way of pregnancy/STI i.e., birth control, condom and not the “pull out” or no method at all. Lastly, if an unintended pregnancy happened or not. This would be pregnancies when engaging in sexual intercourse prior, there are no plans or intentions of procreating with sexual partner.

Participants whom have a higher level of education more likely will answer all questions correctly, have used an effective contraceptive use during initial sexual encounter and would be unlikely to incur an unintended pregnancy.  Therefore, it would suggest that if the participant had better knowledge and used contraceptives, their rate of for pregnancy would decrease as would other participants.


 Based on the study, an ANOVA would be conducted and also Cronbach’s alpha will found. Using these tests, I expect to find a strong correlation between the highest level of sex education and those individuals whom were able to answer all questions correctly, used a healthy contraceptive during first sexual intercourse and had no unintended pregnancy that occurred.


  • *Explore PLOS. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://journals.plos.org/
  • *Green, J., Oman, R. F., Vesely, S. K., Cheney, M., & Carroll, L. (2017). Beyond the effects of comprehensive sexuality education: the significant prospective effects of youth assets on contraceptive behaviors. Journal of Adolescent Health, 61(6), 678-684. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2017.06.021
  • *Haberland, N., & Rogow, D. (2015). sexuality education: emerging trends in evidence and practice. Journal of Adolescent Health,56(1). doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2014.08.013
  • *Illes, J. (2012). Young sexual citizens: reimagining sex education as an essential form of civic engagement. Sex Education,12(5), 613-625. doi:10.1080/14681811.2011.634152
  • *Kohler, P. K., Manhart, L. E., & Lafferty, W. E. (2008). Abstinence-only and comprehensive sex education and the initiation of sexual activity and teen pregnancy. Journal of Adolescent Health,42(4), 344-351. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2007.08.026
  • *Lindberg, L., & Maddow-Zimet, I. (2012). 23. Consequences of sex education on teen and young adult sexual behaviors and outcomes. Journal of Adolescent Health, 50(2). doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2011.10.086
  • *Morris, J. L., & Rushwan, H. (2015). Adolescent sexual and reproductive health: The global challenges. International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics, 131. doi:10.1016/j.ijgo.2015.02.006
  • *Problem-based learning (PBL). (n.d.). A Guide to Teaching Information Literacy, 217-219. doi:10.29085/9781856048767.085
  • *Santelli M.D., M.P.H, J. S. (2017). Abstinence-only-until-marriage policies and programs: an updated position paper of the society for adolescent health and medicine. Journal of Adolescent Health,61(3), 400-403. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2017.06.001
  • *Stanger-Hall KF, Hall DW (2011) Abstinence-only education and teen pregnancy rates: why we need comprehensive sex education in the u.s. PLoS ONE 6(10): e24658. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0024658
  • *Vivancos, R., Abubakar, I., Phillips-Howard, P., & Hunter, P. (2013). School-based sex education is associated with reduced risky sexual behaviour and sexually transmitted infections in young adults. Public Health, 127(1), 53-57. doi:10.1016/j.puhe.2012.09.016
  • *Wirkala, C., & Kuhn, D. (2011). Problem-based learning in k–12 education. American Educational Research Journal, 48(5), 1157-1186. doi:10.3102/0002831211419491



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