Young People Need, Demand Sex Education

It’s about time we make the well-being
of our young people more important than ideology and politics. 
As a country, we benefit from investing in their future by investing
in teen pregnancy prevention.  Our youth deserve the opportunity
to complete their high school and college education, free of early parenthood.
Their future children deserve the opportunity to grow up in financially
and emotionally stable homes.  Our communities benefit from healthy,
productive, well-prepared young people. 

We can make a difference by advocating
for effective sex education. The Title V funding for abstinence-only
programs is up for reauthorization by Congress. Since 1982, the US government
has allocated $3.6
to abstinence only-until-marriage
programs and has received a dismal return on its investment.  And
not surprisingly – these programs have very little evidence of effectiveness. Mathematica Policy Research conducted a national evaluation of abstinence-only
programs and its findings show abstinence-only programs have no
beneficial impact on whether young people abstain from sex, delay sexual
activity, or reduce the number of sexual partners.  This lack of
evidence demands we take a different approach to sexual health education. 
The US has the highest teen birth rate of all industrialized nations
at 41.9 per 1,000 girls age 15-19.  By comparison,
the next closest country is the United Kingdom at 26.7 per 1,000. 

In my home state of Georgia, the state
government has received $22.4 million in federal funding for abstinence-only
programs over the last two years. Georgia’s spending on abstinence-only
programs is two times the amount of funds just approved by the state
legislature for funding teen centers, which provide critical services
including prevention education, counseling, and services for sexually
active youth.   

In the face of an aggressive abstinence-only industry, three students in Savannah, GA fight to resist five more years of government funding for these ineffective programs in their public schools. A teacher of abstinence education for twenty years admits in an on camera interview that comprehensive sex education would be a better way to combat some of the highest teen birth rates in the country.

Georgia ranks 10th
in teen birth
rates at 54.2 per 1,000 girls age 15-19.  Georgia is 2nd
in repeat pregnancies, 6th in chlamydia, 5th in
gonorrhea, 3rd in syphilis and 9th in AIDS cases. 
All told, abstinence-only education, as a program to safeguard young
people from high-risk behavior that leads to unintended outcomes, has
failed miserably.  The persistent status of Georgia among the top
10 worst states for reproductive and sexual health outcomes in teens
illustrates the shortcomings of a policy that insists on teaching abstinence-only-until-marriage as the core sex education strategy.    

In 1995, when Georgia had the highest
teen pregnancy rate in the US, I founded The Georgia Campaign for Adolescent
Pregnancy Prevention (G-CAPP).  G-CAPP brings together community and
school leaders, health officials, and students to advocate for age appropriate,
evidence-based sex education curricula within local schools and federal
policy to fund comprehensive sex education programs.   

Our young people are clamoring for
sex education. Time and time again, we hear from high school students
saying the sex education they receive is inadequate
, it comes too late,
and it does not teach them the skills they need to act responsibly.   

In Savannah, Georgia, where the teen
pregnancy rates are more than double the US rates, three teens are fighting
to replace the harmful abstinence-only-until marriage program "Choosing
the Best" in their school district with comprehensive sex education.
They are rightfully concerned that their school district has signed
on for five more years of the same ineffective curriculum.  

G-CAPP is working with 30 youth from
around the state to get their voices heard. The Georgia Student Youth
Leadership Council (SYLC) is a group of dynamic young people who are
actively engaged in mobilizing other youth advocates to bring attention
to the need for better sex education. Our work is part of a collective
movement in the Southeast region, which has the highest rate of teen
pregnancy.  In Mississippi, the House adopted HB 808 which would require comprehensive sex education
to be taught in grades K through 12.  The bill died in the Senate,
but a major victory nonetheless.  In North Carolina, HB 88 would require schools to offer both abstinence-only
and comprehensive sex education giving parents the ability to decide
which program their child would participate in.  The bill is expected
to go before the House for a vote. In Texas, a recent  report showing the ineffectiveness of abstinence-only
programs stated "our schools are failing Texas families by turning
out generations of sexually illiterate young people at a time of high
rates of teen pregnancy and STDs." In Florida, SIECUS released a
similar report

The past administrations have wasted
opportunities to use our government resources to teach our young people
how to make good decisions about their health. It is time to we advocate
for policies and programs capable of addressing the root causes of adolescent
pregnancy and teach our young people the skills they need to live healthy,
productive lives. Our future depends on it. 

Right now we have a great opportunity
to ensure that our government use our resources wisely, by asking Congress
to zero out Title V funding and support the REAL
. This act will allow
states to receive funding to implement effective sex education programs
that give our young people the tools to make informed decisions about
their well-being and build healthy relationships. I know our young people
will be prepared to stand up and speak out, will you?

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

For more information or to schedule an interview with contact

  • invalid-0

    Great commentary and very much on target. And while I applaud Ms. Fonda’s involvement, support, and leadership on improving the lives of young people and future adults for so many years, it should be realized that programs like G-CAPP, while doing good work, have limitations in implementation, reach, and impact. Comprehensive sexuality education is a term that is rarely well-defined, and it’s successful delivery even more elusive, dependent on many factors unrecognized or ignored by federal and NGO ‘experts.’

    There is still a tremendous amount of work, innovation, and change in deeming data-spouters/researchers/ivory-tower perspectives as experts in this field, and move towards different models used by actual education practitioners who have been successful.

    In the meantime, we still use and recommend the resource, “The Underground Guide to Teenage Sexuality,” for teens, parents, teachers, schools, churches, community programs, to learn and teach from.

    Ms. Fonda is right – today, right now, is our opportunity to make great gains in raising healthy teens into healthy adulthood.

  • invalid-0

    Thank you Jane for your battle, women are taught that if they talk about sex you are a “bad girl”,or nasty or its against God’s will for you to educate yourself about your body. Let a man do it, he can control your emotions and give
    you all the information on how to contact diseases and make
    you a baby momma, or help you feel less than because you
    do not know where your clitoris is or you are afraid to say the word vagina.

    A standing ovation to you Jane, Oprah,Dr. Berman,and Patty Brisben, along with many other women around the world are trying to give women a wake up on sexual education. We are so out of control with teenage pregnacy,sexual diseases. abortions, low self esteem, the desire to be married at a certain age. We are taught that we can not talk about sex to eachother because we might learn somthing and become sexually independent. Oprah and Dr. Berman talked about educating a 10 year old about her body,when her mother did not know the proper converstation to use to educate her.
    The reaction from Gail and some of the parents were its too early.Have you looked at the tv programs, cartoons, movies, mall posters at certain stores, sex is everywhere. When is it alright to say we need to know more so that we can make the right decisions for ourselves? If it were not for women the population would be zero, why not educate ourselves and we can educate others and not assume that men are our educators? We are beautiful it does not take a man, Steve Harvey, to write a book(eventhough the book is wonderful)
    to give us all hope.Just look two generations back at your great-grandmother, what has she told you and your mother? What has your mother told you?
    What are you going to tell your son or daughter? We need
    education, to try and make the right decisions. Then,we can understand the entire picture on how wonderful it is to be a woman.

  • invalid-0

    Jane is right. Studies say that abstinence education does not prevent teen pregnancy. On the other hand, there are no studies showing that sex education and availability of birth control lower the rate of these pregnancies.

    The truth is that most of these pregnancies are not accidents. Teens are exercising their right to “choose.” The reasons so many choose to have children are complex, and need to be studied. In Gloucester, MA where 17 girls had a “pregnancy pact,” many talked of “unconditional love.”

    In the meantime we should honor their choices, and help them be good parents. Pregnancy is not a disorder.

  • invalid-0


    Actually, we do have studies showing how comprehensive does work, lots of studies. Please do some research before stating all these girls are getting pregnant on purpose. Well, how come Europe has extremely low rates of teenage pregnancy? Is it because the teenagers are different over there? Or is it because they are given comprehensive sex education and know that condoms are extremely effective; unlike the education about condoms given to American kids. Teenagers are gonna have sex if they want to, as they should, WE need to give them the education to keep themselves safe and not make a stupid decision. A stupid decision is to have unprotected sex, not just to have sex! Europe teaches it kids well and we ought to follow their example!

  • invalid-0

    Jane is right on the money in challenging us in no uncertain terms to educate young people so that they can make decisions (active ones) to enhance their well-being and relationships. As sex has been made into the consummate commodity, the avoidance dimension of their education–yes, condoms, yes, disease and pregnancy prevention–is only half the story they need. Care and connection are fundamental parts of sexuality, as well as are sexual rights, dignity and respect. Neither the Internet nor most well-meaning efforts at sex education that reject abstinence-only ideology are providing the safe space for them to learn these crucial lessons. It’s time to remake how we educate young people about sexuality. And the opportunity and time is now.

  • invalid-0


    It’s with interest that this plea has arrived. Currently I’m in the process of selecting 5 students to be considered for two scholarships. Every one of the hundreds of applicants in some manner refer to being moral, being responsible, and being a help to society. Our school system offers comprehensive sex education (not abstinence alone)which opens the door for meaningful discussion, a platform to ask quesitons from qualifed teachers, and relieves unnecessary fears that only teens can think of. What is the worry about telling the truth about our bodies to our most precious resources, our teens!?

    Adults have notions or fears or embarrassments that teens do not! And if teens do, then it is with care and guidance that we help them face these fears and embarrassments. Not by living with “our” heads in the sand while they become infected with venereal diseases or become pregnant.

    Let’s get with it; be open and wise and instructive. We all need goals, guidelines, and perimeters in life; and sex is part of life.

    Let’s make it our goal to offer sex education to every child beginning in middle school. And parents, there are lovely books to read when your child is quite young.

    This is what my father told me when I first menstruated: Marylou, I want to tell you how a baby is made, because I don’t want you to come home and say “Daddy ‘So and so’ showed me how to make a baby.” I can still see me and my father having that most special conversation when I was 11 years old. He made me feel so special and grown up telling me that I was now capable of having a baby, and that I needed to care for my body and not let anyone touch it until I was married. I neither felt embarrassed nor confused. He told me all that I questioned, then; and later on when I had more questions. There was no sex education in the 50s when I was a child. He also told me not to discuss sex with my friends and to advise them to talk to their parents or their doctor because it was not up to me to advise anyone. Many times I did just that. He truly was remarkable to think of so many things to pass on to me. I was able to tell my three children the same things when they were of age. And my boys were taught not to touch their girlfriends and to always be gentlemen. We’re now into our grandchildren stage of life, and I can only hope and pray that my children are educating their children with regard to sex eduation and allowing their schools to do so also.

    Eating, sex, and death are all necessary subjects to discuss over and over in life. Even the celebates need sex education to be able to guide others who have not chosen that life style.

    If my comments have helped others to see the need to educate their children with regard to sex, then that makes me happy.

    Yours truly, Marylou Nunamaker

  • harry834

    which they want: their child’s welfare or their child’s obedience.


    I tackle this issue in my diary:

    Child abuse: not understood at all, but affecting every human rights issue 

  • invalid-0

    I thank you for all you have said. I am a young girl and feel you are 120 percent right. i am giving a speech on this in speech class and will use some of your words. i’m glad that i am not the only one that feels we need more education. too many people are naive and know nothing about sex and it is all because we never learn. lets hope people will get the courage to speak out about this. we deserve to know.

  • invalid-0

    I wonder if any of these studies were able to find any teens who actually had abstinence education, i.e., teens without regular access to a movie theater?

  • invalid-0

    Ask your parents; they know all about it.

  • invalid-0

    i’d never ask my parents about sex.its just something no one really does

  • invalid-0

    i’d never ask my parents about sex.its just something no one really does

  • invalid-0

    Teenagers are very curious in the issues of the sexuality and they need to be informed more than controlled. I think a lot of parents want their children to receive age-appropriate,comprehensive sex education in the classroom, because it’s very hard talk about IT at home… Adequate sex ed is the first step on preventing teen pregnancies.