Compulsory sex education won’t reduce rates of teenage pregnancy

sex education blackboard

MercatorNet 26 November 2014
Proposals to force all schools to teach a compulsory sex education curriculum from primary level up and to restrict the right of parents to opt-out their children are back on the parliamentary agenda in the UK. State maintained secondary schools currently have to provide sex and relationships education, but academies and free schools do not.

Back in 2010, similar proposals to make sex education a statutory requirement for all schools were washed-up in the run up to the general election. They are now being re-introduced through a private members’ bill by Green MP Caroline Lucas. The education select committee also has an ongoing inquiry into whether policy changes are needed. Yet there is little evidence from research or international comparisons that making sex education compulsory will have a big impact on the sexual health of young people.

No real impact on behaviour 
There is considerable agreement among academics that teenage pregnancy rates and other indicators of sexual health are strongly correlated with factors such as poverty, educational achievement, religion and family stability. But there is less agreement over the impact of policies aimed directly at reducing unwanted pregnancy, in particular the role of school-based sex education and access to family planning services.

Although hardly any studies have found that sex education programmes lead to sustained reductions in unwanted pregnancy rates, some have been found to lead to delayed sexual initiation and higher condom use. However, an earlier review in 2002 argued that the strongest studies tended to find little or no impact on the way teenagers behave.

A 2011 survey of the most recent evaluations of mainstream sex education programmes in the UK, by sexual health expert Daniel Wight, also found “minimal effect on reported behaviour” and that none of the programmes led to reductions in unwanted pregnancies.