First Advisor

Deborah Harris

Date of Award

Spring 6-2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Public Health Studies: Community Health Promotion and University Honors


Health Studies




Sex instruction -- Research, Sex instruction -- United States, Public schools -- United States, Education and state




Sexual Education in American public schools is the subject of a long-standing debate between educators, parents, and policy makers. From the beginning of public schooling in the United States, the role that public schools ought to serve in educating students about sexual health has been unclear. This remains a topic of debate despite the fact that since the 1980s studies have shown consistently that comprehensive sexual education unequivocally leads to lower rates of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection spread among students. Comprehensive sexual education is sexual education that includes information on safer sexual activity practices as well as information about consent, queer sex, and critical thinking. This is the inverse of the more traditional, conservative, abstinence-only education, which is designed to encourage students to delay sexual activity until after they are married. Abstinence-only education often fails to educate about safer sexual activity practices, due to the fact that in theory, monogamous couples will not need to protect against sexually transmitted infections or pregnancy. To this day, the public school education that a student receives is highly dependent on their geographic location and the local politics of their school district. At the state level, there are clear trends that indicate states with more conservative sexual education policies (i.e. states that do not require sexual education or are lenient with the content included therein) have higher rates of teen pregnancy.


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