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Although nearly 90% of parents want their children to have it, 23 states require it, 13 other states encourage its teaching, and over 90 national organizations believe that all children should have it, only 5% of children in the United States receive sex education. Adolescence is a time of tremendous physical and emotional turmoil. Family and cultural values, as well as personal experiences, including fears, lead to different sex education needs, such as understanding their bodies and body functions, exploring personal values, and setting sexual limits with partners. Unfortunately, not only parents but many clinicians are ill prepared to discuss health issues related to sex with adolescents. Additionally, teens may be uncomfortable discussing sexual issues with their peers and adults. This leaves adults with the responsibility for facilitating the discussion.

Lack of comprehensive sex education programs as well as differences in cognitive and physical maturity put adolescents at increased risk for unwanted or unhealthy consequences of sexual activity. This includes increased susceptibility for contracting sexually transmitted diseases and increased risk for morbidity associated with sexual activity.

Bearinger LH, Sleving RE, Ferguson J, and Sharma V: Global perspectives on the sexual and reproductive health of adolescents: patterns, prevention, and potential. Lancet 2007;9568(369): 1220-1231.
Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States: Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education: Kindergarten– 12th Grade. 3rd ed. National Guidelines Task Forces, 2004.

Unwanted & Unhealthy Consequencesof Sexual Activity

About 50% of US adolescents begin having sexual intercourse between the ages of 15 and 18 years, over 50% of adolescent girls and nearly 75% of adolescent boys have had sexual intercourse by the time they graduate from high school, and nearly 90% have had sexual intercourse by age 22. About 40% of all 15- to 19-year-olds have had sexual intercourse in the past 3 months. For adolescents who want to have intercourse, the primary reasons given are sexual curiosity (50% of boys; 24% of girls) and affection for their partner (25% of boys; 48% of girls). For adolescents who agree to have intercourse but do not really want to, the primary reasons given are peer pressure (about 30%), curiosity (50% of boys; 25% of girls), and affection for their partner (>33%). With little sex education, adolescents are poorly prepared to openly discuss their need for contraception, negotiate safe sex, and negotiate the types of behavior in which they are willing to participate. Sexual behavior that contradicts personal values is associated with emotional distress and lower self-esteem. As adolescents are learning to develop appropriate interpersonal skills, damage to self-esteem can be significant when sexual activity is exchanged for attention, affection, peer approval, or reassurance about their physical appearance. Furthermore, early unsatisfactory sexual experiences can set up patterns for repeated unsatisfactory sexual experiences into adulthood.

Unintended Pregnancy

Nearly 50% of all pregnancies in the United States are not planned, with the highest rates of ...

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