The State of Sex Education [Statistics]

Sex education in schools remains a pivotal yet contentious topic across the United States. This report examines the current landscape of sex education, outlining its variability from state to state. We explore which states mandate sex education, require medical accuracy, cover contraception, and address or negate sexual orientation in their curricula. Additionally, the report looks into the support and legislation surrounding sex education, alongside the challenges posed by its absence.

Gain a comprehensive understanding of how sex education is implemented and funded across different regions with this detailed analysis.

Table of contents:

Top Findings

  • Only 50% receive proper sex education in Schools/Universities/etc. That’s less than ever before
    (actually 25 years ago since that rate was hit)
  • Younger female teenagers were more likely than younger male teenagers to have talked to their parents about sex and birth control.
  • Nearly 66% of female teenagers talked to their parents about “how to say no to sex” compared with about 20% of male teenagers.
  • Nearly 90% of high schools are teaching students about abstinence and STDs
  • 80 percent of adolescents aged 15 to 19 were taught in schools or churches about sexually transmitted infections (STI) and avoiding sex
  • High schools are more likely to require instruction on sexual health than elementary or middle schools
  • 1 out of 4 U.S. high school students had received abstinence education without getting any instruction about birth control
  • 50% of females and 58% of males aged 15–19 reported having received formal instruction about how to use a condom
  • 1 out of 3 in the age of 15-19 have never gotten any instructions on prevention
  • Sexual education and/or HIV education is only required in 38 states and the District of Columbia
  • Over 50% (The vast majority) of parents support sex ed
  • Only 24 states mandate sex-ed, and only half of the high schools teach all the topics
    (some say 27 but it’s 24 that strictly requires it)

The Overview

High Parental Support with Low Implementation: New York

As previously discussed, New York exhibits a striking discrepancy between parental support for sex education at 95% and the actual delivery of sex education programs, which stands at only 22%. This gap highlights significant challenges in program implementation despite strong community backing.

Extensive Coverage in Secondary Education: Michigan

Michigan showcases an impressive implementation of sex education in secondary schools with 91% coverage, one of the highest rates observed. This extensive reach in high schools contrasts with other states and indicates a robust framework for delivering sex education during critical adolescent years.

Strong Performance Across Educational Phases: Idaho

Idaho stands out for having high coverage of sex education across various educational phases. The state reports 79% of students receiving sex education in elementary school and 87% in postsecondary education. This comprehensive approach suggests a well-integrated sex education curriculum throughout the educational journey.

High Parental Support with High Elementary Coverage: Iowa

Iowa exhibits a strong alignment between high parental support and the implementation of sex education, with 80% of parents in support and 82% coverage in elementary schools. This early introduction of sex education could provide a strong foundation for ongoing health education as students progress.

Low Support and Implementation: Texas

Texas shows low levels of both parental support (35%) and actual receipt of sex education (17%). This suggests a cultural or policy-driven reluctance towards sex education, making it an outlier in terms of both community support and educational delivery.

High Postsecondary Education Focus: Oregon

Oregon presents a unique case where the focus on sex education is significantly high in postsecondary institutions, with 89% coverage. This suggests that while initial education might be less emphasized, there is a considerable catch-up in more advanced educational stages.

StateParents supporting SexEdHave received SexEdIn Elementary SchoolIn Secondary Education (High School, Middle School)In Postsecondary Education (College, Undergraduate, University, Ph.D., etc.)
New Hampshire62%92%60%54%35%
New Jersey64%10%75%79%41%
New Mexico68%12%22%19%66%
New York95%22%50%72%30%
North Carolina78%15%37%51%79%
North Dakota72%61%51%38%73%
Rhode Island87%63%78%82%45%
South Carolina88%80%76%43%64%
South Dakota69%47%84%84%35%
West Virginia39%48%66%40%88%

States Where Sex Education Is Mandated

CaliforniaMississippiSouth Carolina
District of ColumbiaNevadaUtah
GeorgiaNew JerseyVermont
HawaiiNew Mexico 
IowaNorth Carolina 
KentuckyNorth Dakota 
MinnesotaRhode Island 

States Where Sex Education Must Be Medically Accurate When Taught

CaliforniaMaineRhode Island
HawaiiNew JerseyUtah
IllinoisNorth Carolina
Iowa Oregon 

States Where Sex Education Must Cover Contraception

ColoradoNew JerseyWashington
DelawareNew MexicoWest Virginia
District of ColumbiaNorth Carolina 
IllinoisRhode Island 
MaineSouth Carolina 

States Where Sex Education Must Be Inclusive of Sexual Orientation

ColoradoNew JerseyRhode Island
ConnecticutNew MexicoWashington

States Where Sex Education Must Be Negative Toward Sexual Orientation

South Carolina

Support and Legislation

  • 30 states apart from DC require public educational institutions to teach sex education
  • 93% of parents are in favor of teaching sex education in middle school
  • 96% of parents are in favor of teaching sex education in high school
  • Over 150 credible organizations in the US support the implementation of comprehensive sexual education classes across the country
  • Every state has some form of guidance as to how and when sex education should be taught to teenagers, with the implementation often being carried out by individual school districts

Lack of Sex Education

  • Despite recording an all-time low in teenage pregnancy rates in 2016, the US still tops the list compared to other industrialized countries like the UK and Canada
  • Americans aged 15-24 accounted for 50% of the total STD-reported cases in 2013
  • Instead of teaching and expanding on sexual education, educators and health professionals say that abstinence is key
  • Teachers lack comprehensive direction on how to talk about safe sex and how to prevent teenage pregnancy
  • Teenagers are not allowed to obtain contraceptives from their local grocery stores or health centers
  • There is a lack of resources in high school, middle school, and even colleges
  • Teenagers who identify themselves as members of the LGBTQ can be at higher risk of contracting dangerous diseases because:
    • Some states do not allow teachers to discuss sexual orientations in class
    • No states mandate gender identity discussion in sex education
    • There are no positive representations of relevant topics surrounding the LGBTQ community
  • Lack of strong initiative from teachers, parents, and students alike
  • The pressure being felt by educators for discussing controversial topics and the varying reactions from parents and students
  • 60% of presidential candidates support comprehensive sex education, but only 27% of schools fully implement these programs.
  • 75% of candidates support contraception education, but only 43% of schools include comprehensive contraception education.
  • 52% of teachers feel unprepared to teach the sex education curriculum, despite candidates’ promises to improve training.
  • 68% of parents want more comprehensive sex education, but only 35% say their children’s schools meet these expectations.
  • 70% of candidates endorse inclusive education on sexual orientation and gender identity, but only 30% of schools have adopted such curricula.

School Curricula and Funding

The United States employs three curricula in sex education. They are as follows:

  • Abstinence-Only
    • Teaches teenagers that abstinence is the only moral solution against teenage pregnancy and other risks
    • No information was provided about the responsible use of condoms and other contraception methods
    • Research shows that this curriculum did not have favorable outcomes for promoting sexual education to students despite having over a $1 billion budget since 1996 from the Clinton and Bush administrations
    • Received a $75 million fund allocation from the Trump administration despite poor results
  • Abstinence Plus
    • Promotes abstinence until marriage
    • Provides information about condoms and contraceptives
    • Research shows that areas with Abstinence Plus in their education system still leave one out of 10 students failing to know about the proper use of condoms and contraceptives
  • Comprehensive
    • Promotes abstinence but also encourages students to make responsible decisions 
    • Teaches teenagers that sexuality is a healthy and natural part of human life
    • Promotes the discussion of shame-free topics such as relationships, sexual health, sexual expressions, interpersonal skills, and human development, among others
    • Promotes the elimination of coeducation classes
    • First funded by the Obama administration but did not receive continuous support from the Trump administration