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01.28.2009
Resources

Sex Education Programs: Definitions & Point-by-Point Comparison

Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs, sometimes called Sexual Risk Avoidance Programs, teach abstinence as the only morally correct option of sexual expression for teenagers. They usually censor information about contraception and condoms for the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and unintended pregnancy.

 Abstinence-Centered Education—Another term normally used to mean abstinence-only programs.

Comprehensive Sex Education teaches about abstinence as the best method for avoiding STDs and unintended pregnancy, but also teaches about condoms and contraception to reduce the risk of unintended pregnancy and of infection with STDs, including HIV. It also teaches interpersonal and communication skills and helps young people explore their own values, goals, and options.

Abstinence-Plus Education—Programs which include information about contraception and condoms in the context of strong abstinence messages.

Comprehensive Sex Education

Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Education

Teaches that sexuality is a natural, normal, healthy part of life Teaches that sexual expression outside of marriage will have harmful social, psychological, and physical consequences
Teaches that abstinence from sexual intercourse is the most effective method of preventing unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV Teaches that abstinence from sexual intercourse before marriage is the only acceptable behavior
Provides values-based education and offers students the opportunity to explore and define their individual values as well as the values of their families and communities Teaches only one set of values as morally correct for all students
Includes a wide variety of sexuality related topics, such as human development, relationships, interpersonal skills, sexual expression, sexual health, and society and culture Limits topics to abstinence-only-until-marriage and to the negative consequences of pre-marital sexual activity
Includes accurate, factual information on abortion, masturbation, and sexual orientation Usually omits controversial topics such as abortion, masturbation,
and sexual orientation
Provides positive messages about sexuality and sexual expression, including the benefits of abstinence Often uses fear tactics to promote abstinence and to limit sexual expression
Teaches that proper use of latex condoms, along with water-based lubricants, can greatly reduce, but not eliminate, the risk of unintended pregnancy and of infection with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) including HIV Discusses condoms only in terms of failure rates; often exaggerates condom failure rates
Teaches that consistent use of modern methods of contraception can greatly reduce a couple’s risk for unintended pregnancy Provides no information on forms of contraception other than failure rates of condoms
Includes accurate medical information about STDs, including HIV; teaches that individuals can avoid STDs Often includes inaccurate medical information and exaggerated statistics regarding STDs, including HIV; suggests that STDs are an inevitable result of premarital sexual behavior
Teaches that religious values can play an important role in an individual’s decisions about sexual expression; offers students the opportunity to explore their own and their family’s religious values Often promotes specific religious values
Teaches that a woman faced with an unintended pregnancy has options: carrying the pregnancy to term and raising the baby, or carrying the pregnancy to term and placing the baby for adoption, or ending the pregnancy with an abortion Teaches that carrying the pregnancy to term and placing the baby for adoption is the only morally correct option for pregnant teens

Next Chapter: Scientific & Medical Institutions Support Comprehensive Sexuality Education
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Transitions (ISSN 1097-1254) © 2001, is a quarterly publication of Advocates for Youth—Helping young people make safe and responsible decisions about sex. For permission to reprint, contact Transitions’ editor at 202.419.3420.

Editor: Sue Alford

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