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Why doesn’t sex education work?

December 7, 2012

Don’t ask the educators

A recent review (click here) by Daniel Wight, the director of the SHARE research programme (click here for my blog on SHARE), discusses the SHARE and RIPPLE trials. He summarises the results accurately. Both programmes improved “process” outcomes – they were popular with teachers and pupils, and increased knowledge.

But when it came to preventing pregnancy, neither had any effect on either total pregnancies, or abortions. Indeed SHARE had a non-significant adverse effect. Wight considers possible reasons.

  1. The trials were badly designed.
  2. Control sex education was so good that the intervention could have no extra benefit.
  3. The sex education was given at the wrong time.
  4. Social forces, sexual imagery and external peer pressure are so strong, that sex education can’t influence behaviour.
  5. The teachers delivered it badly.

As he rightly states, none are likely to be the true explanation. Poor Dr Wight is left puzzled.

But he omits the most obvious one – sex education encouraged sexual activity.   Or more precisely, it discouraged sexual activity and encouraged contraceptive use for some, but encouraged or facilitated sexual activity for others.  It is easy to see how this might happen – talking about sex is a great first step on the way to getting laid.

This leads to two obvious testable hypotheses. Do single-sex classes reduce pregnancy and abortion?  Does support for parent-led sex education do the same?

But teachers and sex educators are not allowed to even entertain the idea that their classes might encourage even some pupils to engage in sexual activity. So instead they ignore the evidence of these two wonderful research trials, and plough on with conventional sex education classes. It’s not surprising my abortion clinic never runs out of customers.

Jim Thornton

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