APRIL 24, 1995


Since acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) was first reported with great surprise and fear in 1981, it has influenced not only on the medical world, but also any other fields, including education. Schools, as a result, were obliged to reconsider the sex education that had been practiced so far, and given a new mission, which was to prevent AIDS - though their roles were only a part of whole prevention program. However, as shown by various statistics, the current sex education at schools, in spite of their much effort, does not work. In this study, after reviewing the purpose of sex education, the reason why the current sex education does not work will be discussed.

Purposes of sex education

Sex education has two main purposes, namely prevention of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and prevention or preparation of pregnancy.

STDs are infectious disease spread primarily through sexual contact. They are the most common infections in the United States, affecting an estimated 30 million people (the Macmillan Health Encyclopedia, 1993). STDs include more than 20 diseases, some of which may cause chronic pain, sterility, cancer, or death. Another research shows, on the past two decades, there has been an explosion in the number of STDs. Twelve million people are infected each year; 63 percent of them are under 25 (Lickona, 1993). The most effective way to prevent them is not to engage in sexual activities, that is, abstinence. Another preventive measure is mutual monogamy (the Macmillan Health Encyclopedia, 1993).

Even though pregnancy, in general, is natural consequence following sexual intercourse, teenage pregnancy is regarded as one of the most serious problems. The number of teenage pregnancy varies by each survey. More than 1 million teenage pregnancies occur each year, and many of them are unplanned and involve unmarried teens (the Macmillan Health Encyclopedia, 1993), while another study shows that 1 of every 10 teenage girls become pregnant; more than 400,000 teenagers has abortions; one in 4 children is born out of wedlock, compared to 1 in 20 in 1960 (Lickona, 1993).

Although pregnancy and childbirth for teenagers involve risks, often the teenagers, especially younger ones, are unprepared for the pregnancy and for raising children. To avoid unwanted pregnancies, teenagers need to seriously consider the consequences of sexual activity call for a large measure of responsibility. In fact, sometimes the teenage girl does not receive adequate prenatal care because she is trying to hide the pregnancy, does not know she is pregnant, or does not know that special care is needed. Teenagers often do not eat in such a way that they and the fetus get proper nutrition. In addition, some teenagers endanger their health and that of babies by drinking, smoking, or taking other drugs. Lack of prenatal care may lead to toxemia or anemia in the mother and to a higher than normal rate of miscarriage and stillbirth. Younger teenagers are also at risk because their bodies are still developing, and the pregnancy puts a special strain on them.

As a consequence, children born to teenagers tend to have low birth weight or be born prematurely, which can result in cerebral palsy, respiratory illnesses, mental retardation, and other disorders. Also, more babies of teenage mothers die during their first year than do babies of older women.

Most teenage girls who become pregnant unexpectedly postpone finishing their education and therefore initially do not have sufficient skills and training to adequately support themselves and their children. If the father of the child takes financial responsibility for the child and the mother, he may have to leave school without an adequate education, resulting in low-paying jobs. A teenage pregnancy may result in couple's entering an unhappy marriage or in the mother's living alone without help from the baby's father. Child abuse is a problem among teenage parents because hey tend to lack adequate parenting skills and are under the additional stress caused by poverty and lack of a job or a low-paying job (the Macmillan Health Encyclopedia, 1993).

In terms of cost, STDs, especially AIDS, and teenage pregnancy is heavy burdens on the nation. According to Fred Hellinger, an official of the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research, the national cost of treating HIV - estimated at more than $10.3 billion in 1992 - will rise to more than $15.2 billion by 1995, an increasing of nearly 50% (Hellinger, 1992).

Besides, Douglas Beshavor and Karen Gardiner report that about 50 percent of all teen mothers are on welfare within one year of the birth their first child. Seventy-seven percent join the welfare rolls within five years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Nick Zill of Child Trends, Inc. Calculates that 43 percent of long-term welfare recipients started their families as unwed teens (Beshavor & Gardiner, 1993).

In this way, the role of sex education is considerably important for everyone in terms of education, health, social welfare, and economy.

The current sex education - comprehensive sexuality education

Comprehensive sexuality education, which organized in Sweden in the 1950s and quickly became the mainstream in the Western world (National Center for Health Statistics, 1988). Its one of the fundamental premises, which might cause many kinds of problems, is that educators should be value-neutral regarding sex. The concept of value-neutral itself is supposed to be touched off by the two historical events - Sputnik shock and Vietnam conflict (Hodge, 1989). Curriculum revision from traditional one to inquiry-oriented, promoted by Russia's victorious space launch, and Vietnam conflict caused the fundamental value changes in society. As a result, educators abandoned to teach specific values, and promoted students to decide "personal value" - their own set of values. Value-neural, in this way, spread quickly at schools, as well as society.

However, in terms of sex education, personal value does not exist as far as sexual activities and the consequences involve others, such as partners, children, family, or even community. Therefore, there should be some commitment and trust about sexual activity, marriage, or family, at least between partners. Otherwise, how can they take responsibility for the consequence - either abortion or childbirth? Moreover, value-neutral of educators can be morally irresponsible because value-neutral tends to transform the word "value" to "personal preference". In other words, values are - at least some extent - personal in a psychological sense; however, whether or not they are personal, that is, subjective and relative in a philosophical sense is an entirely different question. In fact, many philosophers, theologians, and ethicists hold that values can be known to be true or false, right or wrong, not just for the individual making the value claim but in a more general sense (Baer, 1982). oncerning sexual activity, teenagers may not have enough reason to judge what they should do and wisdom to predict what may really happen - the possibility of being involved physical and mental difficulties. Hence, it is ethically irresponsible that leaving teenagers, who do not have adequate knowledge to prevent various kinds of danger, to the discretion of choosing their values - about sexual activities because of the premise that teenage sexual activity is inevitable.

As shown in the begging part of this study, there are many risk factors concerning teenage sexual activities, and many of those factors are unpredictable and unnoticeable for certain period after sexual activity, and some are even imaginable for teenagers. They would not be able to expect how much they might suffer physically or mentally as a consequent of STDs, abortion, or pregnancy in real life. Again, it is irresponsible, and even cruel for adults, in the name of "value-neutral" or "personal preference", to permit that teenagers are going pass through such difficulties.

The post comprehensive sexuality education

The post comprehensive sexuality education should emphasize abstinence and mutual monogamy. The idea of abstinence can be seen in the current sex education. However, today, it has lost its persuasion because of the premise that teenage sexual activity is inevitable, and the distribution of condoms. Especially the distribution of condoms confuses teenagers, while effectiveness of condoms - to prevent pregnancy or transmission of STDs - is not perfect. What is worse, it might promotes sexual activities because of the image that sexual activities with contraception are "safe". As a result, ironically, the number of STDs and pregnancy would increase. In general, the fewer people a person engages in sexual activity with, the lower is that person's chance of being infected with AIDS or any other STDs (the Macmillan Health Encyclopedia, 1993).

However, what makes it difficult to promote abstinence is that it entirely relies on the couple's willpower. The partners must be able to resist having sexual intercourse (the Macmillan Health Encyclopedia, 1993). Therefore, this abstinence approach should be comprehensive involving not only educators, but also parents, philosophers, religious leaders, medical experts, psychologists, policy makers, media, and community. Philosophers and religious leaders should play crucial role in clarifying our common core values based on our collective conscience, which we all can accept, concerning sexuality, marriage, and family. Teachers have to give correct information in cooperation with medical experts, and psychologists. Besides, policy makers, media, and community have responsibility to create the atmosphere to facilitate holding abstinence and mutual monogamy. Above all, however, nothing is more significant than parents' role. As well as any other problems that schools have, the key factor for the solution is that if parents can be the models for teenagers.


Even though teachers may get no respect in the classrooms, according to a survey, 86 percent of students at secondary level said to phone pollsters that school teachers are "very important" to a good society (Gallup, 1995). Needless to say, human sexuality is very delicate matter; however, teachers have duty to let students know what is true or not, and what is "the safest" - not "safer" - somehow for the sake of students and also the hopeful future of our nation.


Bear, Richard A., Jr.
"Teaching Values in the Schools", American Education; Vol.18, No. 9, P.11-17, Nov. 1982.

Beshavor, Douglas & Gardiner, Karen.
"Teen sex", The American Enterprise, Vol. 4, Iss. 1, P.52-59, Jan. 1993.

The Gallup Organization.
"The National Youth Survey: Attitudes Regarding Society, Education, and Adulthood for Junior Achievement", Mar. 1995.

Hellinger, Fred.
"Forecasting of the Costs of Medical Care for Persons with HIV: 1992-1995, Inquiry, Vol. 29, No.3, P. 356-365, Fall 1992.

Hodge, R. Lewis.
"Myriad of Values: A Brief History", Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the American Educational Research Association (70th, San Francisco, CA, March 27-31, 1989).

Lickona, Thomas.
"Where Sex Education Went Wrong", Educational Leadership, Vol. 51, No. 3, P.84-89, Nov. 1993.

The Macmillan Health Encyclopedia.
"Abstinence"(P. 5), "Safer Sex" (P. 82-83), "STDs"(P. 94-97), "Teenage Pregnancy"(P. 97-98), Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, NY, 1993.

Richard, D. "Has Sex Education Failed Our Teenagers?", Colorado Springs: Focus on the Family Publishing, 1990.

Copyright 1998: Taku Ikemoto. All Rights Reserved.