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Sex Education

June 3, 2022
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WRITTEN BY Dr. Jill Barnas

Executive Summary

There are two approaches to sex education: 1) abstinence-only education and 2) comprehensive sex education (including abstinence and safe sex practices). With the advances in technology and digital media, sex education does not provide information about other forms of sexual activity, such as sexting (the sharing of sexually explicit images, videos, or messages through digital technologies). Incorporating education about the potential risks of sharing sexual media into sex education curriculum may involve teaching youth about the possible consequences of these behaviors and providing knowledge on how to minimize harms that may result.


  • States that stress abstinence-only education tend to have higher teen pregnancy rates.  
    • In 2020, the Missouri teen birthrate was 18.8 live births per 1,000 females aged 15–19 years old and was higher than the national average of 15.4 live births.
  • Evidence  indicates that comprehensive sex education programs are effective in delaying sexual initiation among adolescents and increase use of contraceptives and condoms. A large body of research suggests that abstinence-only education does not delay sexual activity.
  • Although consensual sexting may not directly involve sexual intercourse, possible consequences of sexting can include negative physical and mental health outcomes, and possible legal ramifications for sharing or creating sexually explicit content.


  • It is important to note that no academic research has been conducted on the effectiveness of comprehensive sex education on engaging in digital sexual activity.
    • However, research does suggest that when adolescents have ongoing conversations about sex with influential, trusted sources (e.g., parents or educators), it may deter them from engaging in risky online behaviors.
  • Due to the variability in sex education requirements between states, it is unknown how many schools are incorporating sexually explicit media practices into their sex education curriculum.
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