A doctoral candidate at Arizona State University made a surprising discovery during the course of her dissertation research on the impact of early sexual health education. She found that regardless of what type of sex-ed they received, teen girls were 30% less likely than teen boys to use protection during their first sexual encounter. She also found that black teens were 40% less likely than white teens to use protection the first time they had sex. (More on Time.com: 5 Little-Known Truths About American Sex Lives)
Nicole Weller presented her analysis of data from the National Survey of Family Growth, in which she looked at responses from 5,012 adolescents aged 11 to 19, on Nov. 8 at the annual American Public Health Association Social Justice Meeting and Expo in Denver.
For both young women and African Americans, Weller found no association between the type of sexual health education they got and their risk of sexually transmitted infection (STI) or use of contraception. (More on Time.com: Study: What the Risky Sex Lives of NYC Teens Reveal)
Sex education does seemed to delay the age at which teens first have sex: previous studies show that 42% of teenage girls and 43% of teenage boys now have their sexual debut at an average age of 17.5 years — later than they did 10 years ago, when the average age of first sex was 15. But it doesn’t appear to increase safe sex once teens begin having sex. According to a 2009 study in Pediatrics, 38% of 14-to-19-year-old girls who were sexually active were diagnosed with at least one of the five most common STIs in 2009. Weller asserts that the similar age of sexual debut and infection shows that contracting STIs often happens soon after first sex.
Weller’s findings are preliminary and will require follow-up, though a recent study from Indiana University corroborates her findings: while 80% of 14-to-17-year-old boys used condoms during the last 10 times they had sex, only 58% of their female counterparts reported the same. (More on Time.com: The Science of Dating: Wear Red)
Although we disagree about what type of sexual education children and teenagers should receive, 90% of Americans want some kind of sex ed for teens. Understanding how adolescents interact with information about sex may help improve the quality of education they receive.
More on Time.com:
Study: ‘Hyper-Texting’ Teens More Likely to Have Had Sex, Tried Drugs
16 and Pregnant: Tuned-In Teens Are Turned Off by Teen Pregnancy