Our Perspective: Why are teens having less sex and why is congress trying to stop them?

Recent studies from both the CDC and Child Development reported that teens today are having much less sex than ever before. Teens are remaining abstinent for much longer than they used to, and those who are not remaining abstinent are using more protection when they do choose to have sex. A common assumption is that high school and one’s teenage years are often a time of sexual experimentation and exploration, but it seems as though this is becoming less and less true every year.

One reason for the decrease in teen sex is the more widespread use of comprehensive sex education for teens. Until recently, only abstinence-only sex ed. programs were eligible for federal funding, meaning information about contraceptives, condoms and generally safer sex was excluded from the information teens received. Recently, more and more schools have been refusing those federal dollars in favor of instituting programs that will be more likely to help their students be informed and stay safe. More than half of U.S. states are currently refusing abstinence-only programs. However, abstinence-only programs still persist in many places around the nation, including Louisiana, and many teens are still receiving medically inaccurate sexual education.

Despite the widespread mentality from many concerned politicians and a few parents, the mere mention of sex to teenagers is not what compels them to have sex. In fact, studies consistently prove otherwise; teens that undergo comprehensive sex ed. programs are far less likely to have not only risky sexual behaviors, but also any sex at all, than students receiving abstinence-only sex ed. Abstinence-only programs leave students with not only medically inaccurate information about sex, but also with many unanswered questions. This, in turn, may compel more students to engage in sexual activity and risky sexual behaviors to address their own curiosities. With comprehensive sex ed., students are not only more informed, but also better prepared to have safe sex when they choose to become sexually active.

Doctors, researchers, educators and teens themselves are asking for comprehensive sex ed. and viewing it as a more effective means by which to educate today’s teens. Studies consistently back this by showing lower rates of teen sex, teen pregnancy and risky behaviors when teens have comprehensive sex ed. The question then becomes, if congress and legislators’ ultimate goal is abstinence and low teen pregnancy rates, why do they so consistently reject comprehensive sex ed.? Why are methods that are proven effective to meet their goals being denied every time? Why are we ignoring the fact that abstinence-only programs are failing the children that we are trying to protect? The answers vary, from moral and religious concerns to issues of “family values”. However, when the safety of young people is at stake, these answers are not good enough. An effective method exists, it is just up to our lawmakers to allow it and fund it. Young people deserve better – they deserve comprehensive sex ed.  

By Claire Kueffner

Claire is currently a senior at Tulane University pursuing a degree in Legal Studies in Business and Gender and Sexuality Studies​.


Abstinence-only education doesn’t work. We’re still funding it. Washington Post (August 21, 2017)

Advocates for Youth. Comprehensive Sex Education: Research and Results. Accessed Sept. 29, 2017

Teens Today Are Having Sex, Dating and Drinking Less Than They Used To. Time (Sep 19, 2017)

Twenge, J. M. and Park, H. (2017), The Decline in Adult Activities Among U.S. Adolescents, 1976–2016. Child Development. doi: 10.1111/cdev.12930

Our Perspective contributions are written by the interns from Tulane University working with Lift Louisiana to advance reproductive health, rights and justice.

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