Why Sex Ed Gets An “F”

Youth sex educator Nora Gelperin dives into the good and bad of sex education today.

The inclusion of sexual education in public schools has long been a controversial issue amongst parents, health professionals, and religious groups. The execution of such programs in classrooms across the United States is awkward at best, and harmful to adolescent health at worse. In the 1990’s, in a class of giggling pubescent school kids, my gym teacher popped in a cringeworthy video promulgating the dangers of sex. There was no explanation of contraceptives or safe sex. At the end of the module, he presented us with “abstinence pledges” which we awkwardly signed.

The abstinence-only education (AOE) I received in high school, and which continues today, with federal funding, has been described as “scientifically and ethically problematic”. It turns out this program was not effective at reducing sexually-transmitted infection (STI) rates or unintended teenage pregnancies; nor did it convince adolescents to wait until marriage to have sex. Yet, this method of AOE is still being delivered to students today. In fact, in 2017, Congress earmarked $90 million for AOE programs, an increase from $85 million in 2016.

Chart of 2017 Teen Sexual Health Education Programs

In this episode of The Heart of Healthcare, I interview Nora Gelperin, the Director of Sexuality Education and Training at Advocates for Youth. She is one of the co-authors of Rights, Respect, Responsibility: A K-12 Sexuality Education Curriculum, which is used worldwide. She is a proponent for evidence-based comprehensive sex education, which is supported by leading professional organizations including the AMA, ACOG, APHA, and American Academy of Pediatrics.

Topics we cover:

  • Why abstinence-only education has been a failed experiment for our children
  • How comprehensive sex education reduces shame and teaches young people about puberty, consent, romantic feelings, interpersonal violence, and how to seek help
  • What kids learn from pornography
  • The human rights of teens to receive evidence-based sexual health information, vs. the rights of parents to control what a child is taught in school
  • Contraceptive access for teens, and the #FreeThePill movement to make birth control available over the counter


Trying to make a difference.