Why sex ed doesn’t work

Mandatory sex ed is returning to New York City public schools.

For the first time in nearly two decades, students in New York City’s public middle and high schools will be required to take sex-education classes beginning this school year, using a curriculum that includes lessons on how to use a condom and the appropriate age for sexual activity.

Trying to prevent teen pregnancy is part of the mayor’s campaign to improve the life prospects of young black and Latino males — and their girlfriends, in this case.

Naomi Schaefer Riley is skeptical.

. . . teenagers have sex and get pregnant not because they don’t understand how not to get pregnant (which, let’s face it, is not rocket science) but because they want babies. Teenagers (and many adults) think babies will provide unconditional love. And the longterm responsibilities involved are not fully grasped.

Sex education — abstinence only or condoms-on-bananas — has a poor record of success. Years ago, a Rand report described the most effective contraceptive for black girls: realistic college plans.


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  1. “Teenagers (and many adults) think babies will provide unconditional love. And the longterm responsibilities involved are not fully grasped.”

    Then teach them. I have a 1 month old and it has certainly been hammered home through personal experience. Responsibilities should be fairly easy to demonstrate with feeding schedules to show time demands and cost estimates for everything a baby needs. Real home economics stuff.

    The unconditional love part is harder to explain. Teenagers aren’t going to understand that babies can’t even smile at you for reasons other than gas until they’re almost 3 months old. Until then everything is basically sleeping or screaming.

  2. Mark Roulo says:

    I read this somewhere else, but don’t remember where so I can’t attribute credit. Paraphrasing:

    “It is almost as if a few hours lecturing in a classroom isn’t enough to counteract millions of years of evolutionary pressure to reproduce.”

  3. Jeff,

    No school is going to be able to properly educate students about proper child care and the responsibility involved. Instead, these girls will take their cues from their mothers, whose irresponsibility put them in their current situation, and their friends with kids, who likely dump their kids off with their relatives.

    I do find it funny that abstinence and sex-ed proponents almost solely rely upon each others failures to justify their own programs.

    The only real way to combat teen pregnancy? Not letting teens raise kids, breaking the cycle of irresponsibility.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    1) Have them earn money by babysitting – not just the occasional parents date night out, but day after day, akin to daycare- small children do, despite the overglorification of the concept of day care, greatly miss having their mom around.
    2)Show the health class film on natural chilbirth, with sound effects and all.
    3) Have them work in fast food restuarants -cleaning out those grease traps, sweeping the parking lots – and let them know this is the only job they will qualify for since they would have to drop out of school, l and wefare benefits are time limited.

  5. I have a family connection whose social-worker friend assures her that the urban girls who start having babies in their early teens are very well-aware of the time limits on various kinds of assistance; they deliberately get pregnant again just before the benefits end, so they will continue. Their sisters, mothers, aunts and the other females in the community do the same thing; it’s a deliberate choice for many. Unfortunately, by the time the kids get past the little and cute stage, they’re likely left to raise themselves and repeat the cycle all over again. I remember a professor’s talk about her research with urban grandmothers helping to raise their grandkids; their average age was 34 and some were 28. They were likely to have kids the same age as their grandkids.

  6. Bill Leonard says:

    This comment undoubtedly will generate huge amounts of disagreement, not to mention flames, but…

    Given the realities of the situation, why, oh why, don’t we have the courage as a society, to point at precisely the major demographics involved, and to castigate them for their irresponsible behavior? There is nothing particularlyv ennobling about being 14, black or hispanic, and pregnant. And yes, those are the majority of teenagers who are having babies out of wedlock generatkion after generation.

    And now, let the flames begin.


    • The Guttmacher Institute’s 2005 numbers (the most recently available) lists the following totals for teen pregnancies broken down by race. These are total pregnancies, regardless of outcomes:

      White: 276K
      Black: 205K
      Hispanic: 209K

      Sure, proportionally black and Hispanic teens are more likely to get pregnant (although remember that the <21 population is a lot less white than the population at large). But it sure doesn't look like whites ought to be exempt from whatever castigating and come-to-Jesusing you think will fix the problem.

    • Now why hasn’t anyone else thought of the idea of shame as a tool for behavior modification? I mean, it works so well in other cases…teenagers always change their behavior after a stern lecture from a stranger. Right?

  7. Elizabeth says:

    Well frankly I’m for chastity belts and saltpeter in the water, but I doubt I’d be elected to the school board.