Abstinence Only Education and Sex Education in the U.S.

Sex Education Books

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When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced in April 2012 that teen birth rates in the U.S. hit a new low in 2010 and revealed which states had the highest and lowest rates, it prompted a question: Were these outcomes affected by individual states' requirements for sex education (sex ed) and/or abstinence-only education?

That was soon answered by the Guttmacher Institute's State Policies in Brief paper on Sex and HIV Education in May 2012. The institute has kept the numbers constantly updated since as the trend of lowered teen birth rates has continued to drop nationwide.

Required Sex and/or HIV Education

Sex ed is mandated in 24 states and the District of Columbia. Of that total, the following 22 states and the District of Columbia mandate both sex ed and HIV education:

  • California
  • Delaware
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • West Virginia

Two states mandate sex ed only:

  • Mississippi
  • North Dakota

HIV education is mandated in 34 states and the District of Columbia. Of that total, 12 mandate only HIV education:

  • Alabama
  • Connecticut
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Michigan
  • Missouri
  • New Hampshire
  • New York
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

Must Include Contraception

When sex ed is taught, some states have specific content requirements.

In addition to the District of Columbia, 18 states require that information on contraception be provided when sex education is taught:

  • Alabama
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia

One state allows local schools to include contraception with the permission of the State Department of Education:

  • Mississippi

Must Include Abstinence

When sex ed is taught, 37 states require that information on abstinence is provided. Of those, 26 states require that abstinence be stressed:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • New Jersey
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

These 11 states require only that abstinence is covered during sex education:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Hawaii
  • Maryland
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • New Mexico
  • North Dakota
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia

No Mandate

There are nine states with no sex education or HIV education mandate:

  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Idaho
  • Louisiana
  • Massachusetts
  • Texas
  • Virginia

Five of the states listed above also rank among the top 12 states with the highest teenage birth rates, and four rank in the top 6 (ranking indicated in parentheses):

  • Mississippi (1)
  • Arkansas (3)
  • Texas (4)
  • Louisiana (6)
  • Arizona (12)

An earlier report issued by the Guttmacher Institute in September 2006 compiled teen pregnancy statistics state by state. Among the top 10 states with the highest rates of teen pregnancy among females age 15-19, five are states without mandated sex education or HIV education (ranking indicated in parentheses):

  • Arizona (2)
  • Mississippi (3)
  • Texas (5)
  • Florida (6)
  • Arkansas (10)

That same report ranked the top 10 states with the highest rates of live births among teenage girls age 15-19. Again, five are states that do not require sex ed to be taught in schools. If and when it is taught, these states do not require information on contraception be provided, but they do require that abstinence be stressed (ranking indicated in parentheses):

  • Mississippi (1)
  • Texas (2)
  • Arizona (3)
  • Arkansas (4)
  • Louisiana (7)

Only one state that does not mandate sex education or HIV education appears in the listing of states with the lowest teenage birth rates: Massachusetts ranked at number 2.

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