Fewer than half of high schools and only a fifth of middle schools teach all 16 topics recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as essential components of sexual health education, according to findings presented this week at the National HIV Prevention Conference in Atlanta.

Based on the CDC’s 2014 School Health Profiles, the findings highlight the need to “do a better job of giving our young people the skills and knowledge they need to protect their own health,” Jonathan Mermin, MD, MPH, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and Tuberculosis Prevention said in a prepared statement about the report.

Every other year, the school health surveys ask school officials whether they teach essential topics in HIV, STDs, pregnancy prevention, and other health subjects.

The report indicates that the percentage of schools providing sexual health education that meets CDC’s criteria for sex education is generally low and varies widely by state. Specifically, among 44 participating states:


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  • The proportion of high schools that teach all 16 topics as part of a required course in grade 9, 10, 11, or 12 ranges from 21% (in Arizona) to 90% (in New Jersey).
  • In most states, fewer than half of high schools teach all 16 topics and only three states (New Jersey, New York, and New Hampshire) have more than 75% of high schools achieving this goal.
  • The proportion of middle schools teaching all 16 topics in a required course in grade 6, 7, or 8 ranges from 4% (in Arizona) to 46% (in North Carolina).
  • In no state did more than half of middle schools meet the goal, and in most states less than 20% did.

Nearly one-quarter of HIV diagnoses and half of all sexually transmitted infections in the United States occur among those younger than age 25. 

And while sexual risk behavior among young Americans declined from the 1990s through the early 2000s, progress has stalled. According to CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, the proportion of teens who have ever had sex has remained unchanged (at about 47%) for a decade; 15% of teens in 2013 said they had had four or more sexual partners, the same number as in 2003. Nearly a third of 9th grade students report having had sex.

Reference

1. CDC. 2014 Profiles Report. 2015;Accessed: Dec. 9, 2015..