Major new study: sex education programmes do not work

Newly released last week, to muted publicity, was a comprehensive, reliable and rigorous Cochrane review of studies reviewing school-based interventions on sex education.

This was a large review, combining peer-reviewed data from more than 55,000 young people from around the world. Cochrane reviews are internationally recognized as the highest standard in evidence-based health care resources.

Some of its conclusions were startling and probably for many, unexpected.

The studies in the Cochrane review were all randomised controlled trials from Europe, Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa. Most were of high quality and had follow-ups at between 18 months and seven years.

The sex education programmes they investigated included peer and teacher-led education and “innovative uses” of drama and group work.

What did the Cochrane Review find?

One finding of the review was that providing a small cash payment, or giving away a free school uniform, can encourage students to remain at school, especially in places where there are financial barriers to attending.

Such incentives to stay at school reduced pregnancy rates by around a quarter and also reduced sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in both girls and boys.

However, the more surprising, and no doubt controversial, finding (to many) will be the admission that the mainstay of the current approach to sex education is not working.

School-based sexual and reproductive health programmes are widely accepted and implemented as an approach to reducing high-risk sexual behaviour among adolescents.

But the Cochrane review found that sex education programmes do not reduce pregnancy and STIs among the young. In fact, they have no effect on adolescent pregnancy and STI rates.

“As they are currently designed, sex education programmes alone probably have no effect on the number of young people infected with HIV, other STIs or the number of pregnancies,” said lead author of the review, Dr Mason-Jones. Continue reading


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