THURSDAY, Dec. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Sex education programs do work to help discourage many teens from becoming sexually active before age 15, according to data released Wednesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Formal programs -- such as those presented in schools and church groups -- did appear to delay onset of sexual activity. For example, teen girls in the nationally representative sample were 59 percent less likely to start having sex before age 15 if they had received sex education, while teen boys were 71 percent less likely, the study found.
"We were obviously hoping to find that sex education is effective. We're glad to see the strong associations," said lead author Trisha Mueller, a CDC epidemiologist. She emphasized that in order to be successful, sex education should take place before young people become sexually active.
Mueller's team also learned that teen boys who attended school were almost three times more likely to use contraception if they had attended a sex education program, compared to those who had not.
However, attendance at a sex education class did not seem to impact girls' use of birth control, the survey found.
The survey did not differentiate between programs that emphasized abstinence and those that educated about contraception. Instead, researchers focused only on whether the teens had ever attended any sex education program in a formal setting, such as school or church.
The study was expected to be published in the January issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.
According to earlier, 2005 data available from the CDC, 47 percent of high school students said they had already had sex. Of those who were currently involved in a sexual relationship, one-third said they were not using a condom.
Curious about the effectiveness of sexual education on these behaviors, Mueller and colleagues examined data from more than 2,000 teen boys and girls between 15 and 19 years of age who participated in the door-to-door 2002 National Survey of Family Growth.
"Formal sex education is beneficial for youth who are considered to be at-risk," noted Mueller, who cited as an example the 88 percent reduced risk of initiation sex before age 15 among urban black females who had received any sex education. Urban black teen girls who were still in school at the time of the survey had a 91 percent reduced risk of initiation sex before age 15, the survey found.
The research also showed that boys living in single-parent households were more likely to delay sex past age 15 if they had attended a sex education class.
Mueller and her team were interested in teen sexual decision-making before and after the age of 15, because the federal governments' Healthy People 2010 initiative treats 15 as a dividing line. Healthy People 2010 sets a wide array of health goals for states and communities to achieve over the first decade of this century. One of its objectives: to reduce the number of teens under age 15 who are having sex for the first time.
"First and foremost, the report makes clear that the timing of sex education is quite important. That is, providing sex education to young people at an early age seems quite important in helping delay sexual activity," said Bill Albert, deputy director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.