March 4, 2009

Does Peer-Led Sex Education Work?

A new study asserts that peer-led sex education isn't any more effective than other types of sex education programming. Natalie begs to differ.

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I have to admit I’m a little biased when it comes to peer education. During my year of service in AmeriCorps, I worked as a Peer Education Program Coordinator at a mid-sized university and loved it.

My peer educators underwent quite a bit of training on a range of health topics and worked really hard to educate their college community on health issues facing themselves and their friends. One of our most requested program topics was sex education or sexual health, not shocking for a college campus.

I always felt most proud of those talks and sessions (mainly because I felt more comfortable talking about sex rather than something like substance abuse, which I was less familiar with as a whole) and felt like having the peer there in the room providing factual information about sexual health was a really valuable resource.

Peer-led Sex Education: Ineffective?

With my personal bias out there, you can see why this news story about the supposed ineffectiveness of peer-led sex education programs piqued my interest.

The study out of the UK focused on peer-led sex education programs at 27 schools, surveying over 9000 students and gathering longitudinal data about sexual health outcomes (namely, abortion – we’ll get my issue with this as an outcome later).

The main finding indicates that the peer-led program used in this trial had no effect on the number of teenage abortions. Well, that finding is somewhat disheartening, if reducing the number of abortions is one of the main goals of the health departments sponsoring the study.

I think it’s a somewhat faulty outcome measure on its own based on the number of variables that factor into the decision to get an abortion (things like availability of services, family support, money, etc.) but apparently it was the only statistically significant outcome worth mentioning in the final article.

I was more upset by what seemed to be a glossing over of the positive findings about the peer education program which showed a relationship between attending the programs and slightly fewer live births among the young women in the study as well as being “popular with the pupils.”

Different Measures of Success

I’d consider any program that can hold the attention of a classroom full of 13 and 14 year olds long enough to talk about sex (try it once, trust me) is a successful one, with obvious standards that the program is offering factual, sex-positive information to said pupils.

While the statistics of this study may indicate the peer-led sex education didn’t have a large impact on this study sample, I still believe it’s a valuable tool in the sex education arena.

Don’t give up on peer educators just yet!

You can read the entire article here if you’re interested in learning more about how the authors measured the outcomes and designed this study.

  • DarcyKitchin

    Sex-ed is certainly something our schools need.

  • johannabartley

    It is very important that kids these days get this type of education. Just look around at how many things can distract their minds and how many temptations there are online, on TV and on billboards on the street. Our kids need to know what happens if they start their sexual lives to early and what are the risks. Teenage pregnancy has risen so we really need to talk to our children about this.