Protective Effects of Middle School Comprehensive Sex Education With Family Involvement


  • This research was supported by the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts for the impact evaluation of their comprehensive middle school sex education curriculum. The authors thank the participating schools for giving access, the students and their parents and guardians for participating, and the PPLM sexual health educators for administering the intervention. They thank the Wellesley Centers for Women writing group for their feedback and support. They would also like to thank Doug Kirby for consultation on research design, Vincent Guilamo-Ramos and Jim Jaccard for their valuable feedback on this manuscript, Alice Frye for her analytic input during the early phases of the research, and Erica Plunkett for field coordination. The research was guided by an Advisory Board composed of Barbara Huscher Cohen, Willa Doswell, Barbara Goodson, Jennifer Manlove, Velma McBride Murry, Anne Noonan, Freya Sonenstein, and Deborah Tolman, whose input is gratefully acknowledged.



School-based comprehensive sex education programs can reduce early adolescents' risky sexual behavior. The purpose of this study was to assess the effectiveness of a 3-year comprehensive sex education program in delaying vaginal sex for middle school students and whether the family component of the intervention contributes to its effectiveness.


This longitudinal evaluation followed a cohort of 6th graders (N = 2453) through the end of 8th grade. The design used random assignment of 24 schools into treatment and comparison conditions. The analysis included multiple-group logistic regression to assess differences in delay of sex between intervention and comparison groups.


In schools where the program was taught, 16% fewer boys and 15% fewer girls had had sex by the end of 8th grade compared to boys and girls at comparison schools. Completing family activities during the first year of the program predicted delayed sexual debut for boys.


Theory-based, developmentally appropriate, comprehensive sex education programs that include parent involvement can be effective in delaying vaginal sex for middle school students. Parent involvement is particularly important for boys, as family activities may encourage parents to talk with their sons earlier and more frequently.