Chapter 9: Sexual Behavior

Social Problems in the News

“More Texas Schools Teach Safe Sex with Abstinence,” the headline said. Across Texas, sex education in the public schools typically emphasizes the need for abstinence and ignores the concept of safe sex. But in the western Texas town of Midland, school officials decided to include safe sex into the school district’s sex education curriculum for the seventh and eighth grades after several years of rising teen pregnancies, with 172 students pregnant in 2010. A school official said, “These are girls as young as 13 that are pregnant; some of them are on their second pregnancies.”

In what is called an “abstinence-plus” approach, the new curriculum continues to urge students to wait to have sex, but it also teaches them about birth control and condoms. A consultant at the University of Texas who was advising the Midland school system scoffed at the idea that teaching teenagers about safe sex encourages them to have sex: “I can assure you kids aren’t getting aroused when they see a condom.” She added that teenagers hear about and see a lot of sex on television and the Internet and hear about it from their friends. Given this backdrop, she said, it is important that they get accurate information about sex: “The more you know about your body, how to make better decisions and choices, the better decisions that adolescents make,” she said, adding, “The more we demystify it, the more we talk about it, the better.”

The school official was optimistic that the new curriculum would reduce teen pregnancies, but she was realistic about the difficulty of the problem. “I would love to be able say [it is] going to be 100-percent effective, we’re going to turn this thing around,” she said. “What we are going to do is impact children to make better choices in regard to sexual integrity. And that would potentially be delaying sexual activity. We’re not going to stop teenagers from having sex. I wish we could, but we’re not going to.”

Source: Smith, 2011

This news story reminds us that sexual behavior is often cause for concern and the basis for certain social problems. It should come as no surprise that social scientists study many aspects of sexual behavior and have provided a good deal of insight on sexual issues. This chapter discusses the social scientific evidence for various types of sexual behavior and issues relating to them: teenage sex and pregnancy, abortion, prostitution, and pornography. Although people often have strong views about these issues, we will see that the social scientific evidence sometimes challenges the views that many people hold.


Smith, M. (2011, September 16). More Texas schools teach safe sex with abstinence. The Texas Tribune. Retrieved from


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