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There is widespread concern about American children's sexual behavior in their early teenage years and about the importance of preparing preteens for the transitions and changes they will encounter as they go through puberty.For this reason, we focus this article predominantly on the degree to which any sexuality education exists in public schools in fifth and sixth grades and, where it does, on its content related to sexual behavior—especially as such behavior affects prospects for adolescents' sexual health.Fifty-six percent of teachers say that the subject is taught in grade five and 64% in grade six.More than 75% of teachers who teach sexuality education in these grades cover puberty, HIV and AIDS transmission and issues such as how alcohol and drugs affect behavior and how to stick with a decision.
This article presents findings from a 1999 national survey of public school teachers in grades five and six.Most aspects of the methodology (questionnaire development, fieldwork, data processing and analysis) of the survey of fifth- and sixth-grade teachers are the same as those of the survey of 7th-12th grade teachers and are discussed elsewhere.[Editor's note: See related article, page 204.] For the purposes of our survey, we defined sexuality education to include any instruction about human sexual development, the process of reproduction, or interpersonal relationships and sexual behavior.We asked teachers whether they cover specific topics (such as physical development or relationships and the personal skills needed to negotiate them), based on a broad range of topics considered to be necessary and basic components of family life and sexuality education.Because our larger project also surveyed teachers in grades 7-12, we are able to compare the extent of sexuality education and content of curricula at grades five and six with those at higher grades.