“The Talk” Survey: A Sex Education Map

Future Method

May 31, 2024

In 2024, conversations about sexual health and education are more critical than ever. Between 2022 and the first half of 2023 the number of bills introduced to restrict sex education increased from 34 to 91, a 127.5% increase in anti-sex ed legislation.

To advocate for a more informed, inclusive, and compassionate approach to teaching about sex, we partnered with SIECUS: Sex Ed for Social Change, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing sex education through advocacy, policy, and coalition building.

Together, we surveyed over 3,100 people across the U.S. to shed light on the deficits in current sex education practices. We asked respondents about when and how individuals first learned about sex –– from the average age at which people received "the talk" to the varied sources of their sexual education, be it parents, school, friends, online resources, or the absence of any formal instruction at all.

Respondents told us whether their families openly discussed sex or considered it a taboo topic. We also asked them to reflect on the coverage and quality of topics such as contraception, STIs, sexual consent, body image, and LGBTQ+ relationships in their sexual education, alongside the emphasis on abstinence, to identify gaps in learning. Finally, we probed how well their sexual education prepared them for their first sexual encounters. 

What Residents in Each State Wish They Had Learned in Sex Ed

a U.S. map plotting what Americans in each state wish they had learned in sex ed


In 2024, many important topics remain underrepresented or altogether absent from sex education curriculums across the country. To identify these learning gaps, we asked residents in each state which topics they wished had been covered in their sex education. 

The top four topics in sex education that respondents most wished had been included are:

  1. Body image and sexual self-esteem - 11 states
  2. Healthy relationships and recognizing abuse - 10 states
  3. Sexual consent and communication - 8 states
  4. LGBTQ+ relationships and sexual health - 7 states

Following those, reproductive health and rights emerged as the top topic in four states, followed by contraception and birth control methods, and navigating online resources and misinformation about sex, each highlighted by two states. Notably, STIs were not identified as a top concern in any state.

Overall, respondents called for sex education programs to place greater emphasis on the emotional and psychological aspects of sexuality, moving beyond a narrow focus on STIs, pregnancy prevention, and anatomy. They requested more well-rounded information regarding body image, healthy relationships, communicating consent, and LGBTQ+ inclusivity. One respondent called for “fewer scare tactics around pregnancy and STIs. Make an effort to explain safe sex versus pushing abstinence.” Others requested “more inclusivity for gay, asexual, trans, and intersex people” and “more discussion on recognizing sexual coercion and abuse” to foster an understanding of what constitutes a healthy relationship.

State-by-State Ratings of Sex Ed: From Parents to Schools


We asked residents in each state to rate the quality of “the talk” with their parents on a scale from 1 to 5, where 1 indicates “very vague” and 5 indicates “very detailed.” The average American rated "the talk" with their parents a 2.66 out of 5. People in Washington gave their "talk" the lowest rating at 2.00, while those in Minnesota rated theirs the highest at 3.23. Surprisingly, 55% of Americans report that they never had "the talk" with their parents –– a much higher percentage than anticipated. In addition, 60% of baby boomers never received “the talk,” which makes sense given they were raised during a time when open discussions about sexual health were discouraged. 

Next, we asked residents in each state to rate the quality of their sex education in school on a scale from 1 to 5, where 1 indicates “very poor” and 5 indicates “excellent.” The average American rated their sex ed in school a 2.76 out of 5. People in Tennessee gave their school-based sex ed the lowest rating at 2.17, whereas those in Washington rated theirs the highest at 3.33. Six out of the 10 states that gave their sex ed the lowest rating are located in the South –– Tennessee, Oklahoma, Mississippi, North Carolina, Alabama, and Arkansas. 

What’s more, 17% of Americans report that they never had any kind of sex education in school. The states with the highest percentage of respondents who never received sex ed in school are Alabama (43%), Mississippi (35%), Kentucky (31%), Oklahoma (28%), New Hampshire (26%), Arkansas (24%), and Florida (24%).

We compared survey respondent ratings to sex education scores assigned by SIECUS to all 50 states based on each state’s policies for sex education, and a few states stood out.

Mississippi (F) had the fourth-lowest school sex ed rating from respondents (2.30) and the second-highest percentage of respondents who never received sex ed in school (35%). This correlates with the F grade Mississippi received from SIECUS for its sex education policies. The state mandates abstinence instruction in schools, and instruction does not require teaching about consent or ensuring medical accuracy in its curriculum. Furthermore, sex education is not automatically provided; it requires parental opt-in, creating an additional barrier for students to access this education.

Arkansas (F) had the tenth-lowest school sex ed rating from respondents (2.47) and the sixth-highest percentage of respondents who never received sex ed in school (nearly 25%), which aligns with the F grade assigned by SIECUS. In Arkansas, sex education is not required, nor is HIV/STI education. If sex education is offered, the curriculum must stress abstinence. What’s more, the curriculum is not required to include instruction on consent or instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Washington (B+) had the highest school sex rating from respondents (3.33) and all respondents received sex ed in school, which aligns with the B+ grade assigned by SIECUS (only two states received As –– Illinois and Oregon). Washington schools are required to teach sex education. The curriculum must be inclusive of all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Further, the curriculum must be medically accurate and is required to include instruction on consent.

State-by-State Overview: Average Age for “The Talk” and School Sex Ed


According to survey responses, the average age at which Americans had “the talk” with their parents is 11.9 years old. However, this age varies by state. Washington and California residents typically engage in these discussions later, around ages 13.6 to 14, while those in Minnesota and Nevada have them earlier, between ages 10.7 and 10.9. 

Starting these crucial conversations at a younger age can empower children with the knowledge and confidence needed to handle complex topics before misconceptions develop. Interestingly, the majority of respondents (57%) reported having "the talk" only once, rather than as an ongoing dialogue throughout their upbringing.

According to responses, the average age at which Americans received school-based sex education is 12.4 years old. Again, this varies by state: in Alabama and Louisiana, students typically receive sex ed at older ages, around 13.5 to 13.6 years old, whereas in Minnesota and Washington, it is introduced earlier, between 11.5 and 11.7 years old. Introducing sex ed at younger ages is critical, as it ensures students receive timely and foundational knowledge that helps them make informed decisions as they grow. Research also shows that early, comprehensive sex education can help prevent sexual assault

Despite the majority of respondents (56%) reporting that they received sex education in just one specific grade, the benefits of extending this education throughout multiple grades are significant. Continued education across different grades can reinforce important information and skills, ensuring that students' understanding evolves as they mature.

 A Sex Ed Snapshot

an infographic with sex ed statistics regarding sources, taboos, preparedness, and impacts

A third of respondents (33%) said their first lessons about sex came from friends, underscoring a gap in school and familial education. This was followed by 19% who first learned about sex from TV or books, 18% being guided by their parents, and a mere 17% getting introduced to sex in school settings.

Sex Ed Sources: Parents vs. Schools

The data further reveals a poignant sense of missed opportunities among adults. 42% of respondents who did not receive the "talk" from their parents as a kid wish they had, and an even more striking 73% who did not receive sex education in school wish they had. This disparity suggests that school-based sex education is seen as more effective in delivering essential information about sex than conversations with parents alone.

It's also noteworthy that 80% of LGBTQ+ respondents who did not receive sex education in school lamented its absence. This high percentage underscores the critical need for sex ed programs that are comprehensive and cater to the diverse identities of all students, particularly those from the LGBTQ+ community. 

LGBTQ+ students often face significant gaps in traditional sex education programs, which typically focus solely on heterosexual relationships and cisgender identities, leaving these students without critical information pertinent to their sexual health and personal experiences. Additionally, these curriculums frequently omit discussions on gender identity and neglect to address the higher risks of bullying and mental health challenges that queer youth deal with due to societal stigma and discrimination.

Emphasis on Abstinence in Sex Ed

The emphasis on abstinence features prominently in American sex education. According to SIECUS, 35 states require schools to emphasize the importance of abstinence in their sex ed programs. Survey respondents weighed in similarly. 65% of respondents say there was an emphasis on abstinence in their sex education at school, while 50% mentioned a focus on abstinence in their “talks” with their parents. This trend indicates that schools are more likely to stress abstinence than parents, pointing to a potential disconnect between educational policies and the more nuanced needs of young individuals. 

Taboos, Sex Preparedness, and Impact

In many households, discussions about sex are kept under wraps. 77% of respondents did not feel empowered to ask questions about sex when they were young, and 60% said that discussions about sex were either taboo or very taboo during their upbringing. This widespread unease often stems from a variety of factors. The most common, cited by 45% of those who never received "the talk," is their parents' own discomfort with discussing sexual topics. Additionally, 26% of parents assumed their children would learn about sex in school, while 22% admitted they never received "the talk" themselves and didn't know how to broach the subject. 

Other factors include assumptions that their children already knew about sex from other sources (21%), beliefs that they were too young for the conversation (20%), and cultural or religious beliefs discouraging such discussions (18%). These insights reveal the complex web of discomfort, assumption, and tradition that often inhibits essential sexual health discussions in families.

70% of respondents report that their sex education did not adequately prepare them for their first sexual encounter. The gap widens further within the LGBTQ+ community, where 74% felt unprepared, compared to 59% of straight respondents. 

The consequences of these educational shortfalls are profound. One in five respondents (20%) believe that their sexual education (or the lack thereof) led to dangerous sexual practices or health issues later in life. Furthermore, over half of the respondents (52%) feel that their adult sex lives would have been improved had they received more comprehensive sex education.

The Key Questions Sex Ed Didn’t Cover

The gaps in traditional sex education programs are revealed by the variety of sexual health questions that young people are turning to Google to answer. From basic queries like "How do I use a condom?" and "What are signs of an STD?" to more specific questions such as "How do I have anal sex safely?" and "How do I have sex as a queer person?", it's clear that many essential topics are not being adequately covered in classrooms or at home. 

Browse a selection of questions below that survey respondents had to Google, as their sex education did not cover these topics.

Redefining Sex Ed

"Through 'The Talk' survey, we've uncovered that a vast majority of adults wish they had received more information on aspects of sexual health that are rarely discussed openly, such as anal engagement," said sexual health and wellness expert, Dr. Evan Goldstein. "This data arrives at a crucial time when sex education faces aggressive legislative challenges. Our findings highlight the need for an educational overhaul that can ensure the well-being and safety of future generations."

SIECUS and Future Method are using these survey insights to fuel their ongoing efforts to advocate for sex education that is inclusive, medically accurate, and free from stigma. Their partnership is a testament to their shared commitment to enhancing sexual wellness and knowledge across the U.S.


To gather the insights in “The Talk” - A Sex Ed Map, we surveyed 3,133 U.S. adults across 44 states, aged 18 to 77 years old, with a representative sample across various sexual orientations and gender identities. The survey ran over two weeks from April 5 to April 18, 2024. Responses from residents in Alaska, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming were excluded due to an insufficient number of survey respondents in those states. 


SIECUS: Sex Ed for Social Change has served as the national voice for sex education since 1964, asserting that sexuality is a fundamental part of being human, one worthy of dignity and respect. Through policy, advocacy, education, and strategic communications efforts, SIECUS advances sex education as a vehicle for social change—working toward a world where all people can access and enjoy sexual and reproductive freedom as they define it for themselves.


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Education at the forefront–on topics both popular and taboo. The blog started by the gay community, for everyone.


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