Researchers at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) evaluated Get Real, Planned Parenthood’s comprehensive middle school sex education program. The evaluation shows that Get Real is effective in delaying sex for boys and girls . Specifically, in schools that taught Get Real, 16% fewer boys and 15% fewer girls had sex compared to boys and girls in schools that either did not teach sex education at all or taught sex education as usual. This makes Get Real one of the few middle school sex education programs that shows delayed sex for both boys and girls. Based on these findings, Get Real was designated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as an evidence-based program. This means that schools and organizations can use federal funding to teach Get Real in their communities. We also found that boys who completed Get Real family activities in 6th grade were more likely to delay sex in 8th grade than boys who did not complete them. These findings suggest that the 6th grade family activities in Get Real may have encouraged parents to begin talking about sexual issues with their sons earlier and more often than they would have otherwise.
Get Real is a three-year comprehensive sex education program delivered with nine lessons per year for grades 6, 7, and 8, which are consistent with National Education Association recommendations for comprehensive sex education. The program delivers factually accurate, age-appropriate information on sexual health and relationships and includes built-in opportunities in each lesson for parents to talk with their children. The Get Real curriculum emphasizes social and emotional learning skills such as self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. Through learning and practicing social and emotional skills, students can make responsible decisions about sex and sexuality and initiate and maintain healthy relationships in all aspects of their lives.
Evaluation Background and Design
Researchers at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) were contracted by Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts (PPLM), the developers of Get Real, to assess the impact of this sex education program. Our evaluation used a randomized experimental design — the gold standard in impact evaluation research — to assess the effectiveness of Get Real.
We recruited 24 schools in the Boston area with over 2000 students, and randomly assigned half of the schools to the intervention group and half to the comparison group after they agreed to participate in the study. For schools in the intervention group, all students received three years of the Get Real curriculum, in 6th, then 7th, and then 8th grades. The program was taught by educators trained and supervised PPLM. For schools in the comparison group, students received sex education as usually taught at their school (if any). As external evaluators, we surveyed students at three time points: beginning of Grade 6 (baseline), beginning of Grade 7, and end of Grade 8. To better understand the impact of the curriculum, we conducted small qualitative studies which included parent/guardian interviews and a project where 6th grade students took photographs that represented their understanding of relationships.
Evaluation Background and Design
Sumru Erkut led the evaluation team, overseeing and supervising research staff. Jennifer Grossman co-led the evaluation team. Linda Charmaraman led the qualitative components of the evaluation. Allison Tracy was the quantitative methodologist, responsible for analyzing project data. Alice Frye served as the quantitative methodologist for the first year of the project. Ineke Ceder was the project manager, and was assisted by Erica Plunkett in all aspects of data collection and management.
Published Evaluation Findings
Erkut, S., Grossman, J. M., Frye, A., Ceder, I., Charmaraman, L., & Tracy, A. (2013). Can sex education delay early sexual debut? Journal of Early Adolescence, 33, 479-494.
Grossman, J.M., Frye, A., Charmaraman, L., & Erkut, S. (2013). Family homework and school-based sex education: Delaying early adolescents’ sexual behavior. Journal of School Health, 83, 810-817.
Grossman, J. M., Tracy, A. J., Charmaraman, L., Ceder, I., & Erkut, S. (2014). Protective effects of middle school comprehensive sex education with family involvement. Journal of School Health, 84, 739-747. DOI: 10.1111/josh.12199
Charmaraman, L, & Grossman, J.M. (2014). “Be careful who you friend:” Early adolescents’ reports of safety, privacy, and family monitoring of Facebook use. Journal of Youth Development, 9(1), 86-112.
Charmaraman, L., Lee, A., & Erkut, S. (2012). "What if you already know everything about sex?" Content analysis of questions from early adolescents in a middle school sex education program. Journal of Adolescent Health, 50(5), 527-530.
Charmaraman, L., & McKamey, C. (2011). Urban early adolescent narratives on sexuality: Accidental and intentional influences of family, peers, and the media. Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 8(4), 253-266.
Grossman, J. M., Charmaraman, L, & Erkut, S. (2013). Do as I say, not as I did: How parents talk with early adolescents about sex. Journal of Family Issues. doi: 10.1177/0192513x13511955
Grossman, J. M., Tracy, A. J., Richer, A., & Erkut, S. (2014). The role of extended family in teen sexual health. Journal of Adolescent Research, 30(1), 31-56.