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Get Real: Comprehensive Sex Education That Works


The Research

In February 2015, Get Real was added to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) list of evidence-based programs. Inclusion on this list requires meeting stringent criteria for effectiveness. 

Piloting and Formative Evaluation

Get Real was piloted in five Massachusetts schools over a 3-year period. During pilot testing, the curriculum was taught by trained Planned Parenthood educators. Experiences and observations gathered while teaching the curriculum contributed greatly to curriculum revisions. The final year of pilot testing culminated in a formative evaluation conducted by Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW), a scholarly research institution affiliated with Wellesley College. The formative evaluation, carried out with 500 sixth, seventh, and eighth graders, showed promising results, even though the students had only been exposed to 1 year of the 3-year curriculum.

The formative evaluation results included the following findings:

  • Students’ belief in their ability to talk about abstinence increased after exposure to Get Real lessons. This finding suggests that the abstinence focus of the curriculum was effectively transmitted to the students.
  • After exposure to Get Real, students who believed they could talk to a dating partner about abstinence were less likely to report having had sex, suggesting that increased trust in one’s ability to talk about abstinence is associated with not being sexually active.
  • Students who believed their peers had not had sex were less likely to have had sex themselves. Conversely, students who believed their peers were sexually active were more likely to report being sexually active. Both of these trends suggest that perceived peer norms about sex have an important role in adolescents’ own sexual activity.
  • Students identified their parents and teachers as the most important and most trusted sources of information on sex before they took the Get Real class. After exposure to Get Real, teachers’ and parents’ importance as sources of information increased significantly. None of the other sources of information, such as peers, the internet, video games, or even books, were rated as highly as these two sources before or after exposure to Get Real.

Impact Evaluation Design

In 2008, Wellesley Centers for Women began the process of conducting a longitudinal impact evaluation to study the effectiveness of Get Real Middle School. This evaluation was a scientifically rigorous study featuring 24 middle schools in the greater Boston area. Half of the schools were randomly assigned to have Get Real taught by a trained educator to a cohort of students for 3 years, and half continued with their usual sex education programs.

A total of 2,453 students participated in the evaluation. Of the participating schools, 22 were located in an urban area, 13 were traditional public schools, 9 were public charter schools, and 2 were private middle schools. The sample was 52% female and 48% male, and 33% were of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity. With respect to race, 53% were Black/ African American, 28% White, 6% Asian/Pacific Islander, 2% Native American and 11% biracial/multiracial.

During the evaluation, students completed surveys that measured knowledge, attitudes, and sexual behavior. Surveys were given at the beginning of sixth grade before beginning the program, and follow-up surveys were conducted in seventh, eighth and ninth grades. Researchers also conducted focus groups with students, and interviewed parents about parent-child communication relating to relationships and sexuality.

Impact Evaluation Findings

The ultimate aim of the evaluation was to establish whether Get Real had any impact on students’ first vaginal sex. The sixth–eighth grade analyses showed that there was a significant difference between students attending the treatment schools compared to those in the comparison schools, with students in treatment schools reporting lower levels of sexual activity. The research findings show that Get Real works to delay sex among students who received the program, empowers parents to help their children delay sex, reinforces family communication and improves communication skills for healthy relationships.

In terms of delaying sex:

  • There was a significant effect for both boys and girls, with 16% fewer boys and 15% fewer girls who received Get Real having had sex by the end of eighth grade compared to boys and girls who had sex education “as usual” in comparison schools.
  • For boys, family involvement showed an additional effect, with boys who completed Family Activities in sixth grade being less likely to report having had sex in eighth grade than boys who did not complete these activities.

In addition to delaying sex, the research study found that Get Real also:

  • Reinforced family communication through family activities and empowered parents to help their children delay sex.
  • Improved communication skills for healthy relationships. Both boys and girls who received Get Real identified that they were more prepared to assert themselves and communicate in a relationship, including saying ‘no’ to sex.

Schools that can implement the program as intended are likely to reap significant benefits from exposing their students to a relationship-skills-based comprehensive sexuality education program with a Family Activities component. (Note: Get Real High School has not yet been evaluated.)


Charmaraman, L., C. McKamey. 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.

Erkut, S., J. M.Grossman, A. A. Frye, I. Ceder, L. Charmaraman, A. J. Tracy. 2013. Can sex education delay early sexual debut? Journal of Early Adolescence 33: 479–494.

Grossman, J. G., A. Frye, L. Charmaraman, S. Erkut. 2013. Family homework and school-based sex education: Delaying early adolescents’ sexual behavior. Journal of School Health 83 (11): 810-817.

Grossman, J. M., A. J. Tracy, L. Charmaraman, I. Ceder, S. Erkut. 2014. Protective effects of middle school comprehensive sex education with family involvement. Journal of School Health 84 (11): 739–747.