An in-depth analysis, sponsored by Advocates for Youth and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), on how Americans feel about sexuality education for young people reveals an unprecedented level of support for sexuality education that includes both abstinence and information about contraception and condoms.
More than any other variable, concern over teenage pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is transforming the debate over sexuality education in the U.S. to a consensus around public health. Seventy-two percent of all Americans agree that "preventing HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases are public health issues and should be left to scientists and experts, not to politicians."
The findings are based on a national poll[*] conducted in February and March 1999 by Hickman-Brown Research, Inc. that surveyed 1,050 adults nationwide. The poll has a +/- three percent sampling error. Research also included four focus groups conducted in April 1999 with parents who reside with their school-aged children in Columbia, MD, and Charlotte, NC.
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Other Key Findings:
- Ninety-three percent of Americans support the teaching of sexuality education in high schools, while 84 percent support sexuality education in middle/junior high schools.
- More than eight out of every 10 Americans believe young people should be given information about protecting themselves from unintended pregnancies and STIs.
- Seven out of 10 Americans oppose the provision of federal funds for education promoting abstinence-only-until-marriage that prohibits teaching about the use of condoms and contraception for the prevention of unintended pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, and STIs. Congress passed such a program as part of welfare reform legislation in 1996.
- More than eight out of every 10 Americans reject the idea that providing such sexuality education encourages sexual activity.
- Adults see a strong distinction between abstinence and abstinence-only-until-marriage education. More than 90 percent of adults support abstinence being included as a topic in sexuality education for high school students. However 70 percent oppose the provision of federal law that allocates over half a billion dollars for abstinence-only-until-marriage education but prohibits use of the funds for information on contraception for the prevention of unintended pregnancy and disease.
- With the average age of puberty at 12 and of marriage at 26, and since 70 percent of 18-year-olds have had sexual intercourse, at least 69 percent of Americans agree that teaching abstinence-only-until-marriage is just not realistic.
- All groups, including conservative Christians, support high school and junior high school sexuality education to prevent disease and unintended pregnancy.
- Eighty-nine percent of Americans believe that it is important for young people to have information about contraception and prevention of STIs and that sexuality education programs should focus on how to avoid unintended pregnancies and STIs, including HIV and AIDS.
- More than six out of every 10 Americans (63%) believe that sexual exploration among young people is a natural part of growing up and that the best approach is to provide information and services to help young people act responsibly. These Americans included 44 percent of conservatives who reject the ideas that young people exploring their sexuality is wrong and that the best approach is setting limits on behavior before marriage.
In the years since this study, nationwide polls[**] have continued to show widespread support for comprehensive sexuality education among parents.
* Advocates for Youth and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. Poll on America's Attitudes toward Sexuality Education. Conducted by Hickman-Brown Research for Advocates and the Council between February 23 and March 3, 1999. Washington, DC: Hickman-Brown, 1999.
** National Public Radio et al. Sex Education in America: NPR/Kaiser/Kennedy School Poll. Menlo Park, CA: Kaiser, 2004.
** Bleakley et al. “Public Opinion on Sex Education in U.S. Schools.” Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 2006: 1151-1156.
Updated May 2008