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Public Support of Comprehensive Sexuality Education

Public Support Fact Sheet

A vast majority of adults support comprehensive sexuality education and believe young people should be given information about how to protect themselves from unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. In fact, only10% of the voting public says they want abstinence-only curricula in our schools.1 Despite overwhelming support for comprehensive education about sexuality, the federal government currently provides approximately $138 million per year for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs which deny young people valuable and potentially life-saving information.

Surveys of adults from around the country demonstrate overwhelming public support for comprehensive sexuality education in American schools:

  • 93% of parents of junior high school students and 91% of parents of high school students believe it is very or somewhat important to have sexuality education as part of the school curriculum.2
  • 92% of parents of junior high school students and 93% of parents of high school students whose child has had or is currently in sexuality education believe that this will be very or somewhat helpful to their child.3
  • 77% of parents of junior high school students and 72% of parents of high school students believe that sexuality education is very or somewhat effective in helping teens avoid HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, 73% of parents of junior high school students and 66% of parents of high school students believe it is very or somewhat effective in helping teens to avoid pregnancy.4
  • 63% of voters would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports comprehensive sexuality education.5

Americans also strongly support including a breadth of topics in sexuality education:6

  • 95% of parents of junior high school students and 93% of parents of high school students believe that birth control and other methods of preventing pregnancy are appropriate topics for sexuality education programs in schools.
  • 100% of parents of junior high school students and 98% of parents of high school students believe sexually transmitted diseases are an appropriate topic for sexuality education programs in schools.
  • 100% of parents of junior high school students and 99% of parents of high school students believe HIV/AIDS is an appropriate topic for sexuality education programs in schools.
  • 88% of parents of junior high school students and 85% of parents of high school students believe information on how to use and where to get contraceptives is an appropriate topic for sexuality education programs in schools.
  • 83% of parents of junior high school students and 79% of parents of high school students believe information on how to put on a condom is an appropriate topic for sexuality education programs in schools.
  • 99% of parents of junior high school students and 97% of parents of high school students believe the basics of how babies are made, pregnancy, and birth is an appropriate topic for sexuality education programs in schools.
  • 97% of parents of junior high school students and 96% of parents of high school students believe information on how to get tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases is an appropriate topic for sexuality education programs in schools.

Broad public support for comprehensive sexuality curricula is found across ideological and religious lines:

  • Over four in five anti-choice voters agree that students should receive age appropriate, medically accurate sex education, beginning in the early grades and continuing through 12th grade.7
  • Almost eight in ten conservative Christians support sexuality education in high school and seven in ten support it in middle school.8
  • More than 10 religious organizations are members of the National Coalition to Support Sexuality Education, including the American Jewish Congress, National Council of Churches: Office of Family Ministries & Human Sexuality, and Unitarian Universalist Association.

1) Mobilizing Support for Sex Education: New Messages and Techniques (New York, NY: The Othmer Institute of Planned Parenthood of NYC, 2002.)

2) Sex Education in America, (Washington, DC: National Public Radio, Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, and Kennedy School of Governments, 2004), Toplines, p. 5.

3) Ibid, Toplines, p. 28.

4) Ibid, Toplines, p. 6.

5) Mobilizing Support for Sex Education: New Messages and Techniques

6) Sex Education in America, Toplines, pp. 9-11.

7) Mobilizing Support for Sex Education: New Messages and Techniques.

8) Survey of America's View on Sexuality Education (Washington, DC: Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States and Advocates for Youth, 1999). http://www.siecus.org/parent/pare0003.html.

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SIECUS Poll
For SIECUS poll, please see: www.siecus.org/parent/pare0003.html

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Press Release from Othmer Institute Poll
Even Anti-Choice Voters Support Sex Education that Includes Abstinence AND Contraception

Congress Prepared to Mislead Nation's Youth, Defy Voter Demand for Medically Accurate Sex Education

New York, NY--The majority of anti-choice voters strongly agree that students should receive sex education that includes abstinence and contraception throughout their school years, according to a 2002 poll of registered voters, commissioned by the Othmer Institute at Planned Parenthood of NYC. Ninety percent of all respondents agreed that students should receive age-appropriate and medically accurate sex education that begins in the early grades and continues through twelfth grade.

Despite such findings, the House of Representatives is poised to pass legislation that trades medical accuracy and effective programs for conservative ideology. A provision of the proposed House welfare reauthorization bill would provide federal funding for medically incomplete abstinence programs. The legislation is part of a larger effort by the Bush Administration to increase federal funding for such programs by 35 percent. Typically called abstinence-only, these programs only discuss contraception as it relates to failure rates.

While the majority of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents prefer sex education programs to abstinence-only programs, the House Commerce Committee voted largely along party lines to shoot down amendments that would have required abstinence programs to be medically accurate and states to use programs that have been shown to work.

"Such votes are driven by narrow ideology, rather than what Americans want and need to be healthy," said Gloria Feldt, President, Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "How else could you explain President Bush mandating a national curriculum that the majority of voters don't support? Despite the President's on-the-record claims to spend money on what works, he is aggressively advocating for programs deemed ineffective by health care experts. In so doing, he is putting our children in grave danger."

The poll also uncovered that almost half of all voters believe that abstinence-only programs present all the facts on birth control and disease prevention. Critics claim that this confusion has allowed the Bush Administration to advocate for a program that is so far out of step with voter opinion.

"Americans overwhelmingly support sex education-education that includes information about abstinence and contraception," said Leslie Kantor, Vice President of Education for the Othmer Institute at Planned Parenthood of NYC. "In fact, voters find the idea of teaching sex education without contraception and disease prevention so ludicrous that they can't believe the federal government is funding it."

The poll also found that the majority of voters believe decisions about the content of sex education programs should be made at the local and state levels. Yet, the House Commerce Committee vetoed an amendment that would have given states more flexibility in how best to spend the money.

Furthermore, the Bush Administration is about to face an unlikely foe in this matter, which is often framed as a debate between morality and public health. Religious leaders are preparing to release an open letter supporting comprehensive sex education. The letter, developed at a colloquium of theologians sponsored by the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing, provides compelling religious reasons for supporting comprehensive sex education. In addition, more than 2,100 clergy, theologians and other religious leaders have endorsed a Religious Declaration, which calls in part for lifelong, age-appropriate sexuality education in schools, seminaries, and community settings.

There currently is no federal program dedicated to supporting effective sex education that emphasizes the benefits of abstinence while also teaching about contraception and pregnancy and disease prevention, despite the proven effectiveness of such programs.

The poll was conducted by Lake Snell Perry & Associates and commissioned by the Othmer Institute at Planned Parenthood of NYC. The survey reached 800 active and attentive voters nationwide (400 men and 400 women). Active and attentive voters were defined as individuals who said they were likely to vote in the 2002 elections for Congress; who had voted in all or most of the elections in which they had been eligible to vote; who read the newspaper daily; who participate in a volunteer, community or civic, or political organization at least once a month; who pay attention to politics and government; and who would write a letter to their member of Congress on an issue that concerned them. The survey was conducted between February 13 and 18, 2002. The margin of error is +/-3.5 percent.

The Othmer Institute is dedicated to promoting the advancement of reproductive freedom and healthy sexuality through innovative programs and ideas. The Institute's objective is to bring new energy into the public discourse and create a forum for meaningful change, building a national center of civic dialogue where morally complex issues can be debated freely.

*For more information about Othmer Institute, please see: www.othmerinstitute.org