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JUNE 2, 1999  8:00 AM
Advocates for Youth
Darryl L. Figueroa of Advocates for Youth, 202-347-5700, ext. 24
Poll: Public Support for Sexuality Education Reaches Highest Level
WASHINGTON - June 2 - The most in-depth analysis ever conducted of how Americans feel about sexuality education for young people reveals an unprecedented level of support, according to research findings released today by Advocates for Youth and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). Ninety-three percent of all Americans support the teaching of sexuality education in high schools, while 84 percent support sexuality education in middle/junior high schools.

More than any other variable, concern over teenage pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) 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."

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 STDs. Congress passed the program as part of welfare reform legislation in 1996.

These 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 plus-or-minus 3 percent sampling error. Research also included four focus groups conducted in April 1999 in Columbia, Md., and Charlotte, N.C., with parents who reside with their school-aged children.

Among the project's key findings:

-- More than eight out of every 10 Americans believe young people should be given information to protect themselves from unplanned pregnancies and STDs, as well as about abstinence.

-- 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, but 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 70 percent of 18-year-olds having had intercourse, at least 69 percent of Americans agree that teaching abstinence-only-until-marriage is just not realistic.

-- Support for high school and junior high school sexuality education to prevent disease and unintended pregnancy extends to all groups, including conservative Christians.

-- Eighty-nine percent of Americans believe it is important for young people to have information about contraception and prevention of STDs and that sexuality education programs should focus on how to avoid unintended pregnancies and STDs, including HIV and AIDS, since they are such pressing problems in America today.

-- More than six out of every 10 Americans (63 percent) 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; this included 44 percent of conservatives who reject the idea that young people exploring their sexuality is wrong and that the best approach is setting limits on behavior before marriage.

"This poll affirms that parents want schools as their partners in the sexuality education of their children," says SIECUS President Debra W. Haffner, M.P.H. "Parents want their children to be taught about abstinence, but only in conjunction with a wide range of sexuality education issues."

"Parents get it -- ignorance is nobody's ally in the age of AIDS," says James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth. "American parents don't see any opposition between sexuality education that includes information about contraception and abstinence. For them, it is not an either/or equation. They want both."

The poll analyzes, for the first time, what parents mean when they say they support age-appropriate sexuality education. A strong majority -- more than 70 percent -- support the teaching of puberty, abstinence, and prevention of HIV/AIDS and STDs to students in grades seven and higher. Around 60 percent support teaching grades seven and eight about love and dating, contraception, condom use, and sexual orientation. More than 90 percent support teaching about abstinence, HIV/AIDS, STDs, love and dating, birth control, and condoms by the 11th and 12th grades.

Advocates for Youth is a national nonprofit organization that creates programs and supports policies to help young people make safe, responsible decisions about sex. Founded in 1980, Advocates for Youth has offices in Washington, D.C., Chapel Hill, N.C., and Los Angeles, Calif.


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