- 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
-- 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
"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.