SEX ED: Most Parents Want ‘Comprehensive’ Approach
A new Kaiser Family Foundation study finds that parents want schools to "go farther" than they currently do on the topics of reproduction, HIV/AIDS and other STDs and to "address issues often labeled controversial, like abortion and sexual orientation, as well as teach communication and coping skills." The study, titled Sex Education in America: A View from Inside the Nation's Classrooms, is based on surveys of more than 4,000 students, parents, sex education teachers and principals. In addition, parents and educators agree that schools should dedicate more time to sex education -- at least half of a semester. Among the specific topics parents would like to be included in sex education curriculum: how to use condoms (85% of parents agreed), how to use other forms of birth control (84%), how to talk about birth control with sexual partners (88%), how to cope with pressure to have sex (94%), the emotional consequences of becoming sexually active (94%), abortion (79%) and sexual orientation (76%). Tina Hoff, director of public health information and communication for the Kaiser Family Foundation, said, "What comes across in this study is that parents look to schools to prepare their children for real life. Their concerns are practical, not political." As far as what is actually offered at schools in terms of sex education, most schools provide information on HIV/AIDS (97%), other STDs (93%) and reproduction (90%). While abstinence is frequently discussed (84%), "practical skills" -- such as how to use and obtain birth control (59%), the topic of abortion (61%) and sexual orientation (41%) -- are less frequently taught, according to students. However, a majority of educators (61% of teachers and 58% of principals) say that they provide a "comprehensive" approach to sex education -- teaching young people to "wait to have sex" but also stressing that they "should use birth control and practice safer sex if they don't." One-third deliver the "abstinence-only message." Many parents report that although they want their children to practice abstinence, they also want them to be informed about how to use condoms and other forms of birth control (Kaiser Family Foundation release, 9/26).
Adults Favor 'Comprehensive' Sex Education
A second survey, conducted in June by the Othmer Institute at Planned Parenthood of New York City, finds that "[w]hile U.S. policy on sexuality education emphasizes abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, American adults are overwhelmingly supportive of comprehensive sexuality education." According to the study, more than 80% of Americans surveyed "believe that instruction should be provided on STD prevention, refusal skills, decision making, pregnancy prevention, safer sex and healthy relationships." While 40% of respondents indicated that they feel teens should be taught that "sexual behavior outside of marriage is wrong," three-quarters of this group also believe that pregnancy prevention, contraception and safer sex are "very important" aspects of sex education. Leslie Kantor, spokesperson for the Othmer Institute, said, "These are important findings. The United States currently spends close to $100 million annually on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, which prohibit discussion of key topics such as contraception. Yet this directly contradicts what the overwhelming majority of Americans want in public schools. ... Comprehensive sexuality education is the common ground" ( Othmer Institute release, 9/26).
A Call to Policy Makers
Stating that the Kaiser study and a recent Alan Guttmacher Institute study "reveal a disturbing trend toward abstinence-only education," Advocates for Youth "calls on policy makers to support increased funding for realistic, balanced sexuality education that provides young people with information about both abstinence and contraception." Advocates for Youth President James Wagoner said, "Despite high numbers of teen births, HIV infection and teen abortion rates, young people are being denied critical information about contraception that could protect their health and save their lives. It is a classic case of U.S. politicians putting their agendas before the health and needs of our young people. And it has to stop." Elizabeth Marchetta, 16-year-old editor of SEX, Etc., a newsletter and Web site on health and sexuality, said, "Abstinence-only programs are sending the wrong message to teens. These programs promote ignorance among teenagers as opposed to values. You can't educate us by denying us information. You have to give us information and let us be responsible. Health classes that talk about contraception don't encourage teens to have sex, they encourage us to make responsible decisions" (Advocates for Youth release, 9/26).