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Fact Sheet: Public Support for Sexuality Education

June/July 2000

A note from TheBody.com: Since this article was written, the HIV pandemic has changed, as has our understanding of HIV/AIDS and its treatment. As a result, parts of this article may be outdated. Please keep this in mind, and be sure to visit other parts of our site for more recent information!

The vast majority of Americans support sexuality education and believe that young people should be given information to protect themselves from unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

Even though they believe that abstinence should be a topic in sexuality education, they reject the abstinence-only-until-marriage education that denies young people information about contraception and condoms.

The statistics in this Fact Sheet on Public Support for Sexuality Education will help advocates for comprehensive sexuality education programs work to ensure that public policies keep pace with the desires of the American people.

(* indicates information added March 2001)

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Support for Teaching Sexuality Education

  • 93 percent of Americans support the teaching of sexuality education to high school age students, and 84 percent support sexuality education to middle/junior high school age students.1

  • 87 percent of Americans favor including sexuality education in the public high schools.2

  • 86 percent of registered voters favor sexuality education for teenagers in public schools.3

  • 85 percent of adults agree that sexuality education should be taught in the public schools.4

  • 66 percent of registered voters are in favor of a proposal to increase efforts to provide age-appropriate sexuality education in the public elementary schools. 10 percent are neutral, 2 percent are not sure, and 22 percent are negative about increasing efforts.5

  • About four in 10 Americans think sexuality education should be required for all students, regardless of their parents' wishes, with 48 percent of African-American parents holding this view.6

  • 54 percent of adults believe that eliminating sexuality education in schools would lead to more teenage pregnancies.7

  • 90 percent of adults in New Mexico support sexuality education for high school students, and 78 percent support sexuality education at the middle school level.*8

  • 89 percent of Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) presidents in North Carolina agree that family life education should be taught in public schools.9

  • 88 percent of adults in California support teaching age-appropriate sexuality education in schools.10

  • 58 percent of principals say that parents are "very supportive" and 36 percent say that parents are "somewhat supportive" of their school's sexuality education program.11

  • 72 percent of principals say that the school board or school administrators are "very supportive" and 23 percent say that the school board or school administrators are "somewhat supportive" of their school's sexuality education program.12

  • 69 percent of principals say that teachers are "very supportive" and 28 percent say that teachers are "somewhat supportive" of their school's sexuality education program.13

  • 55 percent of principals say that students are "very supportive" and 37 percent say that students are "somewhat supportive" of their school's sexuality education program.14

  • 32 percent of principals say that religious leaders are "very supportive" and 38 percent say that religious leaders are "somewhat supportive" of their school's sexuality education program.15

  • When asked if politicians are supportive of their school's sexuality education program, 21 percent of principals say that politicians are "very supportive," 29 percent say that politicians are "somewhat supportive," and 39 percent say that they "don't know."16

  • 33 percent of principals say that community members are "very supportive" and 41 percent say that community members are "somewhat supportive" of their school's sexuality education program.17


Support for Content

When adults were asked their views on the appropriate grade to teach specific subjects in sexuality education programs. The results were:


 7-8
Grades
9-10
Grades
11-12
Grades
Puberty82%94%96%
Abstinence799195
HIV/AIDS769296
STDs749196
Love/Dating638692
Contraception/
Birth Control
598491
Condoms588290
Sexual Orientation567685
Abortion40687918


  • If sexuality education is taught in high schools, 94 percent think it should include the basic facts of human reproduction; 92 percent think it should tell young people who are sexually active to use protection, such as condoms, to prevent pregnancy and disease; 74 percent think sexuality education should discuss knowing when you are ready to have sexual relations; 74 percent think it should include how to talk about sexual intercourse with a partner; 68 percent think it should tell young people not to have sexual intercourse before marriage.19

  • When asked to name the topics to include in a high school sexuality education program, Americans said: STDs (92 percent), AIDS (92 percent), biology of reproduction (90 percent), teen pregnancy (89 percent), birth control (87 percent), premarital sexual relations (77 percent), nature of sexual intercourse (72 percent), abortion (70 percent) and homosexuality (65 percent).20

  • Overwhelming majorities support the schools' role in teaching the biology of sexual reproduction and pregnancy. 95 percent say this is an appropriate area for public schools, and 78 percent would start this before high school.21

  • 97 percent of Americans say schools should teach students about the dangers of STDs, including AIDS, with 86 percent wanting this to begin before high school, 35 percent in elementary school, and 51 percent in junior high school.22

  • 96 percent of all Americans support providing AIDS information in high schools.23

  • 97 percent of parents support providing AIDS information in high schools.24

  • 55 percent of voters agree with supporters who emphasize the importance of providing scientific information to young people regarding sexuality and health issues.25

  • 89 percent of Americans believe that 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.26

  • 83 percent of adults believe that, whether or not young people are sexually active, they should receive information to protect themselves from unplanned pregnancies and STDs.27

  • 81 percent of adults think sexuality education courses should teach about abstinence and give teens enough information to help them prevent unplanned pregnancies and the spread of STDs if they do decide to have intercourse.28

  • 56 percent of Americans think AIDS education should be required with 71 percent of African-American parents backing this approach.29

  • 51 percent of Americans support allowing schools to supply students with phone numbers of gay support groups.30

  • 56 percent of Americans feel "using models of nude men and women to demonstrate the correct use of condoms and diaphragms" is appropriate.31


California

  • The majority (52 percent) of adults in California believe that age-appropriate sexuality education should begin by the sixth grade.32

  • When adults in California were asked about the content of sexuality education in high schools, 99 percent said discussions should include information on AIDS and other STDs, 97 percent said discussions should include teaching students the basic facts of human reproduction, and 85 percent support high schools discussions with teens about how to talk about sexuality with a partner.33

  • 84 percent of adults in California believe young people should receive specific instruction about preventing pregnancy and STDs.34

  • 93 percent of adults in California believe sexually active teens should be encouraged in school-based sexuality education courses to use protection to prevent pregnancy and STDs.35


Indiana

  • Adults in Indiana were asked if Indiana public high schools should educate teenagers about how to use condoms to prevent the spread of HIV. 50.1 percent strongly agree, 25.3 percent somewhat agree.36


New Mexico

  • 80 percent of New Mexican adults agree that "schools need to supplement what parents teach at home so kids have full information about contraception, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV, and AIDS."37

  • 80 percent of New Mexican adults agree that sexuality education programs should focus on how to avoid unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and AIDS, since they are such pressing problems in America today.38

Respondents were asked what grade they felt it is appropriate to teach specific topics in school:

  • 87-88 percent indicated the desire to have puberty, abstinence, sexually transmitted diseases, and HIV/AIDS taught in the 7th and 8th grades.39

  • 64 percent supported teaching about condoms at the 7tth and 8th grade levels while 21percent felt this should wait until the 9th and 10th grades, and 8 percent thought it should not be taught at all.40

  • 63 percent supported teaching about oral contraception and birth control in the 7th and 8th grade, while 24 percent preferred to wait until 9th and 10th grades, and 7 percent thought it should not be taught at all.41

  • 81 percent wanted the topic of sexual orientation covered by the end of high school and 75 percent supported including the topic of abortion by that time.42

  • 75 percent of New Mexicans agree that "whether or not young people are sexually active, they should be given information to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy," while 21 percent believe that "telling young people about birth control only encourages them to have sex."43

  • 55 percent disagree that giving young people information about contraception in schools sends a mixed message and encourages young people to have intercourse.44


North Carolina

  • 92 percent of PTA presidents in North Carolina agree that family life education should include birth control and condom instruction as well as abstinence education.45

  • 42 percent of PTA presidents in North Carolina believe that family life education programs should teach "abstinence until marriage" only.46

  • 91 percent of PTA presidents in North Carolina support instruction about abstinence and the use of condoms and birth control methods in the family life education curriculum.47

  • PTA presidents in North Carolina believe that topics related to family, communication, and child and sexual abuse should be introduced in grades K-3.48

  • PTA presidents in North Carolina believe that topics related to puberty, reproductive system, hygiene, pregnancy, STDs, and life management skills should be introduced in grades 4 and 5.49

  • PTA presidents in North Carolina believe that topics related to sexual behavior, including contraception and preventing STDs, should be introduced in grades 6 to 8.50

  • PTA presidents in North Carolina believe that topics related to marriage, prenatal care, and parenting should be introduced in grades 9 to 12.51

  • More than 82 percent of PTA presidents in North Carolina agree that students should learn positive and negative aspects of abortion, adoption, single parenting, and married parenting.52


Sexuality Education in the Home

  • 27 percent of registered voters agree with opponents that sexuality education belongs in the home and should be taught in accordance with parents' own values.53

  • 65 percent of adults in California say that encouraging parents to talk openly about sexuality and birth control with their children would be "extremely effective" in reducing teen pregnancy.54


Support for Condom Availability

  • 53 percent of all Americans think that school personnel, such as nurses and counselors, should make condoms available to sexually active young people.55

  • 57 percent of adults think that high school health clinics should provide young people with condoms and other forms of birth control if the students ask for them.56

  • 55 percent of Americans believe that it is appropriate for schools to distribute condoms to students.57

  • 21 percent of Americans support making condoms available to middle school students, and 55 percent who would allow high schools to distribute condoms.58


Indiana

  • Adults in Indiana were asked if condoms should be made available to teenagers in the Indiana public schools without parental permission. 26.7 percent strongly agree and 27.1 percent somewhat agree.59

  • Of adults residing in Indiana, 36 percent strongly agree and 25.9 percent somewhat agree that the three major television networks should air commercials about condoms as one way to help prevent the spread of HIV.60

  • Of adults in Indiana, 48.8 percent strongly agree, 25.9 percent somewhat agree, that the federal government should promote condom use as a way to prevent the spread of HIV.61


New Mexico

  • 46 percent adults felt that "school nurses and counselors should make condoms and other forms of birth control available to sexually active young people."62


New York

  • In 1991, the New York City Board of Education expanded HIV/AIDS education to include condom availability in every public high school. Of 716 parents and guardians whose children attended New York City high schools, 69 percent believed that students should be able to receive condoms at school.63

  • Nearly half of parents and guardians of New York City high school students felt that they should have the right to prevent their child from participating in the condom availability program. However, if permission was required, 2/3 of parents would allow their child to receive condoms.64

  • Parents and guardians of New York City High school students believe that making condom available at school will not have an effect on the amount of sex that their child is having (79 percent), will result in students practicing safer sex (75 percent), will encourage teenagers to talk to their partners about using condoms (66 percent), and will result in teens using condoms more often (72 percent).65

  • A study comparing New York City public high schools with a condom availability program to Chicago public high schools without a condom availability program found that condom availability has a modest but significant effect on condom use and does not increase rates of sexual activity.66


North Carolina

  • 52 percent of PTA presidents in North Carolina agree that teen health clinics should make contraceptives and condoms available.67


References

  1. SIECUS/Advocates for Youth Survey of America's Views on Sexuality Education (Washington, DC: Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States and Advocates for Youth, 1999).

  2. "The 30th Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools," Phi Delta Kappan, September 1998, p. 54.

  3. Peter D. Hart Research Associates, Inc. Teaching Sex Education in Public Elementary Schools (Washington, DC, Children's Research and Education Institute, 1999).

  4. America Speaks: Americans' Opinions on Teenage Sexuality, Birth Control, Abortion, Louis Harris & Associates, Inc. (New York, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Fieldwork, August-September 1985) p. 44.

  5. Peter D. Hart Research Associates, Inc. Teaching Sex Education in Public Elementary Schools (Washington, DC, Children's Research and Education Institute, 1999).

  6. J. Johnson and J. Immerwahr, First Things First: What Americans Expect From the Public Schools (New York, Public Agenda, 1994) p. 29.

  7. America Speaks: Americans' Opinions on Teenage Sexuality, Birth Control, Abortion, p. 46.

  8. Tune In: New Mexico Attitudes on Sex Education (Albuquerque, NM, New Mexico Teen Pregnancy Coalition, January 2001).

  9. Parents Speak: A Survey of North Carolina P.T.A. Presidents to Determine Their Attitudes and Beliefs About Family Life Education in the Public Schools (Charlotte, NC, North Carolina Coalition on Adolescent Pregnancy, September 1993) p. 1.

  10. Get Real About Teen Pregnancy! Findings in Brief: A Look at California's Views on Teen Pregnancy (San Francisco, CA, The Field Institute, May 1999).

  11. Kaiser Family Foundation National Survey of Public Secondary School Principals: The Politics of Sex Education (Menlo Park, CA, The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, December, 1999), p. 9.

  12. Kaiser Family Foundation National Survey of Public Secondary School Principals: The Politics of Sex Education, p. 10

  13. Ibid.

  14. Ibid.

  15. Ibid.

  16. Kaiser Family Foundation National Survey of Public Secondary School Principals: The Politics of Sex Education, p. 11.

  17. Ibid.

  18. SIECUS/Advocates for Youth Survey of America's Views on Sexuality Education

  19. Sex in the 90s: Kaiser Family Foundation/ABC Television 1998 Survey of Americans on Sex and Sexual Health (Menlo Park, CA, The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, September, 1998) p. 5.

  20. "The 30th Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools."

  21. J. Johnson and J. Immerwahr, First Things First, p. 27.

  22. Ibid.

  23. Kaiser Family Foundation 1997 National Survey of Americans on AIDS/HIV (Menlo Park, CA, The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, December, 1997) chart 13.

  24. Ibid.

  25. Peter D. Hart Research Associates, Inc. Teaching Sex Education.

  26. SIECUS/Advocates for Youth Survey of America's Views on Sexuality Education

  27. Sex in the 90s: Kaiser Family Foundation/ABC Television 1998 Survey of Americans on Sex and Sexual Health, p. 5.

  28. Sex in the 90s: Kaiser Family Foundation/ABC Television 1998 Survey of Americans on Sex and Sexual Health, p. 6.

  29. J. Johnson and J. Immerwahr, First Things First, p. 29.

  30. J. Johnson and J. Immerwahr, First Things First, p. 28.

  31. Ibid.

  32. Get Real About Teen Pregnancy!

  33. Ibid.

  34. Ibid.

  35. Ibid.

  36. W. L. Yarber and M. R. Torabi, "Public Opinion From a Rural State About Condoms for HIV Prevention: 1993 and 1998," Journal of Sex Education and Therapy, vol. 24, nos. 1& 2 (1999): 56-62.

  37. Tune In: New Mexico Attitudes on Sex Education (Albuquerque, NM, New Mexico Teen Pregnancy Coalition, January 2001).

  38. Ibid.

  39. Ibid.

  40. Ibid.

  41. Ibid.

  42. Ibid.

  43. Ibid.

  44. Ibid.

  45. Parents Speak: A Survey of North Carolina P.T.A. Presidents to Determine Their Attitudes and Beliefs, p. 1.

  46. Parents Speak: A Survey of North Carolina P.T.A. Presidents to Determine Their Attitudes and Beliefs, p. 8.

  47. Ibid.

  48. Parents Speak: A Survey of North Carolina P.T.A. Presidents to Determine Their Attitudes and Beliefs, p. 1.

  49. Ibid.

  50. Ibid.

  51. Ibid.

  52. Parents Speak: A Survey of North Carolina P.T.A. Presidents to Determine Their Attitudes and Beliefs, p. 8-9.

  53. Peter D. Hart Research Associates, Inc. Teaching Sex Education.

  54. Get Real About Teen Pregnancy! Findings in Brief: A Look at California's Views on Teen Pregnancy.

  55. SIECUS/Advocates for Youth Survey of America's Views on Sexuality Education.

  56. Sex in the 90s: Kaiser Family Foundation/ABC Television 1998 Survey of Americans on Sex and Sexual Health, p. 6.

  57. J. Johnson and J. Immerwahr, First Things First, p. 28.

  58. Ibid

  59. W. L. Yarber and M. R. Torabi, "Public Opinion From a Rural State About Condoms for HIV Prevention, pp. 56-62.

  60. Ibid.

  61. Ibid.

  62. Tune In: New Mexico Attitudes on Sex Education (Albuquerque, NM, New Mexico Teen Pregnancy Coalition, January 2001).

  63. S. Guttmacher, L. Lieberman, D. Ward, A. Radosh, Y. Rafferty, and N. Freudenberg, "Parents' Attitudes and Beliefs About HIV/AIDS Prevention With Condom Availability in New York City Public High Schools," Journal of School Health, vol. 65, no. 3 (March 1995): p. 103.

  64. Ibid

  65. S. Guttmacher, L. Lieberman, D. Ward, A. Radosh, Y. Rafferty, and N. Freudenberg, "Parents' Attitudes and Beliefs About HIV/AIDS Prevention With Condom Availability in New York City Public High Schools," p. 104.

  66. S. Guttmacher, L. Lieberman, D. Ward, N. Freudenberg, A. Radosh, and D. D. Jarlais, "Condom Availability in New York City Public High Schools: Relationships to Condom Use and Sexual Behavior," American Journal of Public Health, vol. 87, no. 9 (September 1997): p. 1427.

  67. Parents Speak: A Survey of North Carolina P.T.A. Presidents to Determine Their Attitudes and Beliefs, p. 1.

A note from TheBody.com: Since this article was written, the HIV pandemic has changed, as has our understanding of HIV/AIDS and its treatment. As a result, parts of this article may be outdated. Please keep this in mind, and be sure to visit other parts of our site for more recent information!



  
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  • Printable Single-Page Print-Friendly
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This article was provided by Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. It is a part of the publication SIECUS Report.
 
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