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Most Americans Favor Comprehensive Sex Education

80 percent believe instruction should include abstinence plus other methods

MONDAY, Nov. 6, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Regardless of their political leanings, the majority of American adults (80.4 percent) favors a balanced approach to sex education in schools, including teaching children about both abstinence and other ways of preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, a University of Pennsylvania study finds.

The findings suggest that the U.S. government's support for abstinence-only programs doesn't reflect broad public support for comprehensive sex education, say researchers from the school's Annenberg Public Policy Center.

They noted that 25 percent of American youth have sex by age 15, 37.5 percent by age 16 and 46.9 percent by age 17.

The researchers analyzed data from 1,096 adults (average age 46.8) who took part in the Annenberg National Health Communication Survey between July 2005 and January 2006. The respondents were asked about their support of three different types of sex education: abstinence-only; comprehensive; and comprehensive that includes condom instruction.

The participants were also asked to rate their political beliefs on a seven-point scale that ranged from "extremely liberal" to "extremely conservative." The responses showed that 39.5 percent said they were moderate, 35.5 were conservative, and 25 percent were liberal.

The survey found that 80.4 percent of the respondents believed comprehensive sex education programs were an effective way to prevent pregnancies, compared to 39 percent who favored abstinence-only programs. Eighty-two percent of respondents said they supported comprehensive programs, while 10 percent opposed them.

The researchers also found that 68.5 percent supported and 21 percent opposed condom instruction, while 36 percent supported and 50 percent opposed abstinence-only programs.

Some other results based on political/religious beliefs:

  • 91.6 percent of liberals, 86.4 percent of moderates, and 70 percent of conservatives support comprehensive (abstinence-plus) programs, while 19 percent of conservatives, 5.3 percent of moderates, and 3.7 percent of liberals oppose such programs.
  • 47 percent of conservatives support abstinence-only programs, while 67 percent of liberals, 50.4 percent of moderates, and 39.9 percent of conservatives oppose this approach to sex education,
  • 37.5 percent of conservatives, 13.4 percent of moderates, and 9.1 percent of liberals oppose condom instruction, while 51.2 percent of conservatives support it.
  • Among all respondents, 57 percent disagree that condom instruction encourages teens to have sex.
  • Of the respondents who never attend religious services: 87.4 percent support comprehensive sex education and 57.9 percent oppose abstinence-only programs.
  • Among those who attend religious services more than once a week: 60.3 percent support abstinence-only programs; 60.3 percent support abstinence-plus programs; 52.6 percent oppose and 37.9 percent support condom instruction; 31.3 percent oppose abstinence-only instruction.

The findings were published in the November issue of the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

"With such high support for comprehensive sex education among the public from liberals, conservatives and moderates alike, political leaders could capitalize on this rare occasion to enact public policy that is supported by both sound scientific evidence as well as public opinion," the researchers wrote.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about teen sexual health.

SOURCE: JAMA/Archives journals, news release, Nov. 6, 2006
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