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November 2006

Public Opinion on Sex Education in US Schools

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Annenberg Public Policy Center, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2006;160(11):1151-1156. doi:10.1001/archpedi.160.11.1151

Objective  To examine US public opinion on sex education in schools to determine how the public's preferences align with those of policymakers and research scientists.

Design  Cross-sectional survey.

Setting  July 2005 through January 2006.

Participants  Randomly selected nationally representative sample of US adults aged 18 to 83 years (N = 1096).

Main Outcome Measures  Support for 3 different types of sex education in schools: abstinence only, comprehensive sex education, and condom instruction.

Results  Approximately 82% of respondents indicated support for programs that teach students about both abstinence and other methods of preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Similarly, 68.5% supported teaching how to properly use condoms. Abstinence-only education programs, in contrast, received the lowest levels of support (36%) and the highest level of opposition (about 50%) across the 3 program options. Self-identified conservative, liberal, and moderate respondents all supported abstinence-plus programs, although the extent of support varied significantly.

Conclusions  Our results indicate that US adults, regardless of political ideology, favor a more balanced approach to sex education compared with the abstinence-only programs funded by the federal government. In summary, abstinence-only programs, while a priority of the federal government, are supported by neither a majority of the public nor the scientific community.