New Poll: Parents Overwhelmingly Support Age-Appropriate Comprehensive Sex Ed

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New Poll: Parents Overwhelmingly Support Age-Appropriate Comprehensive Sex Ed

Scott Swenson

A poll released today shows parents overwhelmingly support K-12 age-appropriate comprehensive sex ed including abstinence and medically accurate information about preventing HIV, STDs, and unintended pregnancies.

A new poll of parents’ attitudes toward age-appropriate comprehensive sex education underscores why there has been an overwhelming rejection of attacks Sen. John McCain made against Sen. Barack Obama for supporting common sense legislation to protect youth in Illinois. Teen pregnancy has also been thrust into the campaign with Sarah Palin’s unwed 17-year old pregnant daughter, so parents all over the country have been thinking and talking more about important issues involving sex education.

The new poll of parents in Washington, DC, the city with the highest rates of HIV and rising rates of STDs, shows an overwhelming 93 percent of parents support teaching age-appropriate comprehensive sex ed that includes information about abstinence and prevention methods like contraception in public and charter schools. By contrast, abstinence-only-until-marriage programs favored by the Bush Administration and supported by far-right ideologues, do not equip children at any age with facts about contraception or other medical facts. By law, they can only promote abstinence-only-until-marriage. The federal government spends $1.5 billion tax dollars on abstinence-only programs even though multiple independent studies have proven they do not work.

VIDEO: Comprehensive Sex Ed vs. Abstinence-OnlyVIDEO: Comprehensive Sex Ed vs. Abstinence-Only
Adam Tenner, executive director of Metro TeenAIDS, who sponsored the poll along with the DC Healthy Youth Coalition, said, "there are deep myths about who supports and who does not
support sex education that begins with abstinence but includes contraception,
disease prevention skills and information on what kind of regular care people
need once they are sexually active.  This poll certainly shatters many of
those myths." 

Metro TeenAIDS and the DC Healthy Youth Coalition sponsored the study
to make certain parents voices were heard as DC schools prepare to
implement new health education curricula mandated by the State Board of
Education for healthy learning. Questions were asked of a representative sample of 652 parents in
Washington, DC. The survey was conducted by Zogby International, who has also done survey work for the National Abstinence Education Association, special interest lobbyists comprised of organizations that profit from abstinence-only-until-marriage programs and lobby against comprehensive sex education. The abstinence-only-until-marriage lobby, working with obstructionist social conservatives in Congress, prevented cuts to their failed programs even after Democrats regained a majority in 2006.

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Tenner said, "elected political leaders,
conservative or not, are nervous about supporting comprehensive sex education in

One of the biggest myths about age-appropriate comprehensive sex ed is that it promotes promiscuity, when in actuality programs have proven to delay sexual debut, and equip youth with a healthy sense of respect for their bodies, their emotions and their partners. Most importantly, comprehensive sex ed equips youth with medical facts so that if and when they become sexually active, they can protect themselves.

the end of the day, what we all agree on is that we want young people to remain
abstinent for as long as possible and that when they choose to have sex that
they have the knowledge and information and self-worth to protect themselves
from HIV, other sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy.  And HIV does
not exist in a vacuum.  Poverty, poor schools, dangerous neighborhoods
all play their part," Tenner said.
The survey defined "age-appropriate" by saying, "For the following
questions, when we mention ‘age appropriate’, we mean education that is
suitable for the age and maturity of each student at each grade
level."  In most school districts this means providing a sense of "good touch/bad touch" in the younger years to protect children from predators, then adding other medically factual lessons about human sexuality as students mature.
The poll indicates that 81 percent of African-American parents who attend church once a week or more, and 85 percent of those who identify as Evangelical Christians, support age-appropriate comprehensive sex education. Studies done in
Catholic schools of age-appropriate K-12 sex ed demonstrate its effectiveness.
Tenner noted that the faith community is playing an important role in DC and increasing their understanding of how to deal with issues of sexuality. "Many churches, mosques and synagogues have had
AIDS ministries for many years in order to support their congregants who were
sick with HIV/AIDS.  At Metro TeenAIDS we have recently seen an increase in
the number of local churches who are also interested in how to integrate
prevention messages into their work with youth.  When we ask
young people in classes, ‘how many of you know someone in your family
or your family’s friends that has died or is living with HIV/AIDS,’
generally 50-60% of hands go up."


The findings as reported by Metro TeenAIDS and the DC Healthy Youth Coalition (Siecus)

Finding 1: Regardless of race, the majority of DC parents are concerned with the growing prevalence of HIV and STDs in the District, and believe that preventing unintended pregnancies and HIV begins with comprehensive sex education.

  • Parents polled were nearly unanimous (98%) in their concern about the rates of HIV and STDs in Washington, DC.
  • Almost all (93%) of the parents polled think that preventing unintended pregnancies and HIV begins with comprehensive sex education that includes information on refraining from sex.


Finding 2: Parents believe that DC schools are responsible for teaching their children age-appropriate HIV preventions and sex education, and that the role of parents is to provide their children with moral and ethical guidance.

  • The large majority of parents polled (83%) believe that DC schools are responsible for teaching their children age-appropriate HIV prevention and sex education.
  • Parents polled see a clear difference between their role and the role of the school in terms of teaching students about sex. Nine out of ten parents (90%) said that, while they are responsible for providing their children with moral and ethical guidance, schools are responsible for teaching the children age-appropriate HIV prevention and sex education. Parents also expressed belief that schools are more effective in providing the biological and scientific aspects of sex education.

Finding 3: Regardless of their race or level of religious practice, DC parents strongly believe that comprehensive sex education that emphasizes abstinence but also teaches about contraception needs to be taught in schools. Parents also want to be informed about what their children are learning in school.

  • The large majority (83%) of all parents strongly agree that DC schools should ensure that every young person receives all the information he or she needs to make responsible health-related decisions.
  • Similarly, 85% of parents believe that HIV education is important and that it needs to be included in all grades (K-12). There were no statistically significant difference in response between African American and other parents.
  • Among African American parents who attend their place of worship once a week or more, 81% believe that age-appropriate HIV prevention and sex education is important. For African American parents who identified as "evangelical" Christians, 85% believe that age-appropriate sex education is important in their child’s K-12 education.
  • 98% of parents agreed that the schools should have clear guidelines for sex and HIV prevention education, and that those guidelines should be available to parents.
  • Parents also indicated that they would like more resources to help them talk to their children about sex. Three out of four parents (75%) report interest in receiving training on how to better communicate with their kids about sex and HIV/AIDS.


Finding 4: Nearly all parents agree that youth should receive HIV prevention and sex education before they begin having sex, with the majority of parents indicating that this education should begin in 6th grade or earlier.

  • Almost all parents (96.5%) believe that sex education should occur before youth are sexually active. Local data from the 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Survey shows that 30.6% of students in middle school stated that they have already had sex and 10,0% said they first had sex before the age of 11.
  • A majority of parents polled (77%) believe that schools should first begin to teach HIV prevention and sex education in 6th grade or earlier.
  • Overwhelmingly, 83% of African American parents polled agree that age-appropriate information about condoms and birth control should be given once lessons on puberty have started.