WASHINGTON – A new national survey reveals widespread support for abstinence education across the political spectrum, with nearly 8 in 10 Democratic parents with school-aged children voicing their approval.
The survey commissioned by the National Abstinence Education Foundation (NAEF) shows a majority of parents from both political parties oppose President Obama’s efforts to eliminate all federal funding for abstinence programs.
“Although almost all of the polls are so close in the [presidential] election coming up on Nov. 6, if sex ed was on the ballot, abstinence education would win by a landslide,” said Valerie Huber, NAEF’s president. “I think that this survey showed that there is really unanimity among parents.”
Titled Parents Speak Out, the survey indicates broad support for a Sexual Risk Avoidance (SRA) approach to sex education, which provides medically accurate information about contraceptives – including their limitations – within a framework that emphasizes delaying sexual activity until marriage.
The NAEF, in releasing the finding Oct. 9, voiced surprise “at how widespread the support was among all the major demographics that were studied in this survey.”
Its key findings:
– Support for SRA abstinence education transcends party lines.
The survey found that 87 percent of Republicans and 76 percent of Democrats support abstinence education, with overwhelming majorities voicing approval of SRA education’s major tenets, which include, among other things: Encouraging renewed abstinence for the sexually active; providing contraceptive information within an abstinence context; providing information on Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs); informing students of the limitations of condoms; and alerting them to the emotional consequences of sex.
“Republicans and Democrats support the way that Abstinence Education addresses key topics,” the study said. “They want sex education to place a priority on encouraging teens to avoid sex in order to avoid all sexual risk.”
– Parents support how the SRA approach discusses condom information.
The survey found that 90 percent of parents want their children to learn about the limitations of condom effectiveness, information that is not shared in a typical Sexual Risk Reduction (SRR) program, also known as “comprehensive” sex education. Parents felt so strongly about this subject, the study noted, they scored it higher than any other question.
– Most parents want their children to wait until marriage for sex.
Overall, 78 percent of parents want their children to delay engaging in sex until marriage. That includes 73 percent of whites, 77 percent of Hispanics and 87 percent of African Americans.
“Despite the fact that abstinence education critics insist that ‘abstinence until marriage’ is outdated, parents do not agree,” the study said.
– Majorities of Democrats and Republicans oppose President Obama’s efforts to eliminate all federal funding for SRA abstinence education.
The survey found that 58 percent of Democrats and 75 percent of Republicans oppose the president’s actions regarding SRA funding. When informed that SRR “comprehensive” programs receive 16 times more funding than SRA abstinence education, about two-thirds of parents in both parties supported moving toward more equal funding.
– Support for SRA abstinence education is stronger among women.
Although overwhelming majorities of both men and women expressed support for teaching the basic tenets of abstinence education, women support each of the tenets more strongly than men.
– African American parents are the most supportive of SRA abstinence education’s essential tenets.
Given the high rates of pregnancy and STDs among African American teens, the study notes that teen sexual activity seems to be of high concern to African American parents. Nearly 9 in 10 African American parents want their children to wait until marriage for sex, a higher level of support than parents in general. African American parents also voice more support for each of SRA’s tenets than parents overall.
One African American parent told the survey, “I have been very opposed to sex education classes, the way they are being taught, because I do not feel it teaches enough about abstinence or the consequences behind it. So I am strongly in support of more funding and more education that focuses on [abstinence] education.”
– Most parents believe homosexual youth can benefit from abstinence education.
The survey notes that although few programs directed toward homosexual teens focus on SRA, 85 percent of parents believe all youth – including homosexual youth – can benefit from skills that help delay sex.
Huber says the results of the survey, which are based on interviews with 1,683 likely voters with children ages 9 to 16, should be a wakeup call to policy makers across the country.
“I think that this survey shows that overall, there’s not a lot of disagreement here,” Huber said, “and that the truth is, the current national sex education policy is clearly out of step with what parents want.”
The survey offers a number of public policy recommendations regarding sex education, including:
Primary emphasis on SRA Abstinence Education programs in federal sex education policy.
More equality in funding between SRR “Comprehensive” Sex Education and SRA Abstinence Education programs.
Eliminate the false sense of security that teens acquire in “safe” sex messaging by mandating that medically accurate information be given regarding the limitations on protection offered by condoms and other contraceptive methods.
End the censorship and discriminatory practices in sex education against at-risk populations.
Provide all youth, including gay teens, with skills to delay sex.
Share with teens the social science research of the advantages to waiting until marriage before engaging in sex.
Huber said parents can view a clear presentation of the survey’s results at www.whattheytoldus.org, where they can also sign an open letter to Congress urging changes in sex education.
“[V]irtually every priority in current sex education policy needs to be changed,” Huber said, “not just because parents support it, but because it’s in the best health interests of our young people.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – John Evans is a writer in Houston.)