Public Opinion on Sex Education in U.S. Schools



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.