Minnesota students might learn different things about the birds and the bees depending on where they go to school, but their parents appear to support openness about most sex-related topics.
A majority of 1,605 parents surveyed said that they wanted children to learn about contraceptives, sexual abuse and sexually transmitted diseases. Only about a third felt uncomfortable with discussions of sensitive subjects like sexual orientation and abortion.
Overall, “parental support for comprehensive sex ed is strong,” said lead study author Marla Eisenberg. “Parents want many different topics covered and think they should be addressed relatively early.”
It is not clear how many students in Minnesota receive comprehensive sex education, she said. However, anecdotally, “we know that many districts, schools and teachers are afraid to take on comprehensive sexuality education out of fear of controversy in the community,” said Eisenberg, an assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Minnesota.
Nationwide, some schools prefer to offer so-called abstinence-only education, which emphasizes the importance of avoiding sex until marriage and downplays the effectiveness of contraception.
The new telephone survey, the first of its kind in several years, took place in 2006 and 2007. Nearly two-thirds of 2,546 parents with school-age children responded when contacted by researchers. About 96 percent were white and about 73 percent were female.
The findings appear in the April issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.
Of those surveyed, 89.3 percent said they supported comprehensive sex education with instruction about the use of birth control; slightly less than 10 percent of parents supported abstinence-only education.
Almost all of those interviewed — 99 percent — supported instruction about sexual anatomy, and more than 90 percent agreed with instruction on topics like birth, sexually transmitted diseases, assertiveness skills and pregnancy. With the exception of abortion, most parents wanted the topics discussed before high school.
Eisenberg said she was surprised to find that support for comprehensive information about birth control among more than 85 percent of those who described themselves as Catholics, evangelical Christians and conservatives.
Amy Bleakley, a researcher with the Annenberg Public Policy Center in Philadelphia, called the survey “well done” and said it reflects other U.S. findings from the South and West.
“The government continues to fund abstinence-only programs despite public opinion and scientific evidence that support more comprehensive sex education,” Bleakley said. “Parents and educators need to get more involved and more outspoken about their opinions so that their representatives in Washington take this issue more seriously.”
Eisenberg ME, et al. Support for comprehensive sexuality education: perspectives from parents of school-age youth. J Adolesc Health 42(4), 2008.
Source: Health Behavior News Service