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OAKLAND, CA, May 24, 2007… Craig and Mary are raising their three daughters in an evangelical, Republican household in Redding, California. Given their demographics, you might expect them to be fierce supporters of the Bush Administration’s abstinence-only-until-marriage sex education policy. You would, most likely, be wrong.
According to the first-ever statewide poll of parents devoted to this topic, a whopping 89 percent of California parents want students to receive comprehensive sex education that includes information about contraception and protection from sexually transmitted diseases – a desire that remains uniform regardless of the parents’ locale, religion, politics, race or education level.
“We were astonished by how universal this support is for comprehensive sex education,” admits the study’s primary author, Dr. Norman Constantine of the Public Health Institute’s Center for Research on Adolescent Health and Development. “We expected these high levels of support in liberal urban areas but did not anticipate the equally high levels of support in California’s more conservative, rural settings – especially among self-identified evangelical Christian parents. What this shows is that the vast majority of parents put the health and safety of their children above politics and ideology.”
The rigorous study asked 1,284 parents throughout California what they wanted students to be taught during sex education classes. Abstinence-only sex education is presently the national policy, however, for over a decade California has declined federal funding that mandates abstinence-only education – a pattern other states are now following. Nine out of ten California parents chose comprehensive sex education, and parents were nearly unanimous (96 percent) in opposition to abstinence-only requirements that prohibit instruction in or promotion of the use of contraceptive methods at any grade level.
No single subgroup by region, religion, income, education or political party dipped below an 80 percent support level for comprehensive sex education. The lowest level of support was recorded by those who identified themselves as “very conservative,” but even they showed overwhelming support at 71 percent. Perhaps most surprising was that 86 percent of those self-identifying as evangelical Christians reported supporting comprehensive sex education.
According to Constantine, the strong support for a comprehensive approach to sex education is encouraging in light of California’s escalating levels of sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia and gonorrhea. “We have to make sure that students receive age-appropriate, medically accurate and comprehensive information about how they can protect themselves,” Constantine said.
And although any sex education in California schools is required by law to be comprehensive, Constantine points out there are serious flaws in how that education actually is provided. A recent school-district survey found that nearly half (48 percent) of schools are not covering all required topics, and 88 percent violated one or more of the sex education provisions of California's Education Code.
“These findings should clear the way for wary educators in every region of the state to embrace the comprehensive sex education programs consistent with California law,” Constantine said. “School superintendents, administrators and educators can now be assured that they have the support of parents, as well as the law, in providing quality, comprehensive programs.”
The study’s results will be published in the September issue of Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, and a summary report can be found at: http://teenbirths.phi.org.
The Public Health Institute is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting health, well-being and quality of life. The study was funded by a grant from The California Wellness Foundation.