Survey Finds Parents Favor Sex Education

October 3, 2000 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON, DC — A recent survey suggests that the overwhelming majority of parents want schools to provide more sex education to their teenagers, the New York Times reported.

According to the Times, the survey found that parents want discussions to cover abstinence, avoiding pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, abortion, and sexual orientation.

The consensus found in the survey, which was conducted by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a health research organization, appeared largely consistent throughout the country, and cut across socioeconomic groups. The Kaiser report polled 1,501 sets of parents and students, as well as teachers and principals, from February to May 1999. The survey uncovered a gap between what parents say they want and what schools deliver.

A majority of parents said sex education classes should last a semester or more, and that girls and boys should be given the instruction separately.

The typical class, though, includes boys and girls and consumes just one or two periods of a more general course in health education. Almost all classes teach children about the dangers of contracting AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, along with the basics of reproduction and some discussion of abstinence.

But most parents want sex education to cover much more. Some 84 percent want sex education to explain how to obtain and use birth control. Even more parents want schools to teach children how to be tested for HIV or AIDS, how to respond to pressure to have sex, discuss birth control with a partner and deal with the emotional consequences of sex.

They want schools to tell students what to do if they are raped. Four out of five parents want teachers to discuss abortion with their children, and three out of four want their children to learn about homosexuality and sexual orientation in the classroom.

Heather E. Cirmo, a spokeswoman for the Family Research Council, a conservative research group in Washington, said the report’s findings would not change her organization’s position favoring abstinence until marriage, with no instructions about obtaining birth control or using condoms to prevent diseases.

“We believe that the parents who are participating in the study have been duped into believing that comprehensive-based sex education is what’s best for their children,” Ms. Cirmo said.

The Kaiser Foundation’s findings confirmed earlier polls tracking parental attitudes toward sex education. Various polls have found steadily increasing support since the 1970’s for teaching about birth control in sex education courses.

Now, as the generation that matured during the sexual revolution is watching its own children come of age, support for frank discussions of sexuality with them has become nearly universal. Many parents say the threat of AIDS lends particular urgency to such talks.

The American Civil Liberties Union is a vigorous advocate for comprehensive education about sexuality, contraception, abortion, and how to avoid contracting sexually transmitted diseases.

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