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Research Finds Americans Favor Comprehensive Sexuality Education Over Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs

“Public Opinion on Sex Education in U.S. Schools,” a new study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania published in the recent issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine , found that the majority of Americans favor comprehensive sexuality education. The study found that, regardless of their political leanings or religious affiliation, most Americans favor medically accurate, age-appropriate education that includes information about both contraception and abstinence, as opposed to programs that take an abstinence-only-until-marriage approach.1

The study defined three different types of instruction as: abstinence only, comprehensive sex education, and comprehensive sex education that includes condom instruction. Participants were given the definition and asked for their level of support for each type of instruction.2

Of the adults surveyed, 82 percent supported programs that discuss abstinence as well as other methods for preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Over half of all adults surveyed outright rejected abstinence-only-until-marriage programs and, among those adults who described themselves as conservatives, around 70 percent supported comprehensive sex education.3

Results from this study on attitudes about sexuality education among adults and parents are similar to previous research findings. A 2004 study by National Public Radio and others found that 95% of parents of junior high school students and 93% of parents of high school students believe that birth control and other methods of preventing pregnancy are appropriate topics in sexuality education programs in schools.4 In addition, the same study found that 72% of parents of junior high school students and 65% of parents of high school students agreed that federal government funding “should be used to fund more comprehensive sex education programs that include information on how to obtain and use condoms and other contraceptives” instead of funding programs that have “abstaining from sexual activity” as their only purpose.5

Dr. Amy Bleakly, lead author of the current study, has said that the findings “highlight a gap between policy, and science and public opinion.”6 In addition Dr. Douglas Kirby of ETR Associates in Scotts Valley, CA, a preeminent researcher on the subject of sexuality education, stated “Until we have strong evidence that particular abstinence-only programs are effective, we should relax the funding restrictions and fund programs that effectively delay sex among young people.”7

Currently, the United States government spends almost a quarter of a billion dollars each year on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. These programs have never been proven effective and have been criticized by both government and independent reports as being medically inaccurate and presenting gender stereotypes and religious belief as scientific fact.8 Major public health entities have also questioned the effectiveness of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. In June 2006, the American Public Health Association called on the federal government to support schools in implementing comprehensive sexuality education programs.9

As the current and past research shows, federal funding of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs is out of line with what adults want young people to learn about human sexuality and protecting themselves from an unintended pregnancy or STD.

The study itself can be found at the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at


  1. Amy Bleakley, Ph.D., MPH; Michael Hennessy, Ph.D., MPH; Martin Fishbein, Ph.D., Public Opinion on Sex Education in US Schools, Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, November 2006, Vol. 160 No. 11.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Amy Norton, “Few Americans Favor Abstinence-only Sex Education,” Reuters , 6 November 2006, accessed 13 November 2006 <
  4. Sex Education in America: General Public/Parents Survey . (Washington, DC: National Public Radio, 2004), 9.
  5. Ibid., 7.
  6. Norton.
  7. Ibid.
  8. A Brief History of Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Education, accessed 20 November 2006, <>; The Content of Federally Funded Abstinence-Only Education Programs, ( Washington, DC: U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform— Minority Staff, Special Investigations Division, 2004, ) accessed 13 November 2006. <>.
  9. Proposed APHA Policy, Abstinence and U.S. Abstinence-Only Education Policies: Ethical and Human Rights Concerns, American Public Health Association, 16 June 16 2006, accessed 12 November 2006, <>