General Articles

The Politics of Sexuality 2008: The Candidates’ Views Uncovered

Topic in Focus: Sex-Education

This is the first article in SIECUS’ continuing series uncovering the presidential candidates’ views on topics related to sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Comprehensive education about sexuality—sex education that includes information about abstinence, contraception, and condoms—has been proven effective in reducing sexual risk behaviors among young people.  However, the topic is rarely discussed among politicians.  Recently, an episode between two presidential candidates shed some light on where some of the 2008 presidential candidates stand on this important issue.

During a speech at a recent Planned Parenthood Action Fund event, Illinois Senator and Democratic candidate Barack Obama indicated his support for sex education for kindergartners if it is age-appropriate.1  Obama, in subsequent public statements, said that his position is based on the fact that age-appropriate comprehensive sex education for kindergartners involves such topics as learning the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touching to educate young children on what to do should they ever be faced with an abusive situation.2

Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts Governor who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, took issue with Obama’s stance that sexuality education was appropriate for kindergartners. He also criticized Obama for a 2003 vote in the Illinois legislature to support age-appropriate sexuality education for young people in grades K-12.3 

Since then, Romney’s own record on the issue has come under fire.  In a 2002 questionnaire from Planned Parenthood, Romney checked “yes” to the question, “Do you support the teaching of responsible, age-appropriate, factually accurate health and sexuality education, including information about both abstinence and contraception, in public schools?”4  Yet, as Governor of Massachusetts, he was a staunch supporter of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.  For example, in 2005 while serving as Governor, Romney overrode his own legislature’s mandate that the state’s Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage funding be used for a statewide media campaign rather than for in classroom instruction. By doing so, Romney funneled more that $700,000 to Healthy Futures, an abstinence-only-until-marriage program run by A Woman’s Concern, a crisis pregnancy center. 5

Most of the other candidates seeking the Republican nomination have clear positions on the issue.  John McCain has declared his support for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs on a regular basis and, in February 2007, he spoke to 1,500 students in South Carolina about abstaining from pre-marital sex.6

Republican candidates running largely on socially conservative issues, like former Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, have also been staunch supporters of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs despite recent studies which show these programs to be ineffective in changing teens’ sexual behavior.7  In May, Mike Huckabee was quoted as saying “I do not believe in teaching about sex or contraception in public schools.”8  When asked about the “squabble” between Romney and Obama, Huckabee concluded that the incident is an example of “how the campaign debate is off kilter” and criticized his fellow candidates for straying from the real issues at hand like “education and healthcare and national security.”9  Brownback, currently a Kansas Senator, is a clear supporter of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.  When Congress was considering the reauthorization of Title V, one of three federal funding sources for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, he declared on the Christian Broadcast Network that “abstinence-only programs are great examples of curriculums [sic] that send positive messages to young people encouraging them to protect themselves and their future.”10

Rudy Giuliani’s position on sex education is somewhat unclear.  While he was mayor of New York City, Giuliani supported condom availability in public schools.11  Since he began his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, however, he hasn’t spoken publicly on his views around this issue.

Democratic presidential candidates have been cautious about publicly expressing their opinions on the issue.  This year, the only Democratic presidential candidate who has co-sponsored the Responsible Education About Life (REAL) Act—legislation which would establish federal funding for comprehensive programs that teach about abstinence, condoms, and contraception—is Dennis Kucinich (D-OH).  Another democratic candidate, Chris Dodd (D-CT), was a co-sponsor of the REAL Act in previous years.  Despite their collective lack of action on the bill, all leading democratic candidates expressed their support for the bill in a recent Human Rights Campaign questionnaire.12  Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) is a co-sponsor of the Putting Prevention First Act, which would also establish a federal funding stream for comprehensive sex education.13

Like Obama, Clinton and Elizabeth Edwards (on behalf of her husband, candidate John Edwards) voiced support for comprehensive sexuality education programs at the Planned Parenthood Action Fund event in July. 14  And, on his campaign website, candidate Bill Richardson states that he “supports comprehensive education, which includes teaching of abstinence, birth control and sensible options for disease and pregnancy prevention.”15

In addition to this quiet support for comprehensive sexuality education, many of the Democratic candidates publicly oppose abstinence-only-until-marriage programs and other Bush administration actions that go against public health.  For example, on his website Dodd says that he is “appalled by what this administration has done to HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs, its cuts to Ryan White funding, and the adoption of ’abstinence only‘ programs that have repeatedly proved to be ineffective.”  Still, the website says nothing about what an adequate substitute for these programs would be or what he would publicly and financially support instead.16 

SIECUS will continue to monitor and report on the Presidential candidates positions on sex education during the electoral cycle.  We also encourage readers to register to vote, learn more at


  1. I Teddy Davis and Lindsey Ellerson, “Sex Ed for Kindergartners?,” ABC News, 20 July 2007, accessed 28 August 2007, <>.  bid.
  2. Ibid. 
  3. Lisa Wangsness, “Romney, Obama spar over sex education in public schools,” Boston Globe, 25 July 2007, accessed 28 August 2007, <
  4. Ibid.
  5. Michael Levenson, “Proposal to Use Abstinence Funds in Schools Fails,” Boston Globe, 10 March 2005, <>.
  6. Jim Davenport, “McCain to Preach Abstinence in S.C.,” Associated Press, 16 February 2007, accessed 28 August 2007,
  7. Impacts of Four Title V, Section 510 Abstinence Education Programs (Mathematica Policy Research, Inc, 2007), 59-61.
  8. “Mike Huckabee to Brody File: ‘I Do Not Believe in Teaching About Sex or Contraception in Public Schools,’ Christian Broadcasting Network, Inc., 21 May 2007, accessed 28 August 2007,  <>.
  9. O.Kay Henderson,” Huckabee says sex ed squabble silly,” Radio Iowa, 25 July 2007, accessed 28 August 2007, <>.
  10. Mike Huckabee to Brody File.
  11. Dennis Hevesi, “Bishop Criticizes Condom Policy,” New York Times, 14 November 1993, accessed 28 August 2007, <>.
  12. Human Rights Campaign, “WHERE THE DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATES STAND,” accessed 28 August 2007, <
  13. Remarks by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to the NYS Family Planning Providers, 24 January 2005, accessed 28 August 2007, <>. 
  14. Lisa Wangsness.
  15. Bill Richardson For President, Women’s Policy Agenda, accessed 28 August 2007, <>.
  16. Chris Dodd, President 2008, “DODD STATEMENT ON HRC/LOGO FORUM,” 9 August 2007, accessed 28 August 2007, <>.