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Support for Comprehensive Sexuality Education: Perspectives from Parents of School-Age Youth

  • Marla E. Eisenberg
    Correspondence
    Address correspondence to: Marla E. Eisenberg, Division of Adolescent Health and Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, School of Medicine, University of Minnesota, 717 Delaware Street SE, 3rd floor, Minneapolis, MN 55414.
    Affiliations
    Healthy Youth Development Prevention Research Center, Division of Adolescent Health and Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, School of Medicine, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota
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  • Debra H. Bernat
    Affiliations
    Healthy Youth Development Prevention Research Center, Division of Adolescent Health and Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, School of Medicine, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota
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  • Linda H. Bearinger
    Affiliations
    Healthy Youth Development Prevention Research Center, Division of Adolescent Health and Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, School of Medicine, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota

    Center for Adolescent Nursing, School of Nursing, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota
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  • Michael D. Resnick
    Affiliations
    Healthy Youth Development Prevention Research Center, Division of Adolescent Health and Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, School of Medicine, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota
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      Abstract

      Purpose

      Controversy about school-based sexuality education in public schools has continued over the past decade, despite mounting evidence that comprehensive sexuality education effectively promotes sexual health and that parents support these programs in public schools. The present study replicates and expands upon previous findings regarding public views on school-based sexuality education.

      Methods

      One thousand six hundred five parents of school-age children in Minnesota responded to telephone surveys in 2006–2007 (63% participation rate), including items regarding general sexuality education, 12 specific topics, the grade level at which each should be taught, and attitudes toward sexuality education.

      Results

      The large majority of parents supported teaching about both abstinence and contraception (comprehensive sexuality education [CSE]; 89.3%), and support was high across all demographic categories of parents. All specific sexuality education topics received majority support (63.4%–98.6%), even those often viewed as controversial. Parents believed most topics should first be taught during the middle school years. Parents held slightly more favorable views on the effectiveness of CSE compared to abstinence-only education, and these views were strongly associated with support for CSE (odds ratio [OR]CSE = 14.3; ORabstinence = 0.11).

      Conclusions

      This study highlights a mismatch between parents’ expressed opinions and preferences, and actual sexuality education content as currently taught in the majority of public schools. In light of broad parental support for education that emphasizes multiple strategies for prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (including abstinence), parents should be encouraged to express their opinions on sexuality education to teachers, administrators, and school boards regarding the importance of including a variety of topics and beginning instruction during middle school years or earlier.

      Keywords

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      Linked Article

      • Converging Evidence Leaves Policy Behind: Sex Education in the United States
        Journal of Adolescent HealthVol. 42Issue 4
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          School-based sex education has the potential to prevent sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies and to promote healthy sexuality. Yet local, state, and national sex education policies in the United States comprise a bewildering patchwork of mandates, funding restrictions, omissions, and compromises, often at odds from one level to the next. As a result, the sex education received by most students is fragmented, incomplete, and frequently based on ineffective approaches and curricula [1–3]—an unacceptable state of affairs in a time of increasing teen birth rates and epidemics of sexually transmitted infections among American youth [4,5].
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