Journal of Adolescent Health, 42 (4), 352-359
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. 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. 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). 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.
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