Teens on Sex Education: Abstinence-Only or Safe-Sex Approach? A Gallup Poll found that most Americans were fine with teaching sex education at school: However, there has been controversy in recent years about the approach those classes should take -- specifically, whether they should provide teens with information about birth control and safe sex, or whether they should promote abstinence from sexual activity. Those who prefer an abstinence-only curriculum argue that discussion of safe sex sends a mixed message and may encourage teen sexual activity.
Those in favor of a comprehensive curriculum maintain the abstinence-only approach deprives teens of information important to their health. A major study on sex education conducted in the fall of by National Public Radio, Harvard University, and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that of three programs described to respondents the most popular was a middle-ground solution, stressing abstinence but also discussing condoms and contraception. Which Approach Is More Common? The Gallup Youth Survey asked teens who have taken a sex education class which approach is closer to the one their school takes -- an abstinence-only approach or a safe-sex approach.
Since , federal funds have been available for abstinence-only programs, which has further fueled the debate about which approach is most effective.
The federal funds may make abstinence-only programs attractive to schools, but community mores probably also influence the approach schools take. Teens in the more conservative Midwestern and Southern regions of the country are more likely than those on the coasts to say their schools stick closer to an abstinence-only curriculum. Which Approach Is Best? Do students rate the two approaches differently in terms of helping them understand matters related to sex?
But teens who've actually taken such classes are almost as likely as those in comprehensive classes to say they were helpful to their understanding of sex-related issues. Is this because those teens remain blissfully unaware of the issues that weren't discussed? In any case, majorities of teens who've taken classes with either approach feel they were at least fairly helpful, which suggests the type of class is less important than the availability of some type of sex education in general.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls. Subscribe to receive weekly Gallup News alerts. Never miss our latest insights.