Sex education: Americans prefer abstinence-plus

November 02, 2013, 4:05 PM GMT+0

Most Americans believe that information about contraceptives should be included in sex education alongside the promotion of abstinence, but the public is divided on whether students should also be taught how to use contraceptives.

Although 2012 saw a 40-year low in terms of teen pregnancy in the US, 68 girls out of 1000 will experience pregnancy between the ages of 15 and 19 this year, according to the latest statistics. However, these statistics vary widely by state, with the likelihood of teen pregnancy in New Mexico being almost 1 in 10. According to the most recent YouGov research, 84% of Americans consider unwanted teen pregnancies a serious problem. Almost half (47%) say it's very serious.

The research also suggests that overwhelmingly Americans prefer a form of sex education that provides at least some information on contraceptives, while also pushing abstinence as the best choice. The comprehensive approach, known as 'abstinence-plus', contrasts with 'abstinence-only' education, which teaches children to abstain from sex and does not provide information on contraceptives. Few Americans think the latter approach is best.

YouGov asked Americans which of four options was closest to their own view in terms of the best approach to sex education for young people, with the options ranging from an abstinence-only approach to an approach where abstinence is considered 'not important'.

Question: Which of the following statements is closest to your view on what is the best approach to sex education for young people?

A) Abstinence from sexual intercourse is the best choice for teens. Sex ed classes should not provide information about how to use and obtain condoms.

B) Abstinence from sexual intercourse is the best choice for teens, but schools should provide basic biological and health information about contraception.

C) Abstinence from sexual intercourse is best for teens, but schools should also encourage teens to use condoms when having sex, teach teens where to obtain condoms, and have teens practice how to put on condoms.

D) Abstinence from sexual intercourse is not important. Sex ed classes should focus on teaching teens how to use condoms when engaging in sex activity.


Almost half of Americans (48%) say option B is the best approach, where abstinence is preferred, but young people are made aware of only basic biological functions and contraceptive options, without further information. In the second most popular approach (C), which is chosen by just over a third (36%), abstinence is preferred, but lessons include basic biology, information on contraceptive options, where to get them, and how to use them.

Sexual education preferences show a partisan divide. A majority of Republicans choose B, while Democrats are most likely to say option C is best.

People who identify with a particular religion were also more likely to pick option B than option C, while agnostics and atheists tended to prefer option C.

When asked what the best sexual education methods are for preventing unwanted pregnancies, general opinion shifted slightly. Partisan divides stayed, but more people said it would be a better option for young people to learn where to get contraceptives and how to use them.

People were also asked whether or not high schools should provide condoms to students who ask for them. Women tend to think that condoms should be made available, while men tend to think the opposite. And a majority of Democrats (62%) support making condoms available to students, while a majority of Republicans (63%) oppose the idea.

President George W. Bush strongly advocated abstinence-only sex education, and during his administration abstinence programs received hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding. President Obama opposes abstinence-only sex education, however, and his proposed 2013 budget would divert federal dollars toward programs emphasizing contraception.

Full poll results can be found here.

Image: Getty.

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