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Education Reporter

Parents Reject Explicit Sex Education, Poll Shows  

WASHINGTON, DC - The Coalition for Adolescent Sexual Health on Feb. 13 released the results of a Zogby International poll showing that parents overwhelmingly reject explicit sex education but support abstinence education. For the first time, such a survey was taken using actual quotes from sex education curricula developed and endorsed by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), Planned Parenthood, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Parents were asked whether they approved, strongly approved, disapproved, or strongly disapproved of 29 different concepts and messages being taught in some K-12 sex education classes in U.S. public schools.

Four questions quoted teaching materials from the CDC's "Programs That Work." Question 25 asked parents to state their level of approval for children ages 9 to 15 to be taught the following: "There are many ways to be close. The list may include body massage, bathing together, masturbation, sensuous feeding, fantasizing, watching erotic movies, reading erotic books and magazines." Seventy-nine percent of the parents surveyed objected to this teaching.

Eighty-eight percent of parents objected to Question 26, which asked them to state their level of approval "for a child in high school (ages 14 to 18)" to be taught the following: "Grape jelly, maple syrup, and honey could be used as a lubricant on condoms." The same percentage objected to Question 28, which asked parents to state their level of approval for a child in middle school or high school (ages 12-15) to be taught: "Use condoms as a method of foreplay. Use different colors and types and textures. Think up a sexual fantasy using condoms. Tell your partner how using a condom can make a man last longer. Hide a condom on your body and ask your partner to find it. Plan a special day when you can experiment."

According to the survey, more than 75% of parents overall disapprove of condom-based sex education, while more than 61% disapprove of comprehensive sex education in general.

Conversely, more than 76% of parents approve or strongly approve of character-based abstinence education. Sizable majorities strongly approve of the following message for teens: "When adolescents abstain from premarital sex, they don't need to worry about sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs), pregnancy, having a baby, or getting an abortion." Sixty-nine percent of parents approve of children ages 9-12 being taught the following: "Sexual or physical intimacy should occur between two people involved in a lifelong, mutually faithful, marriage commitment."

Other survey findings show that 46% of parents either disapprove or strongly disapprove of the idea that teens could obtain contraception without permission from a parent, compared to 39% who approve or strongly approve of the concept. However, when that question is personalized, the figure rises to 70% of parents who either strongly disapprove or disapprove of their own children being able to obtain contraception without their knowledge or consent.

By a more than four-to-one margin, parents also disapprove of teaching 9-12-year olds that "Homosexual love relationships can be as satisfying as heterosexual relationships" (from the SIECUS Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education).

Regarding younger children, 73% of those surveyed approve or strongly approve of teaching 5-8 year-olds that "desires and urges can be controlled by the mind." But parents are much less likely to approve of teaching that "every child should understand the dignity of his or her sexuality," with 49% supporting this statement.

After the survey results were released, the Coalition for Adolescent Sexual Health sent a letter to members of Congress, urging them to take parents' wishes into consideration during deliberations over current welfare reform legislation that includes funding for abstinence education. "The President has stated that federal funding should support an unambiguous message to teens that sex is best reserved for marriage," the Coalition wrote. "This message is contained in character-based abstinence education programs which have been recommended for $135 million in federal funding in the president's budget requests for Fiscal Years 2003 and 2004."

The Coalition for Adolescent Health is a partnership of pro-family groups including Focus on the Family, Eagle Forum, Christian Coalition of America, the Traditional Values Coalition, and the National Abstinence Clearinghouse. The group's letter warned that, "a number of organizations are seeking to eliminate federal support for character-based abstinence education." While these organizations cite "opinion polls that use carefully crafted questions to demonstrate public support for condom promotion," the Zogby data "strongly suggest that parents want their children to receive a strong message on abstinence."

Perhaps in anticipation of attacks due to the survey's subject matter and results, Zogby International President and CEO, John Zogby, noted in a letter to the Coalition for Adolescent Sexual Health that the survey questions "reflect to some degree what is going on in some sex education classes and point to a need to bring parents into the conversation, course planning, and family discussion."

"In short," he wrote, "we feel the questions were fair. The Coalition has handled the results honestly and we at Zogby International are certainly prepared to publicly defend the entire process."

Zogby surveyed 1,245 parents of children in grades K-12, during January 2003. The parents were chosen at random, and the margin of error is plus or minus 2.8%. Complete survey results can be found at www.whatparentsthink.com.

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