Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) recently approved a measure that will update the state’s sex ed requirements to do away with abstinence-only education and require health classes to include information about birth control. Predictably, Planned Parenthood praised the move while conservative groups criticized it.
In reality, however, the public opinion on comprehensive sex ed isn’t quite as balanced as the news stories that include quotes from people on both sides of the issue may convey. Measures like Illinois’ aren’t actually controversial. Even when U.S. adults believe kids should be taught an abstinence-based curricula that emphasizes the importance of delaying sex, the majority of them still believe that kids also need instruction about contraceptive methods, according to a new poll from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
According to the National Campaign’s recent survey, 69 percent of adults over the age of 18 agree that sex ed classes should include information about accurate prevention methods in addition to messages about delaying sex until teens are ready for it. The support is even greater among certain demographic groups. Seventy five percent of adults in the South — which has the highest rates of teen pregnancy and teen births in the country — think health curricula should teach kids about birth control.
Those new survey results fall in line with the past decade of public opinion polling on the subject. Back in 2002, 90 percent of the public said they support comprehensive sex ed that includes information about preventing pregnancy and STDs. In 2004, 94 percent of Americans said they think it’s appropriate for young people to receive accurate information about contraception. In 2007, more than 80 percent of Americans said that schools should be required to implement this type of comprehensive sex ed. In 2008, 93 percent of parents said they believe their kids should be taught age-appropriate sex ed with information about prevention methods.
It’s a non-issue among parents, medical professionals, and education experts. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, and the National Education Association all endorse comprehensive sex ed programs.
Nonetheless, many state lawmakers haven’t gotten the message. “Government always thinks they know what’s best, and I think the more mandates that you put on local school districts, the more you take authority away from parents, which is where it should be,” Illinois state Sen. Kyle McCarter (R), who voted against the comprehensive sex ed legislation, said to justify his opposition. “The districts didn’t need this. They didn’t ask for this.”
That attitude is reflected in state laws across the country. With its new sex ed standards, Illinois joins just 17 states and the District of Columbia that require sex ed classes to include information about birth control. Public opinion is definitive on this issue. Public policy is a long way behind.