Abstinence Education: It All depends on Who You Ask

  • 9 out of 10 parents think young people should be encouraged to abstain from sex before marriage.
  • 9 out of 10 young people think they should not be encouraged to abstain from sex before marriage.

    These are the results of two surveys I recently came across. The first one to catch my attention was headlined thus, “89 percent of California Parents Favor Comprehensive Sex Education in School.” (source) Since my kids are approaching school age, what they will be taught in school is of paramount concern to me, so I read on. It further stated that “a new study from the Public Health Institute found overwhelming support among California parents—regardless of parents’ political leanings, religious affiliation or location—for school-based comprehensive sex education. Parents were asked about preferences for comprehensive versus abstinence-only sex education, opinions on specific sex education topics and reasons for preferences and opinions.”

    I next asked myself, what exactly do they mean by “Comprehensive Sex Education.” And the answer is in the survey question they asked: “What do you think teenagers should be taught in sex education classes?”
    (a) ONLY about abstinence, that is, not having sex until marriage
    (b) ONLY about how to prevent pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted
    infections if they do decide to have sex
    (c) BOTH about abstinence AND about how to prevent pregnancies and the spread of
    sexually transmitted infections if they do decide to have sex

    Now, given those three options, which would you consider “Comprehensive Sex Education?” If you said “C”, of course, you would be wrong. According to the writers of this report the answer is “B” and “C.” As a logically thinking person I cannot figure out the reason for this other than the fact that the writers of the report seem to want to pit the teaching of abstinence against their preferred comprehensive sex education. 1

    While the writers of this report focus on comprehensive sex education, if you dig into the internals of the survey results you’ll find some interesting, and (if you think abstinence is the best course before marriage as I do) encouraging data. “Overall, 82% of the sample reported a policy preference for abstinence-plus-protection sex education, 7% for protection-only and 11% for abstinence-only.” That means 93% of parents want their children taught abstinence before marriage!

    As I was researching the results of the first survey, I came across another set of data with completely opposite results. It said that less than 10% of the global population polled thinks “Young People Should be Encouraged to Abstain From Sex Until Marriage” (source) This statement seemed unbelievable to me initially, but then I did some further research. The survey was conducted by a company called Durex 2 and respondents appear to have been frequenters of their website, which is no doubt a young and sexually liberal group of individuals. The question posed to this group was “Do you think that young people should be encouraged to abstain from sex until they are married?” And not surprisingly, given the sample population, only 8% (14% in the US) of the respondents said “Yes.”

    So you see, when it comes to the popularity of abstinence eduction, it all depends on who you ask.

    1. “We refer to the three options offered as abstinence-only, protection-only, and abstinence-plus. For most of the analyses reported, we combined the protection-only and abstinence-plus categories into a new category of protection-included, referred to subsequently by the commonly used label of comprehensive sex education.”

    2. “Durex condoms represent around one quarter of the global market for prophylactic sheathes, manufacturing around one billion units per year in 17 factories worldwide.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durex

  • 2 replies
    1. Amy D.
      Amy D. says:

      In a recent research class I took we learned the various ways surveys and data reporting can be flawed. This was an excellent example of trying to twist it all up to look the way they wanted it to. Good job cutting through the bologna. This is an issue that most parents want addressed in a truly comprehensive way at school so their kids will have information, but oh, it’s such potentially volatile topic! Nice analysis of this, Jimmy.


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