The debate over whether to have sex education in American schools is over. A new poll by NPR,
the Kaiser Family Foundation, and HarvardÆs Kennedy School of Government finds that only 7%
of Americans say sex education should not be taught in schools. Moreover, in most places there
is even little debate about what kind of sex education should be taught, although there are still
pockets of controversy. Parents are generally content with whatever sex education is offered by
their childrenÆs school (see box below), and public school principals, in a parallel
NPR/Kaiser/Kennedy School survey, report little serious conflict over sex education in their
communities nowadays. Nearly three-quarters of the principals (74%) say there have been no
recent discussions or debate in PTA, school board, or other public meetings about what to teach
in sex ed. Likewise, few principals report being contacted by elected officials, religious leaders
or other people in their communities about sex education.
However, this does not mean that all Americans agree on what kind of sex education is best.
There are major differences over the issue of abstinence. Fifteen percent of Americans believe
that schools should teach only about abstinence from sexual intercourse and should not provide
information on how to obtain and use condoms and other contraception. A plurality (46%)
believes that the most appropriate approach is one that might be called ôabstinence-plusö ù that
while abstinence is best, some teens do not abstain, so schools also should teach about condoms
and contraception. Thirty-six percent believe that abstinence is not the most important thing, and
that sex ed should focus on teaching teens how to make responsible decisions about sex.
Advocates of abstinence have had some success. Federal funds are now being made available for
abstinence programs; in his State of the Union address Presiden...