Survey Finds Parental Support for Sex Education
More than 8 in 10 Americans regard teen-age pregnancy as a serious national problem and support sex education in the public schools as an important remedy, according to a new survey of public attitudes on family-planning issues.
The $84,000 study, completed this fall by Louis Harris and Associates for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, involved interviews with 2,510 adults nationwide, conducted in late summer.
A majority of parents interviewed said they believed they had little or no control over their teen-agers' sexual activity and that providing information about sex through schools and on television was necessary.
The poll's results indicate that 53 percent of Americans believe sex education is already available in schools. But according to an Urban Institute study cited in the report, teen-agers' first exposure to birth-control information comes, on average, 11 months after their first sexual encounter.
"Americans correctly believe that sex education in schools is widely available in some form," the report says, "though it may be neither timely nor comprehensive."
Humphrey Taylor, president of the Harris polling firm, said that 67 percent of those surveyed for the report favored "laws requiring public schools to establish links with family-planning clinics, so that teen-agers can learn about contraceptives and obtain them."
The percentage in favor of such links was considerably higher among minority groups and respondents between the ages of 18 and 29, the report noted.
Those polled were also highly critical of television's role in fostering negative attitudes about sex, saying that it exaggerated the importance of sex and failed to deal with its potentially negative consequences, such as unwanted pregnancy and venereal diseases. The report states: "There is a public mandate for television to deal more realistically with the subjects of sex and birth control."
"Fully 78 percent of the American public would like to see messages about birth control on TV," said Mr. Taylor. But until recently, the major networks have refused to carry public-service announcements or advertisements concerning birth control, he noted.
Better communication, the report says, is the key to reducing the rate of teen pregnancy. And parents, in their survey responses, appear to be more inclined now than in the past to discuss sex with their children.
According to the report, 76 percent of parents with children between the ages of 6 and 18 say that an adult has talked with the children about sex. But only 33 percent say birth control was part of the discussion.
The report notes that many people "feel they need outside help when it comes to informing their children about birth control, and yet many also wish to retain control over what their children learn and do." These contradictory attitudes, the report adds, has left parents deeply divided over so-called "squeal laws"--proposals put forward by various groups in recent years that would require minors to have parental permission to obtain contraceptives.
About 47 percent of the parents interviewed oppose the rule; 48 percent support it.
The survey's results, however, indicate that the public supports the practice of making birth-control devices and information available to teen-agers. Of those polled, 53 percent said that making contraceptives more difficult to obtain would cause more teen-age pregnancies. Only 18 percent said it would have no effect.--er