(CNSNews.com) - Lower-income parents overwhelmingly prefer that their children learn about birth control and sexually transmitted diseases rather than abstinence, according to a poll released Wednesday by a New York group that studies sexuality.
The poll of 803 lower-income parents (those with incomes under 250 percent of the poverty level) shows that a staggering 81 percent prefer their children to receive what is known as "comprehensive sex education" in school. Sixteen percent said it was best to tell children to wait until marriage to have sex, according to the poll.
The Sexuality Information and Education Council for the United States (SIECUS) commissioned the study and is touting the results with a new report and website, FamiliesAreTalking.org, to coincide with National Family Sexuality Education Month. The poll was conducted by Lake Snell Perry & Associates and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
"This poll demonstrates that the proliferation of unproven abstinence-only-until-marriage programs across the nation is completely out of step with the parents and guardians of our nation's most vulnerable young people," SIECUS President Tamara Kreinin said in a statement.
Comprehensive sex education includes instruction about contraceptives, birth control, sexually transmitted diseases as well as abstinence, said Dr. Michael Carrera, who directs The Children's Aid Society Adolescent Sexuality and Pregnancy Prevention Program.
Carrera said the results of the poll reflect his experience since he started the program in 1984. At the release of the poll, SIECUS showcased Carrera's efforts to educate New York City children about sex. Carrera's program is now active in 20 states, many of which work with low-income families.
"We need to prepare children so they don't get hurt or they don't hurt someone else," he said. "We've had extraordinary success delaying the onset of sex or encouraging teens to use contraceptives."
The poll also found that programs like Carrera's are filling a communications gap because many lower-income parents are failing to discuss sex-related issues with their children. While Kreinin believes parents must take a more active role, schools also play a part in the education process, she said.
Jim Chapman, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Family Council, said he agreed that children should learn about the risks involved with sex, but that telling them to use contraceptives is not the answer.
"In my mind this is just condom tossing," Chapman said of the report. "They're just saying wear a condom and you won't catch anything. They're ignoring the facts. And the facts are that condoms don't protect you from the most commonly passed sexually transmitted virus."
That disease, Chapman said, known as the human papilloma virus, is spread through all kinds of sexual contact, not just intercourse. If teenagers were educated about it and other potential dangers of having sex, they might be more inclined to wait, he said.
"It's a good thing that kids know what's going on out there," Chapman said. "I agree that when kids know about the risks of sex, they are less at risk because they know about those things. Our premise is still that sex is best in marriage."
Carrera was critical of this approach, noting that some children reach puberty when they are 12 years old. Waiting until they are in their mid-20s to marry and begin having sex is unrealistic and silly, he said.
Scaring children about sex, he added, is also the wrong approach. He said the best method is using a comprehensive sex education program, where students can learn about abstinence in addition to other sex-related issues.
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