Survey Shows Parents Disapprove of 'Safe Sex,' Condom Education

By Christine Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:04 PM EDT

( - As Congress debates reauthorization of the federal welfare bill that funds sex education programs, a new survey of parents shows that most disapprove of so-called "safe sex" education and prefer that kids get abstinence-based education. Yet most of the programs Congress funds promote the safe-sex message.

Three-quarters of parents approve of abstinence education for their kids, according to the Zogby International poll conducted for the Coalition for Adolescent Sexual Health, an ad hoc group of conservative organizations.

But over 60 percent of poll respondents said they don't approve of so-called "comprehensive" or "safe sex" education, which typically focuses on condom use as a means of avoiding pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Fla.) says Congress should respond to public opinion by shifting more funding to abstinence education.

"We need to redirect the funding initiatives coming out of [the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health and the Department of] Health and Human Services - all these agencies that distribute funds to all these different federal programs to combat teen pregnancy and teen sex," said Weldon, speaking at a Capitol Hill press conference on Thursday.

"We need to make sure that the money is going in a direction that, number one, works and is effective, and, number two, is what the voters actually want," he said.

According to the Family Research Council (FRC), a CDC grant to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) went towards 50 pages' worth of sex ed guidelines. But only half of one page was dedicated to abstinence, while the remaining pages discussed masturbation, homosexuality, contraception and abortion.

FRC spokesperson Genevieve Wood said she would be happy if Congress would, at a minimum, split funding 50/50 between abstinence and safe sex programs, something the Bush administration has also sought as part of the welfare bill.

For fiscal year 2003, Bush asked for $135 million for "character-based abstinence education," about 60 percent of what the General Accounting Office has estimated goes to condom-based programs. In FY2002, comprehensive sex education programs, including conceptive programs, got $427.7 million in federal funds, according to the FRC.

"Abstinence promotes the health and well-being of teens and is their best choice until marriage," said Janice Shaw Crouse, a senior fellow with Concerned Women for America.

Planned Parenthood and the Guttmacher Institute, however, offered a different take on the Zogby survey results.

"I'm so pleased that opponents of sex education have finally discovered what parents want for their children: the information and skills they need to make healthy choices," said Leslie Kantor, spokesperson for the Othmer Institute at Planned Parenthood of New York City.

According to Kantor, the Zogby findings confirm national poll results released in 2002 by the Othmer Institute that showed "overwhelming support" for comprehensive sex education on a broad range of topics, like relationship and decision-making skills, "sexual identity" and abortion.

But, said Kantor, the Othmer poll showed that even those who identify as born-again Christians want a broad array of sex education topics to be covered in schools, including contraception.

"The results of that [Zogby] survey showed that 58 percent of parents approved of how to use condoms and other contraceptives and how to negotiate their use, versus 29 percent disapproving," added Guttmacher Institute Senior Research Associate David Landry.

The bottom line, said Kantor, is that Americans do not support the teaching of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that "limit education about contraceptives and condoms to their failure rates."

Thus, policy makers who want to increase funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage education are "out of step with what most Americans believe is the best approach," in Kantor's view.

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