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Abstract

Background: School-based sex education is effective in reducing risky sexual behavior among adolescents that may lead to unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. However, most sex education policies in the US do not support evidence-based programs. Understanding parental attitudes around sex education is crucial to overcoming perceived barriers to implementing school-based sex education. Little research has been published on the opinions of parents in Texas, which accounts for 12% of the nation’s teen births. Purpose: The purpose of this study was to examine whether Texas parents favor teaching sex education in schools, in what grades they think sex education should be taught, what content they think should be taught, and who they think should make decisions regarding sex education. Methods: We commissioned a telephone survey of parents of children 18 years or younger in Harris County, Texas. Survey questions assessed demographic characteristics and opinions about sex education. We used chi-square tests to examine differences across sociodemographic characteristics. Results: 1,201 parents completed the survey. The majority of parents (80%) responded that sex education should begin in middle school or earlier, and two-thirds said that it should include information about condoms and contraception. Hispanic parents showed the highest support for teaching sex education and providing medically accurate information on condoms and contraception in middle school or earlier. Conclusion: Parents in Harris County overwhelmingly support sex education that includes medically accurate information about condoms and contraception beginning before high school. These data provide evidence to change sex education policies to better reflect parental opinions.

Key Take Away Points

  • 93% of parents support school-based sex education, and 80% think it should begin in middle school or earlier.
  • Two-thirds of parents think sex education should include information about condoms and contraception, be medically accurate, and be presented starting in middle school or earlier.
  • Texas sex education policies should change to reflect parental attitudes, which includes support for medically accurate, evidence-based sex education programs that start in middle school and include information about condoms and contraception.

Author Biography

Susan Tortolero, PhD, Associate Professor of Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences, and Epidemiology at the University of Texas School of Public Health, and Director of the Center for Health Promotion and Prevention Research and the University of Texas Prevention Research Center, has over 20 years’ experience researching risk and protective factors for adolescent physical and mental health. She is Vice Chair for the Texas Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.

Kim Johnson, MPH, PhD candidate in Health Promotion and Behavioral Science at the University of Texas School of Public Health, has research experience in sexual health disparities, program dissemination, and community-based participatory research, specifically involving youth as investigators.

Melissa Peskin, PhD, Assistant Professor of Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Texas School of Public Health and Associate Director of Dissemination at the University of Texas Prevention Research Center, is an expert in the development, implementation, evaluation, and dissemination of adolescent sexual health programs.

Paula Cuccaro, PhD, Associate Director of Research for the University of Texas Prevention Research Center, is Project Director for Healthy Passages, a longitudinal adolescent health study following a group of youth over a 10-year period. She is an expert in adolescent protective and risk factors, mental health, the needs of foster care youth, and the human-animal bond.

Christine Markham, PhD, Assistant Professor of Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Texas School of Public Health and Deputy Director at the University of Texas Prevention Research Center, has over 20 years’ experience in child and adolescent sexual health research including family- and school-based programs.

Belinda F. Hernandez, MPH, CHES, PhD candidate in Health Promotion and Behavioral Science at the University of Texas School of Public Health, has research experience with minority populations, adolescents, program dissemination, and intervention-based research.

Robert Addy, PhD, Data Analyst, Center for Health Promotion and Prevention Research, University of Texas School of Public Health, is an expert in behavioral sciences, biostatistics, and epidemiology. He is data analyst for studies on childhood & adolescent health, sexual and reproductive health, and the social determinants of health.

Ross Shegog, PhD, Assistant Professor of Behavioral Science at the University of Texas School of Public Health and Associate Director of Communication at the University of Texas Prevention Research Center, is an expert in the application of instructional technology in health promotion and disease prevention to optimally impact adolescent health behavior.

Dennis Li, MPH candidate in Health Promotion and Behavioral Science at the University of Texas School of Public Health, has research experience in adolescent sexual health, program evaluation, and intervention development.

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Responses to this Article:

Michael D. Resnick PhD, Rediscovering the Evidence: Parental Support for Sex Education in Schools (October 2011)