Democrat and Republican Voters Agree: Schools Need to Teach Sex Ed

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Americans can apparently agree on at least one thing: Kids in school deserve good sex education.

According to a study published in the journal Sex Education in September, the researchers looked at the online responses of nearly 1,000 people from across the U.S. who said they regularly voted in elections. The respondents—recruited by the polling company KnowledgePanel—identified themselves as either Democrats or Republicans. They were asked a series of 21 questions related to sex education, including whether they wanted these programs taught in middle and high school as well as which topics should be included.

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Overall, the study found, most everyone was on board with sex ed in school. Nearly 90 percent said it was either very or somewhat important for sex ed to exist in middle school, while close to 100 percent said the same for sex ed in high school.

The study is far from the first to suggest that people generally support sex ed in schools, but the authors say theirs is the first to explicitly look at likely voters. “The current study adds to a growing body of literature which shows that there is a high level of support in the USA for providing sex education in middle and high school,” they wrote.

The authors also found agreement on a wide range of topics related to sex ed between people in both parties. Majorities of Democrats or Republicans said that issues like puberty, healthy relationships, abstinence, birth control, STDs including HIV, and consent should be included in these programs. A majority of both groups supported the continued funding of two government-run programs: the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPPP) and the Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP).

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It’s that last bit that’s especially important, the authors noted. During the Obama administration, the federal government steered away from funding programs and organizations that only focused on teaching kids to stay abstinent from sex to a more comprehensive approach that includes information such as how to use condoms. The Trump administration has tried to reverse course and enforce an abstinence-only approach again, but they’ve encountered legal challenges for the time being. And while a majority of people were okay with teaching kids to avoid sex altogether, they want schools to also include information on birth control and safe sex.

The GOP is unlikely to relent in its efforts to tear down sex ed programs, but given the findings, they’re not doing it for the sake of their supporters.

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“Recent attempts by the government to shift funding away from evidence-based pregnancy prevention programs and back to abstinence-only-until- marriage-approaches are out of alignment with what likely voters want,” study author Leslie Kantor, chair of the department of urban-global public health at the Rutgers School of Public Health, said in a statement released by the university.

At the same time, there are still some important differences between Democrats and Republicans in how they feel about sex ed. By a slight majority, Republicans said they didn’t want programs in middle school to include information on sexual orientation. Though as support for LGBT-related issues continues to increase, the authors wrote, that too might change in the near future.

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Of course, it’s worth remembering why sex ed is so important in the first place. The rate of teen pregnancies has steadily declined since 1991 but saw an uptick during the abstinence-only era of the Bush administration. Thankfully, teen pregnancy in the U.S. is now at an all-time low. Experts partly credit the implementation of comprehensive sex ed programs for reducing teen pregnancies, and studies have routinely shown that people who take these classes are less likely to catch STDs and engage in risky sexual behaviors.

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About the author

Ed Cara

Science writer at Gizmodo and pug aficionado elsewhere