Opinion

Who supports abstinence education? Parents

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Opinion,Op-Eds

In the first presidential debate, President Obama defined himself as the education candidate who would invest more in schools. What the president didn't mention is how he defunded a vitally important subject supported by 79 percent of the parents of school-age children.

What is this subject that unites so many Americans? Abstinence education. Surprised? Unfortunately, you are not alone.

Critics have mischaracterized abstinence education as a religiously motivated and politically conservative hot-button issue that has no place in public schools. But a recent survey paints a different picture, showing abstinence education is a women's issue, a Hispanic issue, an African-American issue, a health issue and a common-sense issue. It enjoys support across ethnic groups, age demographics and political affiliations -- including Obama Democrats.

Unfortunately, organizations that have Obama's ear have argued that, despite 25 peer-reviewed studies showing its effectiveness, abstinence education is incompatible with "comprehensive" sex education." This latter term is a euphemism that chooses to ignore, for example, the deadly risks of sexually transmitted diseases, even when condoms are used.

In New York City, "comprehensive" sex education became mandatory this year. According to the New York Post, one assignment in a workbook recommended by the city's Department of Education sends students to stores to take notes about condom brands and lubricants. In other parts of the country, comprehensive sex education programs advocate showering together as a no-risk activity, according to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study.

It's time for a dose of reality. A national survey commissioned by my organization, the National Abstinence Education Foundation, shows how out of touch Obama's policy is with American parents.

While past surveys have addressed broad opinions on sex education, this is the most extensive, focusing on abstinence education. Conducted by Pulse Opinion Research in mid-September, the survey asked 23 questions of 1,683 parents with children ages 9-16. The margin of error is plus or minus 2 percentage points.

The data exposes several long-held tenets as myths.

* For example, many believe that only Republicans support abstinence education. In fact, nearly 8 out of 10 Democratic parents support it.

* Contrary to the assumptions of many, most parents do not want condoms presented as a "safe sex" solution. Nearly 9 in 10 parents strongly support their children knowing the limitations of condoms for preventing pregnancy and disease.

* Given the amount he has spoken on it, many people assume that Democrats support President Obama's policy to eliminate funding for abstinence education. In fact, almost 60 percent of Democrats and more than 70 percent of Republicans oppose defunding.

* Another myth is that African-Americans don't see "abstinence until marriage" as a goal. In reality, nearly 9 of 10 African-American parents want their children to wait for marriage to initiate sex.

* Finally, there is a misconception that abstinence education only has relevance for heterosexual teens. Eighty-five percent of parents actually believe that all youth, regardless of sexual orientation, benefit from skills helping them wait for sex.

In their responses to this survey, parents opened a window into their views on abstinence education. Whoever wins the November presidential election would be wise to listen more to parents on this issue, who care more about their children and less about the special interest groups pushing misleading sex-education agendas.

Valerie Huber is the president of the National Abstinence Education Foundation, a Washington-based nonprofit supporting abstinence education as the optimal strategy for teen sexual health.

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