1.  What is the methodology and accuracy of this survey?

2.  Can you explain the difference between abstinence education and “comprehensive” sex education?

3.  How does this survey differ from other sex education polls?

4.  What can you tell me about NAEF?

5.  Does abstinence education really work?



1.  What is the methodology and accuracy of this survey?

The content of this report, Parents Speak Out, is based on a national telephone survey of 1683 likely voters with children 9 to 16 years of age and was conducted by Pulse Opinion Research on September 16-17, 2012.  Pulse Opinion Research, LLC is an independent public opinion research firm using automated polling methodology and procedures licensed from Rasmussen Reports, LLC. Pulse Opinion Research provides the fieldwork for all Rasmussen Reports. An analysis of polls cited Rasmussen Reports as the most accurate in predicting the margin of Obama’s victory in 2008.[i] In addition, non-partisan groups such as The Hill and others who measure public opinion on a variety of issues regularly use Pulse Opinion Research.

The margin of sampling error for the full sample is +/- 2.0% percentage points with a 95% level of confidence.  This means that an identical survey conducted under the same circumstances would likely generate a result within the margin of sampling error 19 times out of 20. The survey was conducted using an established automated polling methodology. Calls were placed to randomly selected phone numbers through a process that insures appropriate geographic representation.  After the calls were completed, the raw data was processed through a weighting program to insure that the sample reflects the overall population in terms of age, race, gender, political party, and other factors. This step was required because different segments of the population answer the phone in different ways. For example, women answer the phone more than men, older people are home more and answer more than younger people, and rural residents typically answer the phone more frequently than urban residents.

The population targets were based upon recent census bureau data, a series of screening questions to determine likely voters, and other factors. Pulse Opinion Research determines its partisan weighting targets through a dynamic weighting system that takes into account voting history, national trends, and recent polling.


2.  Can you explain the difference between abstinence education and “comprehensive” sex education?[1]


What is the difference between “Comprehensive” Sex Education and Abstinence Education?


Abstinence Education is an approach that gives teens information and skills that are intended to help them avoid all the possible negative consequences of teen sex, including but not limited to, the physical consequences of STDs and pregnancy. Therefore, it is accurately known as a Sexual Risk Avoidance (SRA) approach.


 By contrast, “Comprehensive” Sex Education is almost entirely focused on skills to help teens reduce the physical consequences of sex through the usage of contraception. Therefore, it is accurately known as a Sexual Risk Reduction (SRR) approach.











Abstinence Education is an approach that gives teens information and skills so they can successfully refrain from sexual activity in order to prevent any of the possible consequences of sex. It teaches that teen nonmarital sexual activity is high-risk behavior due to the many possible consequences of that conduct, including but not limited to their increased susceptibility to STDs and pregnancy. Avoiding all sexual risk is the surest way to achieve optimal sexual health, so abstinence education is more accurately described as Sexual Risk Avoidance (SRA) Abstinence Education. Most teens have never had sex, [ii] so abstinence is a realistic goal. However, we also know that though “abstinence” may be a simple concept to understand, it is not an easy goal to accomplish. Abstinence is not a contraceptive; it is the optimally healthy lifestyle for teens.

While many topics are discussed within an SRA Abstinence Education program, they all work to inform the rationale for sexual delay and empower the teen to value abstinence. A variety of skill building topics are typically included in an effective abstinence education program including:

  •  Goal setting
  •  Healthy decision-making
  •  Building positive assets and avoiding negative peer pressure
  •  Human development
  •  Risk clusters or “how engaging in one activity increases one’s likelihood of engaging in other risky activities.”
  •  Healthy relationships
  •  Resistance skills & effective communication
  •  Self-efficacy & self-regulation
  •  The risks of STDs
  •  Complete information about condoms  & contraceptive methods, including the limitations of their effectiveness compared to choosing abstinence.
  •  Returning to an abstinence behavioral choice


“Comprehensive” Sex Education (CSE) is built on the premise that teens either cannot, or will not, abstain from sex; therefore they must learn to take “precautions” that will decrease their risk of becoming pregnant or acquiring a Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD). “Comprehensive” sex education is accurately described as a Sexual Risk Reduction (SRR) approach because it focuses on simply reducing the consequences of risk behaviors. “Comprehensive” sex education typically has the following components:

  •  Narrow Focus: CSE is almost solely focused on reducing the physical consequences of sex, while ignoring its holistic nature. The goal is to help teens minimize their risk of becoming pregnant, and to a lesser degree, of acquiring an STD. Therefore, great emphasis is placed on condom negotiation skills and contraceptive use. Such an approach, however, grossly oversimplifies the impact that sexual activity has on a teen. Simply put, when a teen has sex, the decision affects more than the sexual organs but the CSE strategy ignores this fact by minimizing the broader implications of this behavior.
  •  Ignores any Meaningful Priority on Abstinence. 
The CSE approach assumes that teen sexual experimentation is a natural and normal part of adolescent development as contrasted with natural sexual curiosity at this developmental stage. The primary concern of the CSE approach is not so much in delaying sexual initiation, as it is in ensuring that sex is consensual and that contraception is used. According to this approach, sex education policy must primarily focus on risk reduction (risk being limited to pregnancy and STDs), rather than risk avoidance (risk being applied to include all the potential risks of sex) that is the core focus of abstinence education. A CSE curriculum might contain an obligatory statement such as “abstinence is the only way to assure 100% protection from pregnancy and STDs” but few, if any abstinence skill-building exercises are included, leaving teens without any meaningful help in maintaining or regaining a behavioral choice of abstinence.
  •  Normalizes Teen Sex. Because the CSE approach presupposes that teens will not or cannot refrain from sexual initiation, it presses the boundaries for content past what most people would find reasonable under a “pregnancy prevention” approach. Popular “comprehensive” curricula encourage sex play as a part of their instruction. The normalization and encouragement of teen sexual activity obstructs further improvement in sexual delay among America’s youth and may harm the sexual health of currently abstinent youth by stimulating their transition toward sexual activity.

    The age of sexual initiation is another concern in the normalization of teen sex because it is strongly correlated to the total number of lifetime partners. The more sexual partners a person has during his or her lifetime, the greater the risk for acquiring STDs and HIV.

    A teen may not become pregnant and may even escape contracting an STD, but still experience difficult consequences to sexual activity. These consequences are not diminished by consistent or correct condom use; they are not eliminated by the use of any form of contraception. Only by avoiding sexual activity are these consequences eliminated.

Where can I learn more about the differences between “comprehensive” sex education and abstinence education?

The most exhaustive study on the differences between the two sex education approaches can be found in a 2012 report released by NAEA. The report, Sexual Risk Avoidance Education: Considerations for Protecting Teen Health, can be accessed, free of charge, from the NAEA website at www.TheNAEA.org


3.  How Does This Survey Differ From Others?

Prior to this survey, detailed understanding of parental sex education views was mostly speculative, or anecdotal, at best.  Previous surveys usually asked non-specific questions such as: “Do you support both abstinence and contraceptive education?” This kind of question provided little clarity to the type of sex education approach supported by parents, however, because both Abstinence Education and “Comprehensive” Sex Education insist that they provide both abstinence and contraceptive education in their curricula.

This Parents Speak Out survey differs from previous polls in that parents are asked to voice their support for the manner and context in which topics are treated in different sex education classes. This line of questioning is much more informational because we gain a clearer view of how parents want their children to be taught in their sex education classes. 

For example, parents were asked how they wanted contraceptive education to be covered in sex education classes. Overwhelmingly, parents indicated that they supported the methodology used by Abstinence Education, in which students are informed of the limitations of contraception and the discussion is always within the context of promoting abstinence. These nuanced and detailed questions greatly differ from other sex education surveys, which more predictably only gauge respondents’ awareness of top-line media messages surrounding the sex education debate, rather than a keen understanding and response to what is actually being taught within the classroom.


4.  What can you tell me about NAEF?

NAEF exists to provide strategic educational, media and research efforts to create a national environment in which abstinence- centered education is supported and offered as an option to students across the United States. The National Abstinence Education Foundation (NAEF) is a sister organization to the National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA).  NAEA provides support and strategies to policymakers, states and communities in order to ensure that abstinence-centered education is a priority message for youth across the nation. NAEF reinforces the work of NAEA by creating a high level of public awareness about the benefits, importance, and effectiveness of Abstinence Education.


5.  Does abstinence education really work?[2]

Abstinence education has an impressive and growing body of research pointing to its effectiveness.  To date, 25,peer-reviewed studies show statistically significant evidence of positive behavioral impact for students with all levels of sexual experience. Eighteen are recent studies, with six demonstrating significant delay in sexual initiation for one to two years after the program ended.[iii]  Most research was obtained within the school setting. The results are remarkable and consistently reveal three noteworthy findings. 

Compared to their peers, students in an abstinence education program are:

o Much more likely to delay sexual initiation;

o If sexually active, much more likely to discontinue or decrease their sexual activity;

o No less likely to use a condom if they initiate sex.

The research is important, but the lives of the youth who comprise the “statistical significance” in the research are far more important. Continued investment in abstinence education research is vital in order to identify the most effective applications of abstinence education in real-life school and community-based settings. In that way, the maximum number of youth can receive the information and skills they need to make healthy choices. 

(Readers who are interested in the results of each study are invited to read the NAEA report, Sexual Risk Avoidance: Considerations for Protecting Teen Health, available at their website: www.TheNAEA.org)

The Role of Ideology.

Unfortunately, ideology has played far too great a role in shaping the future of the abstinence education. Opponents insist that they only want to assure that “evidence-based” programs are funded. However, during a 2008 House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Hearing called to investigate the effectiveness of abstinence education programs, the assembled witnesses revealed a more ideological agenda. During the proceedings, Rep. Virginia Foxx asked the 7 witnesses if they would support voluntary funding for abstinence education programs if they were shown to be as effective, or more effective than “comprehensive” sex education programs. Five of the seven expert witnesses quickly responded, “No.”[iv]  In other words, the actual agenda of the hearing was not really to assess the evidence for abstinence education; it was to infuse their ideology into the debate in order to undermine the abstinence approach. Sadly, this scenario is not unique.

Despite claims to the contrary:

o It was ideology, not science that led to the defunding of abstinence education in 2010, and as a direct result ….

o It was ideology, not science that led tostudies on the effectiveness of abstinence education to be halted midstream.

o It was ideology, not science that led critics to cite the results of a 2008 Mathematica Policy Research study as proof of the ineffectiveness of abstinence programs, despite the fact that the study’s own researchers cautioned against making such sweeping conclusions.[v]

o It was ideology, not science that led to the spurious and inaccurate 2004 Waxman report, The Content of Federally Funded Abstinence-only Education Programs.

Ideological campaigns ignore science, ignore the public health interests of America’s youth and compromise their health. We hope that this survey of parents will work to end the bitter sex education battles and that a conversation will begin that only seeks the best for America’s youth.


[1] This section is adapted from: Sexual Risk Avoidance Education: Considerations for Protecting Teen Health (2012). Washington, DC: NAEA.  Entire report can be accessed at www.theNAEA.org

[2] This section is adapted from: Sexual Risk Avoidance Education: Considerations for Protecting Teen Health (2012). Washington, DC: NAEA.  Entire report can be accessed at www.theNAEA.org

[i] 2008 Presidential Election: Actual results and forecast: 2008 Pollster Report Card.  Retrieved October 1, 2012 from http://electoralmap.net/2012/2008_election.php


[ii] National Center for Health Statistics. ( 2011). Teenagers in the United States: Sexual

activity, contraceptive use, and childbearing, 2006–2010 . National Survey of Family Growth.  National Health Statistics Reports 23(31):15, 16.


[iii] Eriksen, I., Weed, S. (2011). A Closer Look at the Evidence:

Abstinence Education and Comprehensive Sex Education in America’s Schools. Salt Lake City: Institute for Research & Evaluation. 


[iv]Hearing before House Oversight & Government Reform Committee [video recording]. (2008). Portion of heating accessed online on August 20, 2011 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jM_G3YIL0dk


[v] Trenholm, C. (2007). Evaluation of adolescent pregnancy prevention approaches answers to most common questions. Princeton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.