Harris County parents support sex education in schools, according to UTHealth survey

  • Share |
Susan Tortolero, Ph.D., director of the UTHealth Prevention Research Center

Susan Tortolero, Ph.D., director of the UTHealth Prevention Research Center

HOUSTON – (Oct. 19, 2011) - Ninety-three percent of parents in Harris County support the implementation of school-based sexual health education programs, according to research by The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) Prevention Research Center.

“Of this group of parents in support of school-based sex education, 66 percent supported abstinence-plus teaching, which includes accurate information on condoms and contraception,” said Susan Tortolero, Ph.D., director of the UTHealth Prevention Research Center. The findings are part of a series of articles by Tortolero and colleagues that examine teen pregnancy, prevention and sexual-health education in Texas. “The articles are published in the October issue of the Journal of Applied Research on Children published by the Texas Medical Center Library and edited by CHILDREN AT RISK.

Texas has one of the highest teen birth rates in the nation with 63 births per 1,000 teens, according to Tortolero. In Harris County alone there are more than 8,000 teen births every year. “Given that students are becoming sexually active at early ages and that Texas has one of the highest teen birth rates in the nation, understanding parents’ attitudes toward sexual health education is valuable in finding effective ways to lower these high statistics,” said Tortolero, who is also an associate professor of behavioral science, health promotion and epidemiology at The University of Texas School of Public Health, a part of UTHealth.

More than 1,200 parents were surveyed to assess their views on sex education programming in schools. Parents were asked such questions as the type of sex education they believe students should receive and when these education courses should begin.

The survey found 64 percent of parents believe medically accurate information should be taught beginning in middle school or earlier. Tortolero says providing sexual education to middle school students has been shown to delay sexual initiation.

Previous research has found students as early as sixth grade are becoming sexually active and by the time students graduate from high school, more than two-thirds are sexually active.

When asked to select the top three groups of people who should decide on sexual health education in public schools, parents, health professionals and teachers were respectively selected as the top three.

The survey also found:

  • 80 percent of parents support some form of sex education in schools beginning in middle school and 13 percent believed sex education should begin in high school
  • 7 percent of parents indicated sex education should not be taught in school
  • Hispanic parents demonstrated the highest support of teaching sex education in middle school, followed by white, African American and Asian parents
  • 27 percent were in support of abstinence-only education
  • 75 percent of parents thought schools should be doing more to help prevent teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

Parents polled were a diverse group consisting of 41 percent white, 33 percent Hispanic, 18 percent African American, and 8 percent Asian and other ethnicities. Parents also were diverse in their political and religious affiliation.

In a separate study published in the Journal of Applied Research on Children, Tortolero and colleagues examined pregnancy prevention measures implemented in California. Texas and California account for 24 percent of all teen births in the United States. However, the Texas teen birth rate in Texas is 60 percent higher than the California rate, according to the article.

Over the past several decades, California has implemented a successful multi-layered and coordinated approach to prevent teen pregnancy.

“California’s coordinated efforts to prevent teen pregnancy has reduced their teen birth rate by 49 percent over 20 years,” said Tortolero. This approach includes school-based education programs that provide medically accurate, age-appropriate and comprehensive information to youth. Students are provided sexual health information including abstinence and medically accurate information on other methods of preventing pregnancy and STIs. Students also learn information on effectiveness and safety of all FDA-approved contraceptive methods, including emergency contraception, according to the study.

Tortolero estimates teen pregnancies in the United States account for more than $9 billion a year in social and medical costs.

On Oct. 20, 2011, Tortolero will join hundreds of youth-serving professionals, educators, health care advocates and leaders for The Texas Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy’s second annual statewide conference.

The University of Texas Prevention Research Center was founded in 1986 as one of the first three centers in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Prevention Research Center Program. The Center’s mission is to impact child and adolescent health through a collaboration of academic, public health and community partnerships engaged in scholarly, community-based prevention research, research translation and education.

Jade Waddy
Media Hotline: 713-500-3030