Millennials widely support comprehensive sexual education, but almost four in 10 millennials report that the sex education they received was not helpful, according to a new survey by the Public Religion Research Institute.
Approximately three-quarters of millennials received some amount of sex ed in middle or high school, and nine in 10 trusted the lessons they learned as very or somewhat medically accurate. But 37 percent said that when it came to their own lives, this information did not help them make decisions about sex and relationships. This opinion differed by race, with 14 percent of whites and 12 percent of Asian-Pacific Islanders saying their sex ed was helpful, while 27 percent of black respondents and 32 percent of Hispanic respondents reported the same.
Most millennials support the use of contraception and a majority, 78 percent, says it should be available on college campuses. Millennials also tie the issue of contraception to women’s financial security, with 64 percent of women and 55 percent of men saying that access to contraception is vital to ensuring financial security for women. They also report that sexual assault, after which emergency contraception can be necessary, is somewhat or very common in high school (53 percent) and at colleges (73 percent).
But currently, fewer than half U.S. states require schools to teach sex ed at all, with only 18 states and the District of Columbia required to provide information on contraception, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Meanwhile, 37 states require schools to provide information on abstinence, and in 25 states schools must stress abstinence as an option. 19 states mandate that schools stress the importance of sex only within marriage.
Debra Hauser, president of Advocates for Youth, told the Washington Post it was not surprising that some millennials did not find sex ed helpful.
“Many were in school during a time when schools taught only abstinence. Others may have received clinical information about disease or pregnancy prevention, but few were provided the information young people truly need to traverse puberty, understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships, develop a positive body image, make informed decisions, communicate effectively or navigate the health care system,” she said.
Young people are at a unique risk for teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Nearly half of all new STI infections in the U.S. each year affect youth ages 15-24, according to Advocates for Youth, a sex education advocacy group. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that one in four teenage girls has an STI. The U.S. also has a higher teen pregnancy rate than many other developed nations, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The poll also showed that only 12 percent of respondents had addressed non-heterosexual sex in class. Nine states have state laws on the books that limit schools’ discussion of non-heterosexual sex, and in three states — Texas, South Carolina and Alabama — any mention of non-heterosexual sex must be in a negative context.