February 9, 2010

Survey Reveals Major Gaps In Young Adults’ Knowledge On Safe Sex

A recent study of 18- to 29-year old unmarried adults reveals startling gaps in young adults' knowledge about safe-sex practices and pregnancy.

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A recent study of 18- to 29-year-old unmarried adults reveals startling gaps in young adults’ knowledge about safe-sex practices and pregnancy.  Is a decade of federally-funded abstinence-only sexuality education to blame?

The Study

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy recently released its study of 1,800 18- to 29-year-old unmarried adults: The Fog Zone: How Misperceptions, Magical Thinking, and Ambivalence Put Young Adults at Risk for Unplanned Pregnancy. Here are there major findings:

  • Even though most unmarried young adults say it is important for them to avoid pregnancy right now, only about half of those who are sexually active use contraception every time.  Some take a pass on birth control altogether, at least part of the time, and while others are more conscientious, they are often not careful or consistent enough.  In addition, a significant portion expects to have unprotected sex in the near future.
  • Many say they have little knowledge of even common contraceptive methods such as condoms and the pill, and most have not even heard of less common methods such as the implant.
  • To the extent they have heard of various methods, many express little confidence in their effectiveness and strong concerns about side effects.  Many even claim, “it doesn’t matter whether you use birth control or not; when it is your time to get pregnant it will happen.”
  • They see parenthood in their future but are ambivalent about the timing and circumstances under which to start a family; in addition, the proportion that expects to marry and have children with their current partner is unrealistically high.

Why Do These Gaps Exists?

One large factor that has contributed to young adults’ ignorance about safe sex practices, contraceptives, and pregnancy is the millions of dollars invested in abstinence-only sexuality education during the Bush Administration.

Such sex ed programs focus on encouraging young adults to abstain from sexual activity, yet fail to equip students with ways to be safe if and when they decide not to abstain.  (In some cases, inaccurate information about available contraceptives was provided, namely false data about the effectiveness of condoms.)  Fortunately, President Barack Obama shifted funding from abstinence-only sex education to comprehensive sex education.  But, the fight over funding for sexuality education is not completely over.

For those who are well beyond their sex education days, other resources, like Kinsey Confidential, Planned Parenthood, and Scarleteen, exist to equip you with factual, scientific-based information to maintain a healthy and pleasurable sexuality.

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  • ddb

    I disagree with the comment that the funding towards abstinence only education caused the current ignorance in today's youth. I was in high school during 2002-2006 during the Bush Administration and we had full access to condom demonstrations, how to use the pill, morning after emergency contraception, implants, and STD information. And yes, I went to a public school. My experience with my peers is that many of them simply did not bother to pay attention when this material was taught or they simply do not care to use contraception.