Politics, Social Issues, Spring 2018 Articles

Students feel uneducated on sex topics, support broader sex education

Charlotte families protest during Sex Ed Sit Out (Source: Fox 46 Charlotte)

Sex education protests are gaining momentum in North Carolina. In the Spring 2018 Big Poll, The Pack Poll asked NC State students about their views on and previous experience with sex education.

NCSU students generally agree that teenagers should receive comprehensive sex education

An overwhelming 88.6% of NC State students generally believe that teenagers should be taught about various methods of birth control. A mere 2.6% alternatively believe that abstinence-only sex education is ideal while another 2.6% opine that sex education should not be taught at all.

Breaking it down by party identification, a heavy majority of Democrats (96.9%), Republicans (81.8%), and Independents (76.9%) opt for more comprehensive sex education. Evidently, sex education is not a polarizing issue across party lines, although the relatively moderate variance that does exist is at least worth noting.

Social ideology is associated with varying opinions on sex education

A deeper dive into the results provides some interesting takeaways, particularly when looking at varying social ideology across the student body.

Stronger liberal attitudes (weaker conservative attitudes) are correlated with broader support for sex education

This is unsurprising, even considering that the student body as a whole largely approves of comprehensive sex education. A notable portion of students that identify as “very conservative” (31%) generally believe that sex education should not be taught at all. However, even a plurality of these “very conservative” students (41.4%) still opt for more comprehensive sex education. At the other end of the spectrum, “very liberal” students (99.3%) almost unanimously believe that teenagers should receive broader sex education.

Stronger conservative attitudes (weaker liberal attitudes) are correlated with non-attitudes about sex education

Curiously, a relatively sizeable portion of “very conservative” students (20.7%) responded that they were “not sure” about their views on sex education. On the other hand, the proportion of ‘uncertain’ respondents is drastically lower with “very liberal” students (0.7%).

What’s happening in North Carolina?

In recent weeks, citizens across North Carolina have ramped up a fierce debate surrounding sex education in public schools. All North Carolina school districts are required by law to teach about wide-ranging sex education topics (including abstinence, sexually transmitted diseases, contraceptive measures, and sexual assault/abuse). However, each school district is permitted to customize the methods and materials they use to teach these topics.

In February, the Cumberland County Board of Education voted to end its use of Planned Parenthood’s controversial Get Real sex education program, which the school district first implemented in 2009. Leading up to the vote, several parents openly criticized the program for encouraging their children to have sex, as early as the sixth grade. The decision did not go without backlash as developers of the Planned Parenthood program defended it as a means to delay sex. Meanwhile, other parents expressed disappointment in the school board.

Most recently, the NC Values Coalition encouraged parents across the state to keep their children home on Monday, April 23 for the nationwide “Sex Ed Sit Out” campaign — “a grassroots movement fighting radical, graphic, tax-payer funded, gender-bending sex education”. Meanwhile, one national conservative blogger gathered dozens of concerned citizens in Uptown Charlotte to protest Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools use of the Welcoming Schools program, which aims to help with acceptance of LGBTQ students.

NCSU students do not feel very educated on sex topics

NC State students were asked to reflect on their own high school experiences with sex education. A large majority of students (75.4%) reported having “a moderate amount” to “a great deal” of abstinence education. Only a bare majority (53.5%) reported that amount of education on STD/STI prevention.

Despite North Carolina mandating that public school students receive comprehensive sex education, along with 24 other states, a whole 63.8% and 59.7% of students received little to no education on birth control and sexual misconduct/consent, respectively. It is certainly interesting then that sex education protests have been escalating recently, whereas these revelations from NC State students appear to be more cause for concern with sex education proponents.

These results from the latest Big Poll show that while NC State students may not feel very educated on sex topics, they are supportive of education on sex topics. Make sure to check out the full toplines report.

NOTE ON METHODOLOGY: This poll took place March 27 – April 2, 2018. We administered the survey over the internet to a random sample of 3,500 NCSU undergraduates. The true population of undergraduates taking at least one face-to-face class on campus is 21,192. Each student had an equal chance of being contacted because each student is required to have a unique “ncsu.edu” email.

Of those invited to participate, 782 undergraduates completed the survey, resulting in a 22% response rate. Assuming a 50-50 division in opinion calculated at a 95 percent confidence level, the margin of sampling error for the sample is (plus or minus) +/-3.4% for questions answered by the full sample. However, sampling error increases for each estimate when three or more choices were offered, for example, when fewer respondents were asked a version of a question, or when analyzing the opinions of sub-groups, such as when looking just at how female respondents answered a question. Many of our split-ballot questions have effective sampling errors ranging from +/-5.2% to +/-6.4%. These sampling errors did not include further divisions of the respondents by party identification or other common demographic variables.

In addition to sampling error, other forms of non-sampling error occur in surveys, such as confusion about question wording or the order of questions, and non-response bias (low response rates), but these types of error are not precisely quantifiable.

We only apply post-stratification sample weights for student status. There is a slight under-representation of males in our sample, but not enough to warrant applying post-stratification weights for sex as it would not produce noticeable effects on any of the results.


EDIT 5/10/18: “Uncertainty” was changed to “non-attitudes”.


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