Just don’t do it: Survey shows Americans support strong sexual abstinence message

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy says that survey results supporting a strong abstinence message should influence policy-makers to understand that many teens and adults believe there’s a middle ground between abstinence and contraception.

"The overwhelming majority of Americans hold very practical, common-sense views about how best to prevent too-early pregnancy and parenthood," according to the survey report. "They support a strong emphasis on abstinence as the best option for teens by far, coupled with information about contraception. They continue to reject the notion that it’s either abstinence or contraception. Unfortunately, these middle-ground views are often drowned out by the polarizing arguments surrounding the contentious issue of teen pregnancy. . . . In our view, the results of the survey make clear that the public holds very reasonable views about the best means to help our young people delay pregnancy and childbearing until they are adults."

The group has conducted and released survey data since its formation in 1996. The annual, nationally representative surveys have been undertaken specifically to influence the national conversation about teen pregnancy and to compare public attitudes with behavioral data already collected by the federal government.

"Since changes in attitudes can often signal changes in behavior — and given the importance the campaign places on changing social norms on this issue — regularly assessing adult and teen attitudes toward teen sex and pregnancy over time is a key component of understanding the teen pregnancy challenge and taking effective action to reduce it," the report says.

The survey results include:

  • Widespread support for a strong abstinence message, but not for an abstinence only message. Most adult and teen respondents said that abstinence is the first and best option for teens, but they also strongly believe that teens should be given information about contraception.
  • Respondents believe teens should get more information about both abstinence and birth control rather than just one or the other.
  • Americans reject the notion that stressing abstinence while proving information on contraception sends teens a confusing, mixed message.
  • Sexually experienced teens wish they had waited.
  • Teens generally express cautious attitudes toward early, casual sex.
  • Parents continue to underestimate their influence on their teens. While most adults say that teens’ friends influence decisions about sex the most, only 8% of teens say that friends are most influential. Younger teens cite parents as the most influential by a wide margin.
  • Nearly 70% of teens say it would be much easier for them to postpone sexual activity and avoid teen pregnancy if they could have more open, honest conversations about these topics with their parents.
  • Morals, values, and religious beliefs also are considered influential by many teens.
  • Many teens are not getting the message that teen pregnancy is wrong. Some 16% of teens say they don’t hear a clear message that teen pregnancy is wrong, and another 25% seem uncertain about the message they are getting.
  • Many teens still believe that pregnancy won’t affect them. More than half of those surveyed said they had never thought about what their life would be like if they got pregnant or got someone pregnant.
  • Many young people are ambivalent about how they would feel about getting pregnant or getting someone pregnant.
  • Respondents want the news media to do a better job of depicting the consequences of sex, including teen pregnancy.
  • Significant majorities of adults and teens believe that teen pregnancy prevention programs should teach young people to be married before having children.
  • 91% of teens say it would be easier for teens to delay having sexual relations if other teens spoke positively about not having sex.
  • There are differences in attitudes of teen boys and girls. Although they generally express similar feelings and beliefs about teen pregnancy and related issues, 51% of teen boys say they often receive the message that sex and pregnancy are not a big deal, and teen boys also are more likely than teen girls to say it is embarrassing for teens to admit they are virgins.

(For additional information, go to: www.teenpregnancy.org.)