Most of us writing about sexuality and young people are from a different generation. We get our information from scientific data and hope to not skew it with our own generational biases. The struggle, at times, with the scientific data is that much of it comes from college students who are participating in studies for class credit. This, in and of itself, can create a bias. If a researcher does get permission to use high school students in a study, the sample sizes are often small. For these reasons, it is always exciting to hear about new research conducted by independent (non-academic) resources that gather data from random samples of the population.
On March 27, the Public Religion Research Institute published an independent study entitled “How Race and Religion Shape Millennial Attitudes on Sexuality and Reproductive Health”. The organization surveyed over 2300 adults of all races and religions. The study covers Millennial ideals on: sex education, health insurance coverage, comfort discussing sexual health issues, sexual health experiences, contraception, abortion, moral evaluations of behavior, sexual assault, sexual stigma, workplace discrimination and work life balance. If you are interested in the views of Millennials, I suggest you read the full report. For the sake of my work, however, I will only be sharing the data on sex education.
To start, let’s define the Millennial Generation. This is anyone born between 1980 and 2000. Anyone today who is 15-35 is considered a Millennial. Millennials are very racially and ethnically diverse, much more so than other generations. Another trademark of Millennials is that many of them have no religious affiliation. The most common religious affiliation is this group is “Unaffiliated.” Additionally, Millennials are predominantly politically independent and do not identify with a political party.
Most Millennials have been exposed to sex education at some point in school. The greatest percentage of Millennials (39%) had some form of sex education in both middle and high school. 17% had sex education in middle school only and 19% had sex education in high school only. Nearly one quarter (23%) of all Millennials never took a sex education class at all. The type of school that a person attended had some affect on whether or not they had a sex education class. Those who attended a religious based school were significantly more likely to not have taken a sex education class at all. The least likely to have participated in any sex education classes were those individuals who identified as white, evangelical Protestants.
The good news is that Millennials felt like the information they received in sex education classes was helpful. However, 37% felt that the information they received was not very helpful to them when it came to making decisions about sex and relationships. Less than half of Millennials reported that they received any type of healthy relationship education as part of the curriculum.
What’s the good news from this survey? It appears as though those who received sex education classes felt that they received trustworthy, accurate information about reproduction and sexually transmitted diseases. The bad news is that school curriculum appears to seriously lack any information about healthy relationships and other topics that would help students make decisions about their own sexuality and relationships. The not so great news is that nearly a quarter of all Millennials received no sex education, most of whom attended religious based schools. These students, many now adults, were not provided with any school based education and it cannot be guaranteed that they received medically accurate information at home.
Sources of Information:
The survey questioned Millennials about where they get their information about sex and relationships. 45% of Millennials stated that they received their information from a medical doctor. They similarly asked friends (44%) and the internet (43%) for information about sex and relationships. Hispanic (52%) and Asian Pacific Islander (57%) Millennials rely on the internet for information more than black (44%) and white (36%) Millennials. The good news is that nearly half of Millennials are asking their medical doctor. The not so fabulous news is that Millennials are going to friends and the internet with a similar frequency as to their doctor. Answers and advice from friends and the internet are not always accurate or appropriate.
This survey reiterates several points that have been consistently coming up in the research. Though schools may be doing a pretty good job (depending on a lot of factors) in teaching sex education classes, there is a huge lack in the curriculum when it comes to healthy relationships and applying sex education to a person’s actual life. When there is a lack of information, Millennials will search for it. When they search, it is frequently on the internet. Schools need to adopt curriculum that address relationships and sexuality as well as the biological mechanisms of reproduction and STD transmission. There also needs to be easy access to reliable, accurate information about sex and relationships on the internet.