70% of Parents Want Better Sex Education for Their Kids

In an exclusive Parents survey of 1,500 caregivers, two in three parents said they think sex education should be mandatory in schools. Here's why they're right.

Sex Ed Survey

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The Parents Sex Education Survey 2023

“Comprehensive sex education is important for the well-being of children.”

— The Parents Sex Education Survey 2023

In the past few years, legislators around the country have passed a record number of restrictive laws targeting curriculum about sex and gender. Perhaps most notoriously, Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law restricts discussions of gender and sexuality in schools from kindergarten through 12th grade. 

Given the sheer volume of such policies, it may appear that parents are the driving force for these restrictions. But what do parents actually want when it comes to sex education for their kids? This month, we surveyed 1,500 caretakers around the country to bring you Parents' 2023 Sex Education survey results.

First and foremost, the findings suggest that the recent spate of restrictive legislation is not in line with the realities of parents’ needs or children's health. 

Parents Want Sex Education To Be Taught In Schools

2 in 3 Parents Support Sex Education as a Mandatory Part of School Curriculum


Seventy percent of parents surveyed believe that “comprehensive sex education is important for the well-being of children,” and in fact, 3 out of 4 parents think sex education is important or very important.

This is in line with a recent report published in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which states that “[d]eveloping a healthy sexuality is a key developmental milestone for all children and adolescents that depends on acquiring information and forming attitudes, beliefs, and values about consent, sexual orientation, gender identity, relationships, and intimacy.” 

Not learning skills about healthy relationships and sexual decision making can have grave consequences, as Professors Jennifer S. Hirsch and Shamus Khan found in their study on campus sexual assault, published in the book Sexual Citizens. Their research found a link between the continuously high numbers of sexual assaults on college campuses every year (where one in five college women experiences sexual assault) and lack of comprehensive sex education in the U.S. 

Hirsch and Khan argue that, in order to combat sexual assault and harassment, sexual education at home and in schools must go beyond providing basic information about biology, abstinence, and consent to tackle the complexities of intimate relationships. 

A Millennial Parent

“Start with educating kids about how someone shouldn't inappropriately touch them in places that are their private parts, and pretty much knowing when it's not right…that conversation should be started as young as possible.”

— A Millennial Parent

Concerns about sexual assault were echoed by parents in the survey, who reported that sexual harassment, abuse, or assault was the number one topic that should be included when it comes to educating children about sex and sexual health. 

And other parents agreed; 1 in 3 of those who had already talked with their children about sex included sexual harassment, abuse, or assault (36%) in the first conversation. 

But what else do parents think is important to sex education? Below are some key highlights from the Parents survey findings. 

Parents Believe Sex Education Should Be Comprehensive

Which Topics Do You Believe Should Be Included When It Comes to Educating Your Child About Sex?


According to a study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, sex education is about more than just biology.

Comprehensive “[s]exuality education…covers healthy sexual development, gender identity, interpersonal relationships, affection, sexual development, intimacy, and body image for all adolescents, including adolescents with disabilities, chronic health conditions, and other special needs.”

As shown in the graph below, however, there is a stark difference between what parents believe should be covered and what is currently taught in schools, with schools falling behind in nearly every category.

Parents' Want for Comprehensive Sex Education Exceeds Existing Curriculums


Notably, 19 states have abstinence-only education mandated by law, and only 13 states require that information provided in sex education be medically accurate, so what is taught varies widely by location.

Melissa Pintor Carnagey, licensed social worker and author of Sex Positive Families writes: “Our young people receive all levels of math—more than they will ever use in their adult life—but are shortchanged when it comes to learning about their bodies, consent, healthy relationships, and sexual decision making. These are vital life skills.” 

Parents Should Lead The Conversation

Have You Or Your Co-Parent Started Having Conversations With Your Child About Topics Related to Sex Education?


The overwhelming majority, 85% of parents surveyed planned to have a conversation with their children at some point, with 67% stating that they had already initiated such conversations.

White parents were most likely to have started conversations (71%), followed by Latino parents (67%) and Black parents (61%). Significantly, while the sample size is low (n=73), Asian parents were far less likely to have started these conversations (44%). 

For parents who hadn’t had these conversations yet, some cited children’s age as a factor. Among those who've had conversations about sex with their children, 41% say the first conversation started by age 10 or earlier. One in two parents indicated that they planned to talk to their kids at 13 years or older.

2 in 3 Parents Worry About Sex Education Misinformation on Social Media


Misinformation was a major source of concern for most parents, with 69% worrying about what their child absorbs about sex from social media, while 43% reported that they think social media lessens the stigma around topics related to sex education for their kids. Still, most agreed that they'd prefer to be on the frontlines when it comes to educating their kids about sex.

And given the reach of social media and pornography, waiting too long could be a mistake. A recent report from Common Sense Media found that 54% of children had watched online pornography by age 13 (15% before age 11), and that “viewing pornography can influence kids' perceptions and feelings about body image, sex, and relationships.”

In other words, the age for honest, informative conversations about sex is much earlier than many parents might assume. 

The Majority of Parents Support Including Topics Like Sexual Harrassment and Abuse into Statewide Sex Education


For parents who might worry that conversations about sex may lead to a child being sexually active at a younger age—the opposite is true.

In fact, according to Pintor Carnagey, LBSW: “[r]esearch finds that when young people receive education and support specific to their sexual health, they are more likely to delay their first time having sex, use contraception when they do have sex, and be thoughtful about the number of sex partners they engage with.” 

The AAP also suggests that having “[r]outine conversations about gender creates an environment of support and reassurance so that children feel safe bringing up questions and concerns.”

Tips for How to Talk to Your Kids About Sex

Want to have a conversation but don’t know where to start? Here is some advice from survey respondents and professionals that might help. 

Use clear, age appropriate language

Many conversations can begin in small, everyday ways. One early childhood educator told me that, in her classroom, she uses the concept of a “bubble” to introduce consent in an age appropriate manner. “Each child has their own imaginary ‘bubble’ around their body and we help children learn that they should ask before they touch someone’s ‘bubble’, give a hug, or hold hands,” she says.

In this way, children begin to learn that no one should touch their bodies without their approval, ideally laying the foundation for a strong sense of bodily empowerment that will continue through the teen years. 

Respond in a positive way

The American Academy of Pediatrics

“Feeling loved has been shown to be critical to overall health and development of all children regardless of gender or sexual orientation.”

— The American Academy of Pediatrics

Pintor Carnagey, a licensed social worker, writes that her go-to response to questions from kids is: “That’s a great question! I’m so glad you asked.”

And they will ask! One in three parents of young children, ages 4 to 8, and about half of parents of tweens ages 9 to 12 in the Parents survey reported that their children had asked them questions related to sex.

Using positive language when they do ask assures children that there is nothing shameful or wrong about sex. As one survey participant said, responding in an open way can make children feel that you are “proud of them for coming to you and asking.” 

And comfort is key. The more comfortable your children are, the more likely they will continue to come to you with questions. 

Unwavering, positive support around topics of gender and sexuality is also life saving. LGBTQ youth experience higher rates of depression and are at greater risk for other mental health conditions, including suicide.

As the American Academy of Pediatrics reminds us: “Feeling loved has been shown to be critical to overall health and development of all children regardless of gender or sexual orientation.”

Use a variety of sources

Respondents to the survey used a number of resources for discussions about sex and relationships, including health education websites (38%), parenting websites (30%), friends/family (30%), their child’s doctor (30%), and books (27%). For those looking for some help getting started, a list of resources is below. 

Give facts and be honest

A Concerned Parent

“Answer honestly and if you aren't sure, let your child know that you aren't but you will find the answer for them. You can even explore to find the answer together.”

— A Concerned Parent

Don’t know all the answers? (Hint: none of us do!) Say that.

Above all, reports one respondent: “be completely honest: remember… if they feel like you're lying to them, they will never come to you [with] questions again.”

Another survey respondent suggests: “Answer honestly and if you aren't sure, let your child know that you aren't but you will find the answer for them. You can even explore to find the answer together.”

Being open about your own lack of knowledge will let your child know that it’s okay not to know everything, and reassure them that better understanding relationships and sex—like most things—is a life-long learning process. 

So get out there and talk about sex. We have nothing to lose, and our kids have everything to gain from honest, straightforward discussions about sex.


Parents surveyed 1,500 American parents aged 18+ from March 23rd to 30th, 2023. The survey was fielded online via self-administered questionnaire to an opt-in panel of respondents from a market research vendor. Quotas were used to ensure representation to match U.S. Census estimates for race/ethnicity and region.


Research and analysis by Amanda Morelli,
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