Theism, Secularism, and Sexual Education in the United States

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Substantial bodies of literature have examined public opinion about sexual education, the politicization of sexual education in public schools, and connections between population characteristics and social policies. At present, however, little is known about whether and how population characteristics predict the likelihood of specific sexual education policies. We analyze data at the state level in the USA to determine if and how specific religious aspects of states’ populations influence the likelihood of specific sexual education policies. Results indicate that high levels of theism significantly increase the likelihood of sexual education policies stressing abstinence, while higher levels of individuals not actively participating in organized religion correlate with a significantly higher likelihood of having sexual education policy that mandates the coverage of contraception. We discuss these findings in a framework of symbolic politics and moral communities, focusing on the intersections of religion, politics, and sexuality.