Sex Education Attitudes and Outcomes among North American Women

Article excerpt

BACKGROUND

Unplanned pregnancy commands attention as a serious problem in the social, economic, political, and individual realms. Numerous attempts have been made to reduce the incidence of unplanned pregnancy, and birth control education has been investigated repeatedly as a key component of such efforts (Dull & Blythe, 1998; Lagana & Hayes, 1993). Programs designed to prevent unplanned pregnancy receive substantial public funding (Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health, 1997, as cited in Coley and Chase-Lansdale, 1998). However, the preferred sources (Kyman, 1998) and content (Coley & Chase-Lansdale, 1998) of birth control education remain controversial.

A better understanding of the variables associated with unplanned pregnancy can help psychologists, educators, and others design and implement more effective methods for reducing the number of unplanned pregnancies. In the words of Coley and Chase-Lansdale, "A greater commitment is needed to funding scientifically rigorous evaluations" of sex education programs (1998, p. 161). Attempts to evaluate the effectiveness of specific sex education have yielded inconsistent, even contradictory, results. Some studies (Schinke, Blythe, & Gilchrist, 1981; Frost & Forest, 1995) have shown that such programs increase compliance with lower-risk behaviors. Other have found that though knowledge about contraceptive behaviors increased, the actual behaviors were not significantly affected (Haignere, Gold, & McDanel, 1999; Kirby, Korpi, Adivi, & Weissman, 1997; Viser & van Bilsen, 1994; Mitchell-DiCenso et al., 1997). Contraceptive information alone does not address the needs of individuals who prefer to significantly delay the onset of sexual activity or whose personal or moral beliefs preclude the use of artificial contraception. Nor does it address the problem of the small but significant failure rates of contraceptive techniques (Haignere, Gold, & McDanel, 1999). Our earlier work (Bonner, Terwilliger, & Kuba, 1999) indicated that respondents who had reported receiving abstinence education experienced fewer unplanned pregnancies than those who had received other forms of sex education. Opponents of abstinence-only education argue that such programs may increase reluctance to use contraception (Lagana & Hayes, 1993, p. 355), which could lead to increased pregnancies among those who do choose to become sexually active.

The appropriate source or sources of birth control education have also been debated. Possible sources for formal presentation include parents, schools, clinics, and doctors, while many also seek out information from other sources, including peers, books, and more recently, the Internet (Pistella & Bonati, 1998; Roffman, Shannon, & Dwyer, 1997). King and Lorusso (1997) found that adolescents may not be satisfied with the information provided by parents, even though the parents perceived their efforts at home-based education as satisfactory. Given the potential for inadequate efforts from a single source, it seems that education from multiple sources is preferable.

This study was intended to further examine the findings of our earlier work, that sex education comprised in large part of abstinence information would be more effective than education without such information. The hypotheses that receiving sex education from school and from parents would be effective in reducing unplanned pregnancy were also tested.

METHOD

Participants

Participants were 1,400 North American women, with an average age of 19.5 (SD = 5.87). The majority of respondents (approximately 900) were under age 20. Approximately 70% indicated having a Christian affiliation. The average number of unplanned pregnancies was 0.498. The majority of participants had never experienced an unplanned pregnancy (N = 1041, 74.4%), and about a quarter had experienced one or more (N = 346, 24.7%). Approximately 13% reported one or more abortions. …