The Source, Accuracy, and Impact of Initial Sexuality Information on Lifetime Wellness

Article excerpt

Since its inception in the late 1940s, sexuality education in schools often has been the subject of heated debate (Finkel & Finkel, 1985). What should be taught by whom, and when, are questions central to the controversy (Reis & Seidl, 1989; VanBiema, 1987; Finkel & Finkel, 1985). As opponents argue that sexuality education fosters sexual activity and is not the responsibility of educators, advocates rationalize that formal classroom instruction could promote responsible decision-making and create satisfying interpersonal relationships (Fishel, 1992; Haffner, 1992; Donovan, 1992). Considerable research has focused on the influence of sex education on adolescent attitudes and behavior (Mathison, 1986; Meichert & Burnett, 1990; Weis, Rabinowitz, & Ruchstuhl, 1992). Supplementary research scrutinized the source of adolescent sexual information (Pratt, 1982; Andre, Frevert, & Schuchmann, 1989; Tucker, 1989; Moran & Corley, 1991). Further studies investigated the influence of family variables on adolescent sexual attitudes and knowledge (Fisher, 1986; Sanders & Mullis, 1988; Bundy & White, 1990). Numerous sexuality research efforts focused on the adolescent experience in isolation. Current literature depicts human sexuality from a wellness perspective by defining it as a normal and ever-changing facet of the continuum of all human life (Hacker, 1992).

The past decade has witnesses a ground swell of public awareness and participation in wellness programs (Wendel, 1993). Faced with HIV/AIDS, abusive behavior, rising teen pregnancy rates, and the uncertain outcome of national health care reform efforts, wellness programs offered affordable and cost effective prevention alternatives (Herbert, 1992).

More than the absence of illness, wellness advocates realistic, self-directed lifestyle behaviors which promote the pursuit and enjoyment of a lifetime of optimal intellectual, spiritual, physical, social, emotional, and occupational well-being (Hetler, 1980; McContha, 1985). Intrinsic to that well-being, is the fundamental recognition that all persons are sexual beings with a continuing need for comprehensive sexuality education throughout their lifetime (Haffner, 1992). Sexual well-being is the lifelong process of acquiring information which influences the formation of attitudes, beliefs, and values about identity, relationships, and intimacy (Hacker, 1992). While behaviors, feelings, perception, and environmental factors affecting wellness are likely to change with maturity, past experience influences the degree and direction of that change (Cutler, 1979; Botwinick, 1984; Whitborne, 1985).

The present study explored the self-reported influence of initial sexuality information on the lifetime wellness of adolescent to adult males and females. Given the dearth of research in this area, the present investigation attempted to identify the source and accuracy of initial information about sexuality and to examine their impact on feelings of well-being.

METHOD

The population surveyed consisted of 500 adults over 20 years of age who resided in a large northeastern city and surrounding suburbs, as well as 200 adolescents between ages of 9 and 19 years who resided exclusively in the suburbs. All adolescent respondents were enrolled in school districts which provided comprehensive school health education programs. Data were gathered over a four-month period during the summer and early fall of 1992. Individuals at 15 different public areas located throughout the city and suburbs were asked to voluntarily complete a sexuality and wellness questionnaire. Each participant was informed that all responses would be kept confidential and that the information would be used to help gain a better understanding of how initial sexuality information influences lifetime wellness.

Completed responses were organized by age into five arbitrary groups: (1) 9-19; (2) 20-29; (3) 30-39; (4) 40-49; and (5) 50 and over. …