Does Source of Sex Education Predict Adolescents' Sexual Knowledge, Attitudes, and Behaviors?

Article excerpt

Many factors have been found to influence teen sexual knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors. For example, parent-child communication has been linked to greater sexual knowledge and more conservative sexual attitudes (Fisher, 1986). Similarly, of researchers that have measured relations between closeness and sexuality, most have found that parent-adolescent relationships, mother-daughter in particular, made an impact on adolescent sexual behavior (e.g., Fox, 1981; Miller & Fox, 1987).

Sexual education programs in schools have generally had positive effects on adolescent sexual knowledge (Finkel & Finkel, 1985; Melchert & Burnett, 1990), but have also been found not to influence adolescents' sexual attitudes (Finkel & Finkel, 1985) or behaviors (Maslach & Kerr, 1983). One study reported that neither the presence nor absence of contraceptive education in a sample of high school students was correlated with the students' contraceptive behaviors (Taylor, Wang, Jack & Adame, 1989), whereas another reported that a school-based sex education program seemed to have a positive effect on the students' condom use (Kvalem, Sundet, Rivo, Eilertsen & Bakketeig, 1996).

The impact of peers has also been explored. Generally, adolescents reported greater sexual activity when they believed that their friends were also sexually active, whether or not they really were (Brooks-Gunn & Furstenberg, 1989), and when they had older siblings modeling sexually active behavior (East, Felice, & Morgan, 1993; Rodgers & Rowe, 1988). Also, it has been reported that students who identify peers as a source of education are no less knowledgeable about sexual topics than were those who named parents as a source (Handelsman, Cabral & Weisfeld, 1987).

Education about sexuality undoubtedly comes from the media as well. One analysis of teenagers' top ten programs showed that more than a quarter of the shows contained interactions of sexual content. Most of the messages concerned men seeing women as sex objects, sex as a competition, sex as a defining aspect of masculinity, and sex as fun and exciting (Ward, 1995). Music video consumption, as well, was found to be a powerful predictor of female adolescents' sexual attitudes (Strouse & Buerkel-Rothfuss, 1987). Studies have also examined the impact of media on sexual behavior as well as sexual attitudes. For example, one study found that females who viewed more hours of music videos and prime-time programming were more likely to endorse notions that females are sex objects, males are sex driven, and that dating is a game, whereas there seemed to be no association with their own sexual behaviors (Ward, 2000). Clearly, studies have examined the independent impacts of various sources of sex education on teens' sexual outcomes. It is less clear, however, which sexuality outcomes are influenced by different sources, and which sources have greater general influences.

Some studies have compared school and parent sources of sex education and found in-home sex education to be more effective than in-school sex education in terms of reducing sexual behaviors (Fisher, 1986; Warren & Neer, 1986). But generally, there is a lack of comparison of sex education sources that motivated the current study. Most studies evaluated only one source at a time. Stemming from the debate about who should be responsible for sex education (e.g., parents, schools, etc.), the researchers were interested in whether or not differing influences exist among these sources. Additionally, most research has considered only two or three sexual development variables (knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors) in the same study. The purpose of this study was to explore the comparative contribution that multiple sources of education about sexual topics (family, peers, media, school, and professionals) make on teen sexual knowledge, attitudes and behavior.

Method

Participants

Participants in this study were 157 boys (n = 62) and girls (n = 95) in the ninth through twelfth grades. …