Adolescents' Perceptions of Reasons for Postponing Sexual Intercourse

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The purpose of this study was to examine sexually active adolescents' perceptions of which factors they believe could have influenced postponement of their first and current sexual intercourse experiences, and to explore demographic differences by using a diverse sample. Design and methods were descriptive. Many adolescents reported that "nothing" could have postponed their first sexual intercourse, though common factors that could have postponed intercourse were also identified. Demographic differences in patterns were also apparent. Implications for schools and parents are discussed.

Approximately 50% of teens have had sexual experiences by age 15 (Massennan & Uribe, 1989), but fewer than 5% of K-12 students in the United States were provided with comprehensive sex education (Haffner, 1995). American sex education programs have been described by experts as too little too late, and criticized for focusing on biology more than emotions (Steinberg, 2002). Adolescents in the United Kingdom have reported dissatisfaction with timing and content of sex and relationships education (Alien, 1987; Procter & Blake, 2000). The need for a more comprehensive approach has been strongly emphasized by the National Children's Bureau's Sex Education Forum (1999) which describes school sex education in the U.K. as "patchy: excellent in some places, almost non-existent in others (Scott, I999)

Clearly, improvements in sex education are warranted. Studies of sex education programs have investigated the need for education, how and by whom it is provided, and the independent impacts of information learned within school, peer group, and home contexts, all of which are important aspects of an ecological approach to understanding sexual socialization (Bronfenbrenner, 1989). There is evidence to indicate that such programs help children and adolescents learn about these important developmental issues. However, adolescents' perceptions of what would be effective in helping them to postpone sexual debut has been minimally addressed. This will be the focus of this manuscript after a brief review of sex education research.

REVIEW OF LITERATURE

Research on the impact of school-based sex education programs has demonstrated overall positive effects, both direct and indirect, on sexual behavior in the United States (Coyle, Basen-Enquist, & Kirby, 1999; Zabin, Hirsch, Smith, Streett, & Hardy, 1986). Research in the United Kingdom has also demonstrated positive effects of Adolescents' perceptions school-based sex education programs (Dicenso, 2002; Health Education Authority, 1988; Sex Education Forum, 1999; Wellings, Wadsworth, Johnson, Field, Whitaker, & Field,1995). Studies also show that effectiveness is to some degree a function of how well sex education is delivered (Buston, Wight, Hart, & Scott, 2002). School-based sex education has been demonstrated to be an effective way to educate adolescents about sexuality. Especially noteworthy are findings involving onset of sexual activity, use of contraception, and increased communication with parents (Hubbard, Giese, & Rainey (1998). Kvalem, Sundet, Rivo, Eilertsen, and Bakketeig (1996) reported increased use of contraceptives following sex education about contraceptives.

Comprehensive reviews of American-based studies (Kirby, Short, Collins, Rugg, Kolbe, Howard, Miller, Sonenstein, & Zabin, 1994; Kirby, 2001) have found consistently positive behavioral impacts of school sex education in terms of postponing sexual intercourse onset or increasing contraceptive use. However, American studies of school-based sex education programs (Finkel, Finkel, 1985; Melchert, Burnett, 1990) have reported mixed findings including positive effects on sexual knowledge and increased contraceptive use, but also an absence of influence on various attitudes and behaviors. Taylor, Wang, Jack, and Adam (1989) found that sex education about contraceptives had no correlation with use of contraceptives. …