An Adolescent Perspective on Sexual Health Education at School and at Home: I. High School Students

By Byers, E. Sandra; Sears, Heather A. et al. | The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

An Adolescent Perspective on Sexual Health Education at School and at Home: I. High School Students


Byers, E. Sandra, Sears, Heather A., Voyer, Susan D., Thurlow, Jennifer L., Cohen, Jacqueline N., Weaver, Angela D., The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality


INTRODUCTION

School is a primary source of sexual health information for Canadian youths (McKay & Holowaty, 1997). Well-planned and effectively delivered sexual health education (SHE) can help young people enhance their sexual health and avoid negative sexual outcomes, such as unwanted pregnancy (Baldwin, Whitely, & Baldwin, 1990; Kirby, 2001; Mackie & Oickle, 1996; Munro, Doherty-Poirier, Mayan, & Salmon, 1994). Although SHE is taught in all Canadian provinces and territories, the nature of these programs varies considerably and not all major topics are included (Barrett, 1994; McCall et al., 1999).

Most SHE programs are based on adults' views, but likely would be more successful if the perspectives of adolescents were incorporated into their design (Campbell & Campbell, 1990; Fisher & Fisher, 1992; Maticka-Tyndale, 1995; McKay & Holowaty, 1997). Given that teenagers view sex education as one of their most important educational needs (Cairns, Collins, & Hiebert, 1994), elicitation research that evaluates whether the curriculum addresses students' needs is vital (McKay, Fisher, Maticka-Tyndale, & Barrett, 2001; McKay & Halowaty, 1997). It is also important to assess whether youths see their parents as meeting their SHE needs, because parents and teachers believe strongly that schools and parents should share responsibility for providing SHE and that discussions at home are an important part of students' SHE (Cohen, Byers, Sears, & Weaver, 2001; Weaver, Byers, Sears, Cohen, & Randall, 2002). Therefore, the purpose of this study was to assess students' SHE needs and their perceptions of the quality of the SHE they have received at school and at home. The present survey of high school students was one of four studies assessing the attitudes and ideas of New Brunswick parents, teachers, middle school students, and high school students toward SHE (Byers et al., 2001; Cohen et al., 2001; Weaver et al., 2002).

ATTITUDES TOWARD SEXUAL HEALTH EDUCATION

Surveys of Canadian parents and teachers have found strong support for school-based SHE (Cohen et al., 2001; McKay, Pietrusiak, & Holowaty, 1998; Weaver et al., 2002). Studies with adolescents have also shown that youths feel positively about SHE. For example, McKay and Holowaty (1997) surveyed 406 adolescents in grades 7 to 12 in one rural Ontario school district and found that 89% viewed SHE as an important part of the curriculum. The students also rated each of 14 potential sexual health topics as important, with girls rating most topics as more important than boys (see Cairns et al., 1994 for similar findings), and students in grades 11 and 12 rating several topics as more important than students in grades 9 and 10. However, no large-scale survey of New Brunswick students' attitudes towards SHE has been conducted. Thus, the first goal of this study was to assess New Brunswick students' attitudes towards SHE at school. We evaluated students' general attitude toward school-based SHE and compared this opinion to their opinion about schools and parents sharing responsibility for SHE. We also assessed their attitudes toward the inclusion of specific researcher-defined sexual health topics. In addition, we evaluated whether students' gender and grade level were associated with their attitudes. In order to identify discrepancies between the current curriculum and students' learning priorities, we asked youths to identify two questions they had about sexual health.

EFFECTIVENESS OF SEXUAL HEALTH EDUCATION

Research has demonstrated that SHE is most effective when it goes beyond information and also includes motivational and skill-building opportunities (Fisher&Fisher, 1992; Kirby, 1992). Consistent with these results, students want a comprehensive SHE program that provides detailed information on specific sexual health topics (e.g., preventing and treating STDs, methods of birth control) as well as explicit instruction on skills (Eisenberg & Wagenaar, 1997; McKay & Holowaty, 1997).

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