Gender Representation in Illustrations, Text, and Topic Areas in Sexuality Education Curricula

Article excerpt

The cultural significance of disease and pregnancy resulting from early teen sexual activity has enhanced public support for sexuality education the past two decades. This support prompted the development, distribution, and implementation of sexuality education instructional materials for the school curriculum.[1] Topic areas in sexuality curricula that traditionally received adequate coverage include topics related to family relations, dating, growth and development, and reproductive function. Biological topics of interest to women, such as menopause and menstruation, have been overlooked.[2-5] Curricula historically described topics of mutual interest to both genders from a male perspective.[3,6,7] Coverage of topics related to gender roles and gender identification, that would help validate all dimensions of human sexuality, have been seriously lacking.[8,9]

The choice of topics for inclusion in curriculum materials is subjective. Complete or partial omission of topics has been identified in evaluation instruments as evidence of sexism in educational materials.[10,11] Substantial research has been aimed at detecting gender inequity in the written text. History,[12] math,[13] science[14,15] and elementary reading textbooks,[16-18] have been scrutinized closely for gender bias.

Instructional materials often include pictorial representations to complement the written text. Illustrations often summarize or emphasize written concepts within the text. Research has shown that women have gained in frequency of representation within illustrations of text materials, but corresponding balance of representation in the written text has not been demonstrated.[5]

The 1991 SIECUS content analysis of fear-based sexuality curricula showed evidence of omission of topics dealing with female sexual desire. Female sexual function was described only in reproductive terms.[19] With the exception of studies conducted by Whatley[20] and Pollis,[1] this is the only study which examined gender differences in sexuality education materials.

Do differences exist in the representation of both genders in illustrations and within the text of sexuality curricula? Do differences exist in the representation of topics of interest to each gender? Do differences exist in the representation of males and females within sexuality topics of mutual interest?


Curriculum Selection

This study developed a content analysis instrument to assess gender representation in sexuality education curricula. Fourteen school-based sexuality curricula were assessed. Criteria for selection of curricula followed similar guidelines set by the Sexuality Education Curricula: The Consumers' Guide[21] evaluation study. Following the Consumer's Guide Criteria, selected curricula were limited to those curricula that were school-based, comprehensive in topic coverage, and were published or revised since 1985. The number of curricula were limited to those identified from a computerized library search using the Education Resources Information Center (ERIC), Sex Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), and Comprehensive Health Information Database (CHID). The analysis also was limited to comprehensive middle and high school sexuality curricula as defined by the National Guidelines Task Force.[22]

The criterion for acceptable sample size was determined by comparison of sample size used in similar studies that measured gender representation within instructional material. For example, Pollis[1] examined 12 textbooks, Giancomini et al[15] examined eight, Potter and Rosser[2] examined five, Bazler and Simonis[14] examined seven, and Conti and Kimmel[23] examined 11.

Invitations to participate in the analysis were extended by letter to all publishers of the 69 curricula that met the established criterion. Written permission provided access to copies of curricula from other sources including state curriculum clearinghouses, county school districts, county health departments and university libraries. …