Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

Sexual Health Education: Attitudes, Knowledge, and Comfort of Teachers in New Brunswick Schools

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

Sexual Health Education: Attitudes, Knowledge, and Comfort of Teachers in New Brunswick Schools

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT. We surveyed 336 teachers in elementary and middle schools in New Brunswick to assess their attitudes towards sexual health education (SHE), the importance they assign to sexual health topics, their knowledge about and comfort teaching these topics, and the grade at which they think these topics should be introduced. Ninety-three percent of teachers supported school-based SHE. Most teachers (78%) thought SHE should start in elementary school; 97% indicated it should start by middle school. The teachers reported that the sexual health curriculum should include a broad range of topics, yet, on average, they felt only somewhat knowledgeable about sexual health. Median responses indicated that the teachers also felt only somewhat comfortable teaching most sexual health topics, including communicating about sex, birth control methods and safer sex practices, and sexual coercion and sexual assault; they felt less than somewhat comfortable teaching about masturbation and sexual pleasure and orgasm. There was some variation in responses by gender and teaching level. Although most of the teachers (65%) had received no training to teach SHE, the majority of teachers who had received training rated their training as good or very good. Regarding the quality of SHE in their own schools, although 41% of teachers perceived it as good, very good, or excellent, over a quarter of teachers (28%) indicated that they did not know what the quality of SHE was in their school. These findings underscore the need for in-service training to increase teachers' knowledge about sexuality and their comfort teaching specific sexual health topics.

Key words: Sexual health education Schools Teachers Teacher attitudes Teacher characteristics

INTRODUCTION

The effectiveness of health education is determined by how it is put into practice (Kolbe & Iverson, 1981). As such, the quality of school-based sexual health education depends on the effectiveness of the teachers who implement the curricula. Moreover, how teachers implement a curriculum will be influenced by their attitudes towards it (Stein & Wang, 1988). In a review of the effectiveness of sexual health programs at reducing unprotected sex among adolescents, Kirby (2002) concluded that a distinguishing characteristic of effective curricula is that the teachers believe in the program they are implementing. Therefore, it is likely that teachers' attitudes towards a sexuality education program will influence their coverage of sexual health topics as well as their use of teaching methods that are effective at promoting sexual health.

Although several studies have examined Canadian parents' attitudes towards SHE (e.g., Langille, Langille, Beazley, & Doncaster, 1996; McKay, 1996; McKay, Pietrusiak, & Holowaty, 1998; Weaver, Byers, Sears, Cohen, & Randall, 2002), there has been little research assessing teachers' attitudes. Moreover, the majority of research in this area has sampled American teachers (e.g., Johnson Moore & Rienzo, 2000; Levenson-Gingiss & Hamilton, 1989a; 1989b; 1989c; Yarber, Torabi, & Haffner, 1997). Canada's different social and political climate suggests that Canadian teachers likely have different opinions about sexuality education than American teachers. Therefore, our first goal was to assess Canadian teachers' attitudes towards school-based SHE.

ATTITUDES TOWARDS SPECIFIC SEXUAL HEALTH TOPICS

Teachers may support school-based sexuality education in general yet still not teach the entire sexual health curriculum. The importance teachers assign to various sexual health topics, their knowledge about these topics, and their comfort teaching these topics may affect the topics they include in instruction. Furthermore, the importance teachers assign to topics and their knowledge about and comfort with these topics can be used to identify teachers' training needs.

Teachers are more likely to teach topics they consider important (Johnson Moore & Rienzo, 2000). …

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