Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

Parents' Opinions and Attitudes towards Sexuality Education in the Schools

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

Parents' Opinions and Attitudes towards Sexuality Education in the Schools

Article excerpt

Key words: Sexuality education Sexual health education Parents Parental attitudes

Acknowledgements: The authors wish to acknowledge the contributions of Sharon Thompson, Dr. Alexander Hukowich and Brian Laundry from the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit, Port Hope, Ontario, Betty-Ann Knutson from the Durham Region Health Department, Whitby, Ontario, and Trudy Lum and Jan Pomeroy from the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board, Peterborough, Ontario.

Does sexual health education belong in the schools? At what age should sexual health education begin? Should sexual health education recognize and respect the different moral beliefs about sexuality that may exist in the community? Should sexual health education in the schools include sometimes controversial topics such as birth control and sexual orientation? Previous research has consistently shown that a strong majority of parents in both Canada (Langille, Langille, Beazley, & Doncaster, 1996; Lawlor & Purcell, 1988; Marsmen & Herold, 1986; McKay, 1996; Verby & Herold, 1992) and the United States (Janus & Janus, 1993: Kenney, Guardado, & Brown, 1989) want sexuality education to be taught in the schools. Survey research also suggests that parents want sexual health education programs to include a wide range of topics, and that schools should begin addressing most of these topics at the elementary level (Langille et al., 1996; McKay, 1996).

However, perceptions of parental support for broadly-based sexual health education in the schools can be influenced, particularly at the local level, by a number of factors. For example, in a particular community, those who oppose the provision of sexual health education in the schools or who argue that sexual health education should only embody a particular ideological vision of sexual health may be highly vocal and persistent in promoting their point of view, thereby giving the impression that they represent a large proportion of community opinion. Letters to the editor in local newspapers, presentations to boards of health and/or education, demonstrations, and media reports on these events can all potentially create a false impression of parental opinions and attitudes related to sexual health education in the schools.

Given that educators and policy makers will want to take into account parents' perspectives when making decisions about the existence, extent, and nature of school-based sexual health education in their communities, it is important to ascertain parental opinions on these issues as accurately as possible. This may be particularly important in communities where clear differences of opinion are already evident or seem likely.

Surveys of parents of children attending local schools can be a productive and cost-effective way of measuring parents' support for sexual health education at the community level. Such surveys can play an integral role in facilitating the development of sexual health education policy at various levels of government and public administration, and provide a key impetus for the development and implementation of school-based sexual health education curricula.

The goal of the present study was to measure parental support for sexual health education in an area served by a large rural school board in southern Ontario. In collaboration with the public health units serving the area, the school board had recently begun the process of revising its sexual health education policy and curriculum. A parent survey was planned as an important means of community consultation oil issues related to policy and curriculum, as well as a means of documenting support for sexual health education in the schools. Based on the success of similar initiatives in other communities (for example see Burgoyne, 1998), the present study replicates two earlier surveys of parental attitudes that took place in the provinces of Ontario (McKay, 1996) and Nova Scotia (Langille et al. …

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