Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

Sexual Health Education: A Study of Adolescents' Opinions, Self-Perceived Needs, and Current and Preferred Sources of Information

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

Sexual Health Education: A Study of Adolescents' Opinions, Self-Perceived Needs, and Current and Preferred Sources of Information

Article excerpt

Alexander McKay

Research Coordinator

SIECCAN

Toronto, Ontario

Philippa Holowaty

Epidemiologist

East York Health Unit

East York, Ontario

Correspondence concerning this paper should be addressed to Alexander McKay, Research Coordinator, SIECCAN, 850 Coxwell Avenue, East York, Ontario, M4C 5R1. Tel: (416) 466-5304; Fax: (416) 778-0785; e-mail: sieccan@web.net.

ABSTRACT: Although elicitation research has been identified as an important first step in the development of effective sexual health education programs, only a few studies have examined the perspectives of adolescents with respect to the form, content, and sources of sexual health education. The present study surveyed 406 adolescents in grades 7 to 12 to determine their opinions, self-perceived needs, and current and preferred sources of information related to sexual health education. Adolescents believed sexual health education is important, and a modest majority indicated that the school (61.2%) and parents (60.8%) were doing a good job of providing them with sexual health information. A majority of females (59.9%), but fewer males (34.9%), endorsed the idea that some sexual health education classes should be gendersegregated. Students used a five-point Likert type scale to rate the importance of 14 sexual health education topics. Twelve topics in rank order (Preventing STDs, Sexual Assault/Rape, How to Get Testing and Treatment for STDs, Methods of Birth Control, Conception/Pregnancy/Birth, Building Good/Equal Relationships, Making Decisions About Sexuality and Relationships, Saying No to Sex, Parenting Skills, Talking with Girlfriends/Boyfriends about Sexual Issues, Peer Pressure, Puberty) had mean scores of 1.4-2.4. Two topics (Talking with Parents about Sexual Issues, Gay/Lesbian Issues) were rated as less important. Significant gender differences in rating scores were found for 9 of the 14 topics. Significant grade differences were also found for 9 of the 14 topics. From a list of six possible sources, the school and family received the highest ratings (combined first and second choices) as current sources (55% and 44% respectively) and preferred sources (58% and 41% respectively) of sexual health information. The implications of the findings for the development and delivery of adolescent sexual health education are discussed.

Key words: Sexual health education; Sexuality education; Adolescents; Self-perceived needs; Elicitation research;

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: This study was completed for Best Start, a program funded by the Ontario Ministry of Health. The authors wish to thank Wendy Burgoyne, Community Development worker for Best Start, Susan Switzer, School Board Trustee, and the other members of the Sexual Health Education Committee who helped to develop and conduct this survey. The opinions expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Ontario Ministry of Health.

A number of studies have documented the positive effects of sexuality education on adolescent sexual health behaviours (e.g., Howard & McCabe, 1990; Kirby, Barth, Leland, & Fetro, 1991; Mauldon & Lucker, 1996; Vincent, Clearie, & Schluchter, 1987). Other studies have identified the ingredients of effective sexuality education (Frost & Darroch Forrest, 1995; Kirby, Short, Collins, Rugg, Kolbe, Howard, Miller, Sonenstein, & Zabin, 1994). However, relatively few studies have considered adolescents' opinions and self-perceived needs with respect to the form, content, and sources of sexual health education.

Elicitation research is an important first step in the design of effective educational programs to help adolescents avoid sexual health problems (i.e., unintended pregnancy, STD infection, sexual harassment/abuse) and to enhance sexual health (i.e., positive self-image, mutually satisfying relationships). Such studies help to ensure that programs are relevant to the target audience's sexual health education needs. …

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