Culturally Sensitive Best Practices for Sex Education Programs

Article excerpt

Learning about sexuality is a lifelong process that begins in childhood and continues through the lifespan (NASP, 2003). Through family and peer interactions andmedia sources,youthlearn about sexuality and relationships, and develop their own values. The learning process and trajectory, however, may differ among youth from diverse cultures. In fact, differences in cultural values, identity, and experience as a minority person and unequal access to resources can influence sexual values and behavior, perhaps leading to increased risk of negative consequences of sexual behavior. Across ethnic and racial groups, there are a variety of important risk and protective factors related to sexual behaviors and outcomes. For instance, among youth from Latino and Black cultures, there is significantly less communication in the home about sexuality compared to families in White cultures (Lefkowitz, Romo, Corona, Au, & Sigma, 2000). As such, the school becomes an integral part of sexuality education, and for many youth from Latino and Black cultures, the only source of accurate information. Schools must tailor their sex education programs to fit the diverse needs of their students.

School psychologists' training in assessment, evidence-based decision-making, progress monitoring, and program evaluation makes us strong assets in the development and implementation of sex education curricula. These skills have potential to help schools achieve desired health goals. Many resources are invested in sex education programs that are not as effective when working with diverse populations because of a one-size-fits-all approach. For instance, one sex education program called "Be Proud! Be Responsible!," identified as effective for Black youth in nonschool settings (Jemmott, Jemmott, & Fong, 1992, 1998), was less effective when implemented in suburban areas with White and/or Hispanic youth (Borawski et al, 2009).

Sex education curricula are most effective when they intersect with the psychosocial risk and protective factors that affect the target youth's sexual behavior, including knowledge, perceived risks, values, attitudes, perceived norms, and self-efficacy (Kirby, 2007). One example of cultural sensitivity is that Latino populations face issues of limited access to healthcare, cultural importance of motherhood, and cultural norms encouraging childbearing (Blair, 1999). On the other hand, protective factors linked to a delay in sexual activity for Latina women include speaking Spanish as a first language and being a new immigrant to the United States (National Coalition of Hispanic Health and Human Services Organization, 1999) . In Black cultures, risk factors include early onset of sexual activities, perceived peer behaviors, and having sex with multiple partners (Johnson et al., 1994). In contrast, connectedness to church and spirituality (Haight, 1998), parenting styles including structure and well-defined roles (JohnsonGarner & Meyers, 2003), and positive aspects of masculinity are resiliency or protective factors. This article highlights the importance of understanding culture-specific sexual values and behavior to develop and implement sex education programs that are effective for youth from Latino and Black cultures.


Because the effectiveness of sex education programs is largely based on cultural sensitivity (Kirby, 2007), it is incumbent on school psychologists to understand how genderrelated cultural values impact adolescent's sexuality. For example, machismo and marianismo are gender-stereotyped values that greatly impact the development of sexual scripts of Latino youth. Machismo values include men having multiple partners, being in charge of frequency and type of sexual activity, and refraining from talking to women (other than one's partner) about sex (Marin, Tschann, Gomez, 8c Kegeles, 1993). Marianismo values modesty, faithfulness, and virginity as feminine ideals. …


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