Satisfaction with School-Based Sexual Health Education in a Sample of University Students Recently Graduated from Ontario High Schools

By Meaney, Glenn J.; Rye, B. J. et al. | The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Satisfaction with School-Based Sexual Health Education in a Sample of University Students Recently Graduated from Ontario High Schools


Meaney, Glenn J., Rye, B. J., Wood, Eileen, Solovieva, Ekaterina, The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality


Abstract: This study investigated satisfaction with school-based sexual health education in a sample of first-year university students recently graduated from Ontario high schools. Participants (n=161) drawn from Introductory Psychology and Introductory Human Sexuality courses completed a questionnaire that assessed their current perceptions of past experience. Overall participants gave very high importance ratings to more than half of 20 topics they considered "important to learn about in high school" (and well above average importance ratings to the others), and would have preferred presentation in grades 6-8 of many sexual health topics that they perceived as having been presented later, and were generally satisfied with their sexual health education teachers and with their overall school-based sexual health education. With very few exceptions, participant's assessments did not differ by gender or type of school attended (i.e., public or Catholic). The results suggest general satisfaction with school-based sexual health education, particularly in relation to changes in their knowledge and values, and a preference for earlier grade exposure to, and emphasis on, many topics as one way to improve the curriculum. The implications and limitations of the findings are discussed.

Introduction

Provision of sexual health education programs for children and youth is often a controversial issue faced by educators and school administrators (e.g., Ciardullo, 2005). It can be argued, however, that sexuality is a fundamental aspect of being human and, as such, needs to be addressed as part of the educational experience of children and youth. The Canadian Guidelines for Sexual Health Education (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2008) were developed to encourage an effective sexual health education system in Canada. While effective sexual health education may involve many tiers of community involvement, one important venue for education is the formal school system. Since Canadian schools fall under the jurisdiction of provincial governments (Constitution Act, 1982), each province is responsible for determining sexual health education programs. The current study examined recently graduated students' perceptions of the school-based sexual health education they had received in one region of Ontario.

Background

Sexual health education in Ontario is covered under the Healthy Living strand of the elementary curricula (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2005) and the Healthy Growth and Sexuality strand of the Health and Physical Education secondary curricula (Ontario Ministry of Education, 1999, 2000). The mandated sexual health education presents information to students in a developmental format and involves both physical and relational aspects of sexuality; sexual health is described in conjunction with other aspects of healthy development at all stages. In elementary school, students start by learning basic information, such as the life cycle of animals (including humans) and the proper names for major parts of the body. The similarities and differences between boys and girls are taught in grade 2. Children learn about the reproductive process in grade 3 and healthy human relationships in grade 4. By grade 6, students are expected to have a basic understanding of male and female physiology, puberty and the changes that accompany it, and some essential ingredients of healthy relationships. By grade 8, they learn about abstinence as a positive choice, sexually transmitted infections, contraception, decision-making skills in sexual situations, and how to seek support in their pursuit of healthy living (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2005).

In grade 9, when sexual health education is mandatory, and grade 10, when it is not, information is provided about the various pressures on teenagers to have sex (including media and peer influences), the cycle of sexual development through the human life-span, and the consequences of choices related to intimate sexuality. …

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