The Effects of a Human Sexuality Course on College Students' Sexual Attitudes and Perceived Course Outcomes

By Pettijohn, Terry F., II; Dunlap, Audrey V. | Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Annual 2010 | Go to article overview

The Effects of a Human Sexuality Course on College Students' Sexual Attitudes and Perceived Course Outcomes


Pettijohn, Terry F., II, Dunlap, Audrey V., Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality


Introduction

While students enrolled in a human sexuality course would certainly be expected to show increased sexuality knowledge at the end of the course, educators and researchers are also finding encouraging, positive changes in student attitudes regarding sexual behavior, relationships, prejudice, and tolerance for alternative lifestyles and practices. Human sexuality education has the potential to inform individuals and thereby potentially reduce social problems related to teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and sexual abuse and harassment, as well as enhance interpersonal relationships, sexual health, and acceptance of variations in sexual beliefs and practices (Advocates for Youth, 2009; Dallager & Rosen, 1993). While there have been numerous studies aimed at investigating the influence of human sexuality education on individual attitudes and behaviors, the current study focuses on contemporary changes in attitudes related to tolerance and acceptance of variations in sexuality using relatively unfamiliar sexual attitudes measures. It is important to continually assess human sexuality education impacts due to constant changing cultural and generational differences in sexuality (Peterson & Hyde, 2010).

Past Studies on Student Attitude Changes in Human Sexuality Courses

Researchers have found students who complete a human sexuality course show a variety of attitudinal changes. Students typically report a more liberal position concerning sexuality (Rees & Zimmerman, 1974), reporting feeling more sexually liberated, showing greater tolerance and acceptance of the differing sexual practices of others, and experiencing less sexual guilt upon completion of a human sexuality course (Gunderson & McCary, 1980). A study by Craig (1986) also found that students experienced decreased sexual anxiety after completing a human sexuality course, and this reduction of anxiety was maintained during a follow-up examination a semester later. Others have found reductions in the sexist double standard, and greater acceptance for sexual variance, masturbation, homosexuality, and use of birth control at the end of a human sexuality course (Godow & LaFave, 1979).

Dallager and Rosen (1993) investigated attitudes toward rape victims and rape myths in a human sexuality course. Findings showed that participants reported significantly less accepting attitudes of rape myths at the end of the course (Dallager & Rosen, 1993). Furthermore, Fisher (1986) found students who completed a human sexuality course were more likely to reject date rape attitudes and have more liberal attitudes toward women. Studies such as these demonstrate how sharing knowledge about human sexuality and rape have the capacity to discourage faulty beliefs about sexual abuse and create a less supportive environment for these negative attitudes about sexuality to cultivate.

Finken (2002) compared anti-gay, prejudicial attitudes of students enrolled in a human sexuality course and a child development course. Pre-test measures revealed no initial significant differences between the experimental and control group, as well as no significant differences between males or females enrolled in either class, in their homosexual attitudes. At the end of the semester, post-test measures indicated that students who had taken the human sexuality course reported less anti-gay beliefs than the control group. Finken also found that, in comparison to men, women reported less homonegativity and a greater decrease in anti-gay prejudice. Based on these findings, Finken (2002) demonstrates how a classroom environment and specific course content can promote social acceptance and tolerance of homosexuality and other sexual variations. Similarly, Rogers, McRee, and Arntz (2009) found students enrolled in a human sexuality course reported significantly lower homophobia scores upon completion of the course. An increase in sexual knowledge partially explained the reduction in negative homophobic attitudes, suggesting education plays an important role in combating harmful attitudes about homosexuality. …

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