Emerging Adults' Experiences of Middle and High School Sexual Health Education in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Ontario

By Byers, E. Sandra; Hamilton, Lisa Dawn et al. | The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, December 2017 | Go to article overview

Emerging Adults' Experiences of Middle and High School Sexual Health Education in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Ontario


Byers, E. Sandra, Hamilton, Lisa Dawn, Fisher, Bonnie, The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality


The current study examined the perception of sexual health education (SHE) being provided in middle and high schools in three Canadian provinces from a sample of young adults. Participants were 296 undergraduate students (91 men, 205 women) between the ages of 18 and 24 who had gone to both middle school and high school in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, or Ontario. There were few differences between provinces. Almost all participants reported receiving SHE in middle school but about a quarter had not received SHE in high school. On average, participants rated the SHE they had received in middle school as fair and in high school as good. Participants, on average, rated most of 21 specified sexual health topics as covered poorly and covered. The men tended to rate the SHE they had received in middle school more positively than did the women. Participants reported that teachers used a variety of methods in the classroom, 6.78 of 9 possible methods on average. Multiple regression analyses showed that higher perceived quality of SHE was associated with better topic coverage, the extent to which the topics covered matched their interests, and the number of different methods used. Participants reported that peers were a more important source of sexual health information than was SHE. The results point to a continued need to improve the quality of SHE provided in Canadian schools.

KEYWORDS: Sexual health education, middle school, high school, emerging adults experiences, peers

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There is wide support for school-based sexual health education (SHE) in Canada (Advisory Committee on Family Planning, 2008; Byers et ah, 2003a, 2003b; Cohen, Byers, Sears, 8c Weaver, 2004; Langille, Langille, Beazley & Doncaster, 1996; McKay, Byers, Voyer, Humphreys, & Markham, 2014; McKay, Pietrusiak, & Holowaty, 1998; Weaver, Byers, Sears, Cohen, & Randall, 2002). This is, in part, because quality SHE has been linked to positive sexual health outcomes such as increased likelihood of using contraception and getting tested for sexually transmitted infections, healthier partnerships, delayed first sex, and lower likelihood of unplanned pregnancy (Bourke, Boduszek, Kelleher, McBride, & Morgan, 2014; Givaudan, Van de Vijver, Poortinga, Leenen, & Pick, 2007; Kirby, Laris, & Rolleri, 2005; Lindberg & MaddowZimet, 2012; Mueller, Gavin, & Kulkarni, 2008). As such, SHE is provided in public schools in all Canadian provinces and territories, although Quebec does not have a specific sexual health curriculum (Garcia, 2015; Joint Consortium for School Health, 2007).

Although the Federal government has recommended standards for SHE (Joint Consortium for School Health, 2007), education is a provincial jurisdiction. Thus, SHE is not uniform across provinces (Barrett, 1994; McCall et al., 1999). Using retrospective assessments of experiences with SHE, the goal of the current study was to provide information about the timing and quality of SHE in different provinces by surveying emerging adults who had recently graduated from high school.

GRADES IN WHICH STUDENTS RECEIVE SEXUAL HEALTH EDUCATION

Typically, SHE in Canada is provided in middle school and high school, with some aspects being mandatory and others being optional (Meaney, Rye, Wood, & Solovieva, 2009). Nonetheless, Byers and her colleagues (2003a; 2003b) found that 26% of middle school students (54%, 18% and 6% of students in grades 6, 7, and 8 respectively) and 8% of high school students in New Brunswick reported that they had not received any school-based SHE. Little is known about the specific grades in which students receive SHE and/or how likely they are to receive SHE repeatedly as opposed to only in one or two grades. As with any subject matter, repeated exposure is likely to result in greater learning than a single exposure (Rohrer & Pashler, 2007). Therefore, it is important to assess all of the grades in which participants receive SHE to assess timing and number of exposures. …

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