The goal of this experiment is to investigate the possible relationship between high school sexual education and current sexual practices engaged by college students, 18 years of age and over. There was a total of 26 participants (14 students, 12 non-students) that completed the survey, which was conducted online utilizing the Google Forms application and distributed through email and social media (Facebook). The survey had a total of 31 questions and used a combination of 5-point Likert scale grids (1: Strongly Disagree to 5: Strongly agree), short answer responses and multiple-choice style questions that examined the correlation between a participant’s high school education and their current sexual behaviors and knowledge. The bivariate, Pearson correlations were run to better understand this relationship, as well as, using T-tests to determine the difference in means for sexual education and current sexual practices. According to the results yielded by the correlations, there is a positive, moderately significant relationship between sex education and sexual practices.
Whereas, the t-test that was conducted indicated a lack of significant mean difference. It was concluded that the quality of instruction and type of high school sexual education did indeed play an influential role in the later development of current sexual practices. The summative findings of this study have further implications in the enhancement of high school sexual education programs, in terms of increasing the quality of information passed on to students, improving teacher methods of delivering that information and creating a more supportive space for students to accept their own sexuality. Exploring the Relationship Between Highschool Sexual Education And Current Sexual Practices of College Students The appropriate type of sex education that should be taught in U.S. public schools has been a major topic of debate, with some families being opposed to students receiving it in schools in the first place, and others preferring it to be a severely limited topic. Some believe sexual education is the sole responsibility and even right of the parents and family; what materials should be taught, how, when and by whom are often at the core of controversies (Hall, Sales & Komro, 2016).
In fact, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, as of March 1st, 2016, 38 states and the District of Columbia mandate that school districts allow parental involvement in sexual education programs, four states require parental consent before a student can receive sex ed., and 35 states plus the District of Columbia allow for parents to “opt-out” of the program on behalf of their children. (Blackman, Scotti, & Heller). Sex education programs in the United States strongly avoid topics such as contraception, abortion and homosexuality and instead cover topics such as reproduction, sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy and childbirth with a heteronormative approach, further ignoring and/or degrading the existence of gay, lesbian, bi sexual, and intersex youth. (Mcneill,2013) According to Kohler et. al (2008), educating students about contraception did not cause an increased risk of adolescent sexual activity or sexually transmitted diseases, thus dismantling the common misconception that sexual education would entice teens to engage in sexual acts; a belief that many people have because of religious, political and/or cultural background.
This misconstruction has been exceedingly motivated primarily by the significantly high teen pregnancy and birth rates in the U.S compared to other industrialized countries (Hall et al., 2016). McKay and Barrett (2010) conducted a ten-year study and found that between 1996-2006 teen birth/abortion rates in Canada declined by 36% versus in the U.S by 25%. Also, in the year 2006, Canada had a lower teen birth/abortion rate (27.9%) than the United States (61.2%), England/Wales (60.2%), and Sweden (31.4%). This decline in rates coincides with the substantial increase of contraceptive use by sexually active teens. (SIECCAN, 2010). Furthermore, the assumption that most teenage pregnancies are unintended, reflects how much students have the opportunity to control their sexual and reproductive health. For students to have control on this matter they must be informed and thus receive a comprehensive sexual education program from the public schools they attend. The more information one has about a topic, the more likely they are to make a sound decision (Viner et al., 2012).
Further research has found that factors such as the method of presentation of the teacher, the information provided to students, the support and acceptance that the individual feels, are all said to impact how likely a person is to make safe sexual health decisions (Measor, 2004; Viner et al., 2012; Weaver, Smith & Kippax, 2005). For most states in the U. S., including Florida, abstinence-only is the favored method of choice to implement sexual education. A 2015 report from the U.S Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, discovered that in 2014, 72% of U.S private and public high schools taught pregnancy prevention as part of instruction, and 76% taught abstinence-only as the most effective way to avoid HIV and STIs and pregnancy (HHS and CDC, 2014). The central message of abstinence-only programs is to delay sexual activity until marriage, and under the federal funding regulations, most of these programs cannot include information about contraception or safer-sex practices (Strauss, 2017). Researchers at the University of Washington also conducted a study to examine the relationship between sexual education and teen pregnancy rates, in 2008, and concluded that those teenagers who received comprehensive sex education were 60% less likely to get pregnant or get someone pregnant, than those who received no sexual education at all (Kohler et al.,2008). Additional studies have been conducted in 2011, that confirm the above findings.
Researchers at the University of Georgia have found that abstinence-only education does not reduce, and likely increases teen pregnancy rates (Stanger-Hall & Hall, 2011). Their national data demonstrated that comprehensive sex and/or STD education that includes abstinence as a desired behavior, also known as “abstinence-plus” was correlated with the lowest teen pregnancy rates across all states. (Stanger-Hall & Hall, 2011). It’s also been found that environments that are more sex-positive tend to lower risky sexual behavior statistics. (Weaver et al.,2005). Therefore, to truly maximize the effectiveness of sexual education and students’ comprehension of such material, we must examine the teaching methods of the educators. Although plenty of research is out there regarding sexual education and its effects, no study has yet explored the ways in which sexual education is implemented by the educators, and how that can affect students’ sexual behaviors later in life. The goal of this experiment is to investigate the possible relationship between sexual practices in college-age young adults and the teaching methods, information and social environment provided by the sexual educator during the students’ high school sexual education class. Methods Participants 26 participants (14 students, 12 non-students) took part in this survey. 23 individuals identified as women, 3 individuals identified as male. 50% of respondents were between 18-24 years old, 30.8% were between 25-34 years old, 29.2% were 35 years and older. 42.3% of respondents were Caucasian, 30.8% of respondents were African American, 19.2% were Hispanic, 3.8% were West Indian American and 3.8% were Chicanx. Procedures The survey was administered online using the application Google Forms. It was distributed through the social media site Facebook and through email.
A link was provided in a status update asking individuals to participate in this survey. Measure The current study’s survey contained 31 questions. Answers were provided through 5-point Likert scale grids ( Strongly Disagree;  Disagree;  Neither;  Agree;  Strongly agree) along with short answers and multiple choice for demographic questions. The survey asked questions related to participants’ high school sexual education experience, and their current sexual behaviors and knowledge. The survey yields two scores: quality of high school sexual education (Sex Ed) and current sexual behaviors (Current Practices). See Appendix A for full scale. Factor Analysis. To determine if any factors (subscales) existed within the Sex Ed subscale, exploratory factor analysis with varimax rotation was conducted. Analysis of factors’ Eigenvalues indicated that four factors had eigenvalues above 1 and were thus extracted. Items were assigned to a factor if their factor loadings were above .4 and they did not cross load (difference > .2 on next factor). Factor 1, Openness, consisted of the following items: item 2.1 ‘ Before taking sex ed. , I believed that sexual health was important’ (.960), item 3.1“I felt comfortable asking my sexual education teacher questions” (.770), item 3.4 “I asked questions during my high school sexual education” (.875), item 3.5 “My sexual education class was a safe environment” (.816) and item 2.0 “Which type of birth control was covered in your high school sexual education class” (.633). Factor 2, Impact of Sex Ed., consisted of item 2.3 ‘
My high school sexual education covered healthy relationship’ (.859), item 3.2 ‘ I spoke about what I had learned in my sexual education class with my parents’ (.671) and item 3.3 “I was more inclined to practice safe sex practices after the sexual education class” (.712). Factor 3 Topics Covered, consisted of item 2.2 “I feel the amount of information given in my sexual education was appropriate for my age” (.825), item 2.5 “My high school sexual education covered gender identity and sexual orientation” (.946) and 2.6 “My high school sexual education covered all aspects of sexuality” (.879). Factor 4, Type of Sex Ed., consisted of item 2.4 “My high school sexual education covered healthy relationships” (.918) and item 2.7 “My sexual education class focused more on pregnancy prevention than healthy sexual practices” (.962). Reverse Scoring. Three items on this scale need to be reversed scored: item 2.4 “My high school sexual education covered healthy relationships”, item 2.7 “My sexual education class focused more on pregnancy prevention than healthy sexual practices”, and item 4.2 “If my sexual partner does not want to engage in safe, sexual practices, I will still have sex with them.” Reverse scoring should be completed before Sex Ed and Current Practices scores are computed. Data Analysis To better understand the relationship between sexual education and current sexual practices, correlations will be run. Specifically, bivariate, Pearson correlations will be run between Sex Ed scores and Current Practices as well as between the four subscales and Current Practices. T-tests will also be performed to determine the difference in means for Sex Ed and Current Practices for students and non-students. Results A bivariate, Pearson correlation was conducted with Sex Ed scores and Current Practices scores for all participants as the covariates.
A positive, moderate significant relationship was found, r = .518, p = .007. A bivariate, Pearson correlation was conducted with Sex Ed scores and Current practices scores for students as the covariates. No significant relationship was found, r = .285, p = .324. A significant, large, positive, bivariate, Pearson correlation was found between Sex Ed scores and Current Practices scores for non-students, r = .790, p = .002. Bivariate, Pearson correlations were conducted between Current Practices scores and the extracted factors for students. No significant correlation was found for Factor 1: Openness (r = .275, p = .342), Factor 2: Impact of Sex Ed (r = .428, p = .127), Factor 3: Subject Covered (r = .051, p = .861) and Factor 4: Type of Sex Ed (r = -.203, p = .487). Bivariate, Pearson correlations were conducted between Current Practices scores and the extracted factors for non-students. Large, significant correlations were found for Factor 1: Openness, r = .677, p = .016 and for Factor 2: Impact of Sex Ed, r = .840, p = .001. No significant correlations were found for Factor 3: Subjects Covered (r = .531, p = .076) and Factor 4: Type of Sex Ed (r = .311, p = .326). A bivariate, Pearson correlation was conducted with Sex Ed scores and Current practices scores for participants aged 18-24 as the covariates. A marginal relationship was found, r = .542, p = .056. Bivariate, Pearson correlations were conducted between Current Practices scores and the extracted factors for participants aged 18-24. A large, significant correlation was found for Factor 2: Impact of Sex Ed, r = .715, p = .006. No significant correlations were found for Factor 1: Openness (r = .510, p = .075), Factor 3: Subjects Covered (r = .348, p = .243) and Factor 4: Type of Sex Ed (r = .001, p = .997). An independent samples t-test was conducted between the Mean Sex Ed scores for the students and non-students. No significant mean difference was found, t(24) = .96, p = .362. An independent samples t-test was conducted between the mean Current Practices scores for students and non-students. No significant mean difference was found, t(24) = .28, p = .785.
The qualitative data was assessed based on five short answer questions asked in the survey distributed to participants. The answers provided were categorized by positive and negative views of sexuality and then compared to the participants’ sexual education score. Based on the memorable moments sixteen participants shared, seven expressed experiencing positive teaching styles, such as learning about personal experiences, participating in activities, and learning to communicate. One response explained that his or her teacher had students participate in an activity where “half of them were blindfolded and the other half were giving them chocolate to eat without telling them they had to eat something. When the blindfolded individuals felt uncomfortable eating, she made the point that relationships should not feel this way”. The average sex education score for these participants was 46.3. Nine participants shared memories that expressed negative teaching styles, which include gruesome visuals, poor feedback, and lack of information. On average, these participants scored lower than the students who experienced positive teaching styles with an average of 34.1.
The participant with the highest score, 65, stated that the sex education teacher had them participate in an activity to show the importance of trust in a healthy relationship. The participant with the lowest sex education score, 17, expressed that essential information was left out, such as the female anatomy and safe sex practices. The participants were also asked about the influence their culture had on their sexual behavior. From the six respondents, two described coming from an open culture where it is believed that an individual is free to express one’s self. The other four respondents came from stricter cultural background. One stated: “Growing up in a family influenced by Christianity, we never talked about sex or anything to do with genitalia …I would use barriers if we were not each other’s firsts and only, however, we are so there is no risk of STIs.” The participant does not mention using barriers as a form of birth control and lacks the knowledge that there are still risks when having unprotected sex in an exclusive sexual relationship. Those that described coming from a culture that was open minded about sex had a sex education score average of 55.5, while those who described being restricted by their cultural backgrounds, averaged a score of 40.75. Overall the participants felt that their sexual education helped them prepare and be aware of the risks of being sexually active.
The main focus of their sexual education courses in high school was on STIs; some aimed to instill fear in the students while others informed. This data suggests that many participants did receive education on risks caused by sexual activity, but lacked other information, such that of sexual orientation, healthy relationships, birth control, and sexual health. Discussion The current study examined the relationship between ongoing sexual practices of college students and quality of the sexual education they received in high school. The participants sampled, expressed whether their exposure to sexual education influenced their current sexual practices. The results showed varying correlational levels for student participants, non-students, and young adults. Results showed that students’ current sexual practices were not influenced by their high school sexual education. Surprisingly however, a large positive relationship was found between sexual education and current practices amongst non-student participants. Because of these findings, individuals between the ages of 18-24 years old were also assessed, regardless of student status. A moderate relationship was also found between young adults’ current sexual practices and their high school sexual education; suggesting that today’s college students may be receiving sexual education outside of what they learned in high school. For example, one student stated, in response to the question asking if her sexual education influenced her current sexual practices: “College Sex Ed yes, High School no”.
As such, it is very likely that current college students received a much more comprehensive sexual education outside of high school, whether it be from parents, peers, magazines, or the internet; which ultimately provided them with more wide-ranging information that better equipped them to care for their sexual health and explore sexuality. Looking at the qualitative data from the survey, the scores displayed a positive reflection in how the sex education material was presented by the teacher. Some participants felt prepared and more confident in knowing how to protect themselves from the risks of any STIs and other infections, while others felt that their educator did not provide enough information resulting in negative feedback. Although most participants were informed about the risks of STIs, they did lack the knowledge in other areas of sexuality explored within the survey, specifically healthy relationships, sexual orientation, birth control and sexual health. As time and technology progress, students are increasingly accessing sexual health information from the internet; since it provides teenagers the privacy they seek when it comes to asking difficult and uncomfortable questions regarding their sexuality (Bay-Cheng, 2001). Having that tough conversation with their parents/guardian not only comes off as scary but very difficult to employ because for many it can be quite uncomfortable on both ends of the parent and the teen/child asking for information. With the use and easy accessibility of the internet there is no face to face contact and that’s why they result to the internet to answer their questions (Bay-Cheng, 2001).
This also sheds light on how sexual education, in many U.S high schools, truly avoids covering topics that are important to students, and thus they desperately seek knowledge elsewhere for information (Lindbergs, Maddow-Zimmer & Boonstra, 2015). As most of us know the internet poses a major threat to validity and reliability, especially when forums and information can be added and edited by anyone who is not a professional or informed correctly on the matters at hand. For anyone seeking information online, but especially the youth, who are not aware of the accuracy of the sources and websites, acquiring such information puts them at risk of being misinformed on topics regarding sex and overall sexual health. Researchers Magee, Bigelow, DeHaan & Mustanski (2012) published findings from their study that explored the positive and negative aspects of internet use for sexual health information about LGBTQ young individuals. Their results showed that, though students were looking at STIs, specifically HIV protection, youth from the LGBTQ community were afraid to look up more information about their sexuality as they feared being abnormal (Magee et al.,2012). Fear of stigma was also evident among the participants, as an obstacle for obtaining information was disclosing information regarding their sexual behaviors, regardless of anonymity. (Magee et al., 2012). As researchers discover more about topics in the LGBTQ community, students should also be educated of these findings through their schools’ sexual education, so they can perhaps better understand their own sexuality, and even become advocates for equal rights.
As previously discussed, enforcing abstinence- only sexual education programs in private and public schools is not beneficial to students, and actually causes more harm than good as it does not reduce, and likely increases teen pregnancy rates (Stanger-Hall & Hall, 2011), does not include information about contraception or safer-sex practices (Strauss, 2017), and ignores matters related to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and intersex youth. (Mcneill, 2013) With a positive and informative approach from educators, students who receive a more comprehensive sexual education in high school will have the opportunity to fully understand the importance of taking care of their health and have a better chance at a successful development of their sexual health. Moving forward, sexual education should no longer be abstinence-only, but much more comprehensive; including a wide range of topics such as establishing and maintaining healthy relationships, accessing and using birth control correctly and how to properly use barrier methods. Education should also address sexual orientation, gender identity, and other topics related to the LGBTQ community; resulting in a much more inclusive sexual education experience for all youth. This will provide students with the right tools and information to make healthy sexual decisions and to protect themselves and others, not only during their high school years but into adulthood as well.
Future research should look at how high school students assimilate information presented in their sexual education class. One respondent stated that her sex ed class was not useful as she felt the material and the method of presentation were too mature for her age. This seemed to be a common comment within our participants. As such, by better understanding how students assimilate sexual information, curriculums can be tailored to be much more effective. Future studies should also look at how much sexual education students are receiving online. As previously stated, information online can be inaccurate which can lead to students being misinformed and therefore make unsafe sexual choices. By understanding what is being researched, educators can incorporate these subjects within their sex education curriculums and ensure that students are receiving accurate information. Finally, longitudinal studies observing the impact of high school sexual education on sexual decision making can yield data on the effectiveness of various sexual education programs as well as help determine the topics that are most and least remembered. It is important to understand the long-term implications of sexual education on a society’s sexual health. The variability in our results illustrates the need for the aforementioned studies to be conducted. To fully understand the impact of sexual education curriculums, we must understand how variables interact.
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