Methods: Mexican American (n = 41) and White (n = 34) adolescents (M = 16.04 years, SD = .83; n = 40 girls; grades 10-12) from 25 high schools in a large Southwest state were recruited to participate in 12 focus groups on adolescent romantic relationships. Groups were divided by gender and ethnicity and a total of ten questions derived from theory were asked, the last of which was analyzed for this paper. Data was coded via a form of inductive content analysis into themes, and weight was given to extensiveness, emotionality, frequency, and specificity of the responses. A third researcher coded the data to verify the reliability of the coding scheme (K = .78).
Results: Adolescents identified several thematic areas in which they had (or currently have) skill deficits and gaps in pertinent information that they would like to see schools and parents respond to in order to successfully navigate dating and sexual relationships. Specifically, they said that “don't have sex” classes often presented too little information too late. Adolescents viewed the protection of both their emotions and bodies as important in sexual education. Moreover, they would like for parents to provide emotional support and to share their wisdom with them to develop skill sets (e.g., emotion coping skills, conflict resolution skills).
Issues of gender also emerged: adolescents preferred that both genders be grouped together to discuss and be educated on physical and emotional aspects of sexuality, including topics concerning differing relationship expectations common among males vs. females. Negative generalizations about the other sex surfaced across both ethnicities and genders.
Implications: Adolescent dialogue revealed important implications for sexual health education programs. The formal education that teens receive regarding their sexuality does not address the psycho-social skills critical to navigate interpersonal experiences within a relationship context. Adolescents viewed schools and parents as the primary contexts through which they would like to develop the skills to have healthy dating relationships, however, the types of information they preferred to learn in each of these contexts varied (sexual/physical by schools, emotional by parents). Promising sexual education programming should be comprehensive, age appropriate, include peer and parental contexts, and should target negative other-sex appraisals towards the development of healthy relationship goals.