Methods: With IRB approval, survey data collected in ten elementary schools in Hong Kong were analyzed to identify major elements for successful sex education programs. Measures included 1) sources of sex-related knowledge and 2) children’s attitudes toward sex education. Attitudes toward sex education measured openness and timing, such as timing to start formal sex education delivery and desire to obtain information about sex-related terms (Crobach’s alpha=.73).
Results: Through the anonymous survey, 4,569 fifth and sixth graders (5% of this population) provided input about three major ingredients in sex education: 1) sex knowledge: More from instructed sources (mean=2.6, SD=2.9) than self-explored sources (mean=0.5, SD=0.7) (t=77.07, p<.001); 2) gender-specific design: Girls accessed more instructed sources (b=0.17, p<.001), while boys accessed more self-explored sources (b=-0.21, p<.001); 3) socioeconomic predictor: Students whose mothers achieved higher education (b=0.06, p=.002) or whose parents lived together (b=0.10, p=.001) accessed more instructed-sources of sex knowledge.
Results also show that utilization of both instructed-sources (b=0.39, p<.001) and self-explored sources (b=0.54, p<.001) are associated to higher levels of openness to sex knowledge. Male students (b=0.77, p<.001), students with older siblings (b=-0.12, p=.043), and students whose mother achieved higher education (b=-0.30, p=.002) expressed lower levels of openness to sex education.
Most students (3580, 81.1%) held a positive attitude toward the timing of delivering formal sex education being at elementary school age. Multiple regression shows that students’ interest in receiving formal sex education in elementary school is related to sex-knowledge sources, openness to sex information, and birth-order (p< .001; R2= 0.07). Specifically, having access to more instructed-sources of sex information has increased students’ interest in formal sex education in elementary school (b=0.06, p<.001). In contrast, such interest is associated negatively to having access to more self-explored sources is (b=-0.06, p<.001). Students who expressed less openness towards sex knowledge (b=0.055, p<.001) or with older siblings (b=-0.058, p<.001) showed a lower interest in receiving sex education in elementary school.
Conclusion: There are cultural barriers in planning sex education for young children. With a focus on gender specificities in sex education, references should be made from results such as girls tend to use more instructed-sources and be more open to the idea of receiving formal sex education in elementary school while boys tend to obtain sex knowledge through self-explored sources but show less interest in school-based sex education. Though generalizability is limited to Chinese preadolescents, this study supports the use of direct accounts from young children to identify gender and cultural specific contents with reasons to support early sex education with informed knowledge.