Abstract: Motivation in Learning More about Sex Education: Direct Input from Secondary School Youth (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Motivation in Learning More about Sex Education: Direct Input from Secondary School Youth

Friday, January 14, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 12, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Yu-Ju Huang, PhD, Doctoral Research Associate, University of Houston, Houston, TX
Monit Cheung, PhD, Professor, University of Houston, Houston, TX
Holly Davies, MSW, Doctoral Research Associate, University of Houston, TX
Background/Purpose: Public health, educational policies, and cultures significantly impact sex education implementation. Taboos and traditional Chinese mores limit people’s comfort to discuss healthy sex and provide sex education in both family and school environments. “Health education,” “puberty education,” “AIDS and sex transmitted infection prevention” are synonyms frequently used in sex educational symposia. Although school-based sex education has successfully improved sexual and reproductive health outcomes, students reported a lack of inhibition in preventing risky sexual behaviors and activities. Multiple concerns and inequities in sex education implementation have been identified, including gender, race, rural-urban disparities, unequal distribution of healthcare resources, poor timing (e.g., sexual instruction after becoming sexually active), and the reluctance of parent’s/teachers’ formal participation in sex education. Taking adolescent viewpoints, this study explores youth’s sex knowledge-learning and motivation-application transformation processes and examines the effectiveness of survey use to highlight awareness of discrepancies in acquiring sexual health knowledge.

Method: A community-based dataset on sexual knowledge and attitudes among 17 secondary schools in Hong Kong from 2016-2017 was used. Responses were students in 4th and 5th forms. Totally, 4,869 students participated: 2,504 (48.5%) girls and 2,363 (51.4%) boys from 14 to 18 years (M =16.23, SD = .876). The knowledge transfer process was evaluated by surveying adolescent motivation and acquisition in learning sex education knowledge was surveyed and information on secondary sexual characteristic development, sources of sex education, current level of knowledge, and general demographic and family composition factors.

Results: When defining sexual development, female students checked the following changes: breasts [2,310 (92.3%) with the onset at 11.52 years of age, SD= 1.44], menstruation [2,334 (93.2%)], and pubic hair growth [2,065 (82.5%)]. Male students checked the following changes: penile erection [1,944 (82.3%)], nocturnal emission [1,162 (49.2%)], and pubic hair growth [1,956 (82.8%)]. More than half of students preferred acquiring sexual health knowledge from the internet (54.7%) and sources in the school environment (50.58%), including teachers, classmates, activities in school settings, and textbooks. Paired t-test results reveal two interesting findings: (1) these youth had a significantly higher level of desirability in learning than their expressed need to learn (t (df=4,847) = 4.30, p<. 001); and (2) only 886 (18.2%) students became aware of their lack of knowledge after completing the survey; however, the difference was not significant when comparing their pretest and posttest scores of sexual development knowledge (t (df=4,777) = -2.46, p= .014).

Conclusion: Adolescents in Hong Kong tend to obtain sexual health knowledge from teachers and classmates. The internet and textbooks are two primary preferred autodidactic sources. There was a high motivation that these students would like to acquire sex education motivation in their school years. A youth-friendly self-assessment tool would serve as a channel to express their needs to receive formal sex education. Culturally and gender-sensitive instructions are crucial teaching tools to increase the effectiveness of sexual health education to evoke students’ learning interest and motivation to learn from formal sources. Training should include selecting topics of interest to students to foster a healthy and holistic learning environment.