Abstract: Timing of Sex Education: Hearing the Opinions from Elementary School Students (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Timing of Sex Education: Hearing the Opinions from Elementary School Students

Friday, January 14, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 12, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Monit Cheung, PhD, Professor, University of Houston, Houston, TX
Patrick Leung, PhD, Professor, University of Houston, Houston, TX
Yu-Ju Huang, PhD, Doctoral Research Associate, University of Houston, Houston, TX
Shu Zhou, MSW, Assistant Professor, Huazong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, China
Xin Chen, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Soochow University, Suzhou, China
University Houston, Postdoc Research Associate, University of Houston, Houston, TX
Amanda Ford, PhD, Professor, Houston Baptist University, Houston, TX
Background/Purpose: Sex education has a protective effect to prevent high-risk sexual behaviors among youth. Parenting consultants indicate that delivering home-based sex education is a “value-added” approach to teach children about healthy sexual development. Even though sex education timing is a critical consideration, there is a gap between determining maturity and defining what is ‘early timing’ from the users of sex education. This study obtained input from preteens to explore their learning sources, desirability to gain sexual health knowledge, and perception of appropriate timing to start sex education.

Method: A not-for-profit agency sought advice from consultants regarding how to seek input from preteens to define the “early timing” of sex education and found that Chinese preadolescents would express opinions through a general inquiry. With consent, they surveyed preteen students from 24 primary schools in Hong Kong. The anonymous secondary data was used to conduct analyses.

Results: Among 4,569 fifth- and sixth-grade students, chi-square test indicates that girls are more likely than boys to seek sex-related information from teachers, library books, and school, while boys are more likely to seek information from friends, pornographic comics, and the internet. In terms of the respondents’ attitude towards sex education, many of them supported ‘early timing,’ which was also significantly correlated to their ‘openness’ (r=.219, p<.001). Logistic regression revealed girls and older students are significantly more likely to report their preference to receive sex education in an earlier grade (OR=1.372, p<.001). For each unit increase in openness, there is a 9.3% increase in the agreement to an early start of sex education (OR=1.093, p<.001). Older children were 14.4% more likely than younger children to agree on early timing (OR=1.144, p=.004). Having more instructional sources to relay appropriate sex knowledge to students (OR=1.186, p<.001), a higher score on actual (OR=1.111, p<.001), and perceived sex knowledge (OR=1.170, p=.005). Even though these predictors explained 6.6% of the variance, this survey served as a voice to collect input directly from the users of sex education.

Conclusion: Timing of implementation and open attitude to health promotion are important considerations in designing sex education programs for preteens. Since girls turn to teachers and mothers for information while boys turn to internet sources, this study supports delivering an age-appropriate sex education curriculum starting earlier than the fifth grade, probably from the first grade on a topic of gender differences as suggested by sex educators. Teachers and parents may plan sexual health content with technology-assisted teaching methods. The psychology of the targeted youth’s keen learning desire is projected through their high response rate to each survey question. The unique aspect is that the respondents did not view early timing as a fixed starting point, but rather a continuum learning journey to understand more about sexuality and sexual health. With a curriculum designed to focus on the youth’s desire to learn, primary school students would be able to gradually increase their knowledge based on their developmental needs. Hearing directly from the preteens is an important planning step toward building a user-friendly learning platform.