Parents are sometimes perceived as barriers to providing comprehensive and inclusive sexuality education to young people. However, little is known about parents’ actual attitudes towards providing such broad information to young people. The purpose of this paper is to examine two different approaches to measuring parents’ attitudes towards sexuality information, a programme title approach and a topic-centred approach.
Illinois parents of adolescents (n=301) indicated their knowledge about and attitudes towards sexuality education programmes and 18 sexual health topics via online survey. Confirmatory factor analysis was used to examine whether parents’ attitudes were more consistent with a programme-centred (i.e. abstinence-only, comprehensive) or a topic-centred (i.e. physical health, sexual and gender identity, pleasure, and relationships) approach.
Parents were uncertain about what form of sexuality education was offered but most were equally comfortable with both abstinence-only and comprehensive programmes. Parents’ ratings of topics grouped significantly better by the topic-centred than the programme-centred approach. Parents rated all four subjects as important, with the highest mean ratings given to physical health topics. Further, parents’ ratings of importance by subject matter were largely independent of their reported programming preference. Together these findings provide evidence that parents believe it is important for their children to have access to a broad range of sexual health education information.
This study is one of the first to document parents’ support for information for young people that goes beyond being comprehensive to include topics such as identities and pleasure. In addition, parents’ lack of knowledge about sexuality education programming may obscure their support for sexual health information. Measuring support by specific topics, however, can help to overcome issues due to parents’ lack of knowledge about programming.
The authors thank the entire SafeSPACES Project team for their support and recommendations. The research presented here was funded in part by a grant from the Ford Foundation to Stacey Horn, PhD, University of Illinois at Chicago and Shannon Sullivan, MPH, Illinois Safe Schools Alliance. This study was approved by the University of Illinois at Chicago Institutional Review Board under protocol No. 2012-1092. Portions of this study have been presented in poster format at the 2013 Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development in Seattle, WA on 18 April 2013 and the National Safe Schools Roundtable, Chicago, IL, November 2012. In addition, some of these data were included in a paper detailing the collaborative process of our University-Community Partnership, as noted in text.
Peter, C.R., Tasker, T.B. and Horn, S.S. (2015), "Parents’ attitudes toward comprehensive and inclusive sexuality education: Beliefs about sexual health topics and forms of curricula", Health Education, Vol. 115 No. 1, pp. 71-92. https://doi.org/10.1108/HE-01-2014-0003
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