Thursday, December 20, 2007

Post Secret for Sex Ed : post 1

Whew, it's been a long time since I've posted! (Hmmm...August 27th to December 20th? Sounds like a busy term in grad student land to me!) Thought I'd make up for it with a brilliant idea posted by Nora, an educator who trains other educators in how to teach sexualities. Nora (she didn't leave a surname) wrote to PostSecret that she uses some of the images from PostSecret to help educators and students explore some of the very real human issues we think/worry/wonder/ about when it comes to our sexualities. It's a brilliant idea, and one that I think could revolutionize the way we teach sexualities.

PostSecret , for those of you who don't know, is a community art project where people are invited to create a postcard and mail their secrets in. It's been going on for a few years now, and has become a bit of a cultural phenomenon inspiring several books, and countless PostSecret events all over North America.

New secrets are posted on the site every Sunday, and it's a fascinating glimpse into the act of being human. It's also incredibly addictive, and the first site I visit every Sunday.

When I read about Nora's brilliant idea, I started seeing how many of these secrets could apply to teaching sex edcuation. The next few posts will be exploring some of the images that could be used pedagogically to inspire conversation about real issues of sexuality. (All images owned by PostSecret). I think she's on to something big here. What do you think?

Monday, August 27, 2007

An innovative new sex education tool for parents and students

An innovative new teaching tool designed to educate parents and inspire conversations about sexualities between adults and their children has been developed in Brooklyn, NY communities. Community input used to create a set of three audio cds, which were distributed in neighbourhoods where youth were considered at risk to engage in early sexual activity. These communities were identified primarily through ethnicity; statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 2000 suggest that 16% of African American youth, 8% of Hispanic youth and 5% of White youth reported having sex before age thirteen. Researchers in the study described here conducted extensive focus groups in the schools and community (38 focus groups involving 109 youth and 64 parents) and from this input the intervention ,“Saving sex for later” was developed, featuring professionally scripted and produced cds that tried to build on realistic ‘natural opportunities’ that could translate into teachable moments between parent and child. (i.e. events that could happen at school or to friends, television shows, song lyrics, etc. )

Strategies that aim to delay sexual initiation need to target pre-adolescent youth, which often resulting in controversy and worries that interventions aimed at youth of this age can actually have the opposite intended effect. With this in mind, and building on community feedback from an advisory board of parents and teachers, a parental education program was thought to be a potentially important project. The schools in which the intervention took place were in Brooklyn New York, where 90% of the student population were Black or Hispanic. 133 cds were randomly to parents in the community, and roughly half of them returned feedback, which was overwhelmingly positive and suggests that this kind of parental teaching innovation is highly welcomed. On average, about 90% of the parents who received the cd listened to it and would (or did) recommend it to other parents. Around 80% listened to it with their child, and more than 85% of the parents who responded said it initiated conversations with their child.

Interestingly, in parental feedback, the terms “caring and concerned” were used several times in the feedback, as can be seen below:

“As a caring and concerned parent, the CD’s I listened to were very helpful and useful. It taught me a lot, as well as my son. For the first time, I can really say while listening to the cds (Saving Sex for Later), it made it much easier and [more] comfortable to talk with my son about sex and its consequences, as well as safe sex…His feedback was amazing. I would like to take this time to thank you for your help and support in doing this, because it is very hard sometimes to talk to your children about these things”

“Let me first say thank you very much for your care and concern about all teens and the language of sex. There should be more programs such as yours reaching out to our children…Thank you! You have been most respect[ful] to me and my daughters.”

Incorporating an ethics of care into sexualities education may require that we consider the impact we could have as educators if we were to incorporate innovative strategies such as this to include parents and give them tools with which they can gain a level of comfort in discussing sexualities with their children.

(source: O'Donnell, L., Wilson-Simmons, R., Dash, K., Jeanbaptiste, V., Myint-U, A., Moss, J., et al. (2007). Saving sex for later: developing a parent-child communication intervention to delay sexual initiation among young adolescenets. Sex Education, 7(2), 107-125.)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Some potential barriers to adolescent sexual health

Sex educators' level of expertise and a call for community partnerships in sex education

(photo source: Tom Pigeon for Newsweek)

Concern over whether teachers who teach sexualities curriculum are adequately informed enough to assume an ‘expert’ role in the classroom prompted an interesting recent study in the UK. Unfortunately, this survey of 155 sex education teachers in England (94 female, 61 male) suggests that not only do most teachers not have enough knowledge, but only rarely is their teaching in this subject even assessed. Adding to the uneasiness, teachers worry about the possibility of parental complaints, or even worse, litigation. As parents are able to pull their child from sex education at any time, it leaves a residual ambiguity with educators who are unsure about what material must be taught and what is optional.

Assessing sexual health knowledge in this study involved developing a questionnaire designed to measure three components: (i) contraceptive use and methods (i.e. “do you need parental/guardian consent to obtain contraceptives for under 16s/” (ii) sexually transmitted infections (i.e. “can you be unaware that you have a sexually transmitted infection?”) and (iii) about the relationship between contraception and sexually transmitted infections (i.e. “ do all methods of contraception protect you from sexually transmitted infections?” Other parts of the survey listed various medical conditions and asked educators to identify which were STIs, and attempted to measure the level of preparedness teachers felt they had to teach the subject.

Although teachers scored well on general sexual health knowledge, more than half were unable to correctly answer that emergency contraceptive pills are effective for up to three days after unprotected sex, and only 43% could state that the emergency contraception has an effectiveness of 85% if used correctly. Generally speaking, educators do not feel that they have been provided with sufficient information regarding STIs, youth legal rights or contraception. A concerning 73% felt ill-prepared to discuss the availability of local or regional sexual health services that might be available to youth.

Clearly, there is a disconnect between the desired and stated learning goals and outcomes of sexuality curricula, if we are not ensuring that educators are able to teach the material effectively and confidently. Perhaps most telling is that 83% of the teachers involved in the study suggested that they believed that sexualities education should be taught by partnerships involving “teachers, healthcare professionals and other outside agencies” (Westwood & Mullan, 2007, p.151). Providing this scaffolding could radically empower both teachers and youth in the sexualities classroom, and create very different learning opportunities than those that are being quelled through lack of knowledge or confidence.

(source: Westwood, J., & Mullan, B. (2007). Knowledge and attitudes of secondary school teachers regarding sexual health education in England. Sex Education, 7(2), 143-159.)

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Girl Guides call to be taught safer sex as a priority

The Girl Guides have come a long way since the days of my delinquent Brownie youth, when our Tawny Owl (who had a wee bit of a problem with the bottle and a bigger one with good judgement) would send us into the forest to look for burrs while she contentedly sipped gin in the church basement...but I digress.

The Girl Guides of the UK polled a thousand girls and young women (age 7-25) involved with their organization about what they thought girls should know. The result is The Guide to Living for Modern Girls, with some interesting suggestions that point to where the priorities are for girls and young women.

Ages 16-25 want to know about:
  • Money management skills (93%)
  • Performing resuscitation (85%)
  • Speaking confidently in public (84%)
  • Practising safe sex (80%)
  • Producing a first-rate resume (66%)
  • Assembling flat pack furniture (55%)

Ages 10-15 listed these as their priorities:

  • Cooking a healthy meal (79%)
  • Leading a team (74%)
  • Pitching a tent (74%)
  • Knowing how to stand up to boys (68%)
  • Learning word processing and spreadsheet software(66%)

Ages 7 -10 thought they should be versed in:
  • Knowing the Green Cross Code (80%) (I'm not sure, this might be the UK version of the Brownie code)
  • Safe web surfing (78%)
  • Caring for a pet (75%)

First aid (75%)

Furthermore, in more applause-worthy directions, the Girl Scouts of America established the Girl Scout Research Institute in 2000, as a "center for research and public policy information on the healthy development of girls as they mature toward adulthood."

So much more than cookies! Tom Jones had it right, "women and girl (scouts) rock my world!"

(News source: UK Telegraph, July 26/07)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Sex Ed Super Mario Style

This is making the rounds on gamer blogs a lot this week. An interesting edit from Saturday morning cartoons of the Super Mario Brothers with a safer sex / sex education message. Bound to get kids' attention more than many of the materials that are being used, and it might get some conversations opened for some more detailed sexualities education discussions.

Text messaging sex ed questions

An innovative partnership between Fiesta Condoms (run by by the DKT Indonesia Foundation, the local chapter of a Washington-based charitable organization) and the Singapore-based multimedia health platform Love Airways launched a free service where people can text-message their questions about sexual health and get a response by a health professional. The hotline is a response to a study that found Indonesian youth were alarmingly unaware of accurate information in regards to sexual health, with almost half of young people getting their sexual knowledge from porn.

The hotline service allows teenagers and anyone with access to a mobile phone from all over Indonesia to send their queries to a panel of Indonesian doctors by text messaging to +65 94 DRLOVE (+65 943 75683) anonymously, allowing plenty of privacy and freedom to enquire about a topic that is largely a social taboo. "All questions are welcome and no question is too outrageous," said founder of Love Airways' "Dr. Love" aka Dr. Wei Siang Yu, who also set up the world's first wireless sex education initiative in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in 2002. He also pioneered a similar wireless campaign in Singapore, which is said to have received up to 8,000 queries daily. Although not all questions will be able to be answered due to insufficient resources, questions received in the next month will be compiled into a 20,000-point database that will not only help map out the most common questions Indonesians have about sex, but will also be converted into Indonesia's first interactive digital avatar, "Nova", at

Kudos to the organizations in Jakarta for championing this initiative. Too often, studies are conducted time and time again that suggest that young people are not having access to the information that they need to be sexually healthy, and nothing is done. Here in Canada, the Canadian Council of Ministers of Education conducted a massive study in 2003, duplicating one that been done accessing the knowledge of youth in the mid 1980's, and found that almost half of kids in grade 9 thought that HIV/AIDS is curable, and that the number of youth having unprotected sex had risen substantially. Sadly, four years later, the government has not responded in any proactive or urgent way to the study's findings, which have largely been shelved and educational activism around sexual health has been left primarily to activist agencies and organizations who pick up the cause.

(source: The Jakarta Post, July 19, 2007)