What sexuality topics do students indicate that they are familiar with? Topic familiarity reported by secondary school students in a regional Victorian city.

Year: 2012

Author: Fotinatos, Nina, Burke, Jenene, Duffy, Bernadette, Smith, Amanda

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Sexual education is an essential health promotion curriculum area, advocating holistic well-being principles for young people. The current inconsistencies between the breadth and depth of sexuality education topics covered in regional Victorian secondary schools raises concerns for the effectiveness of school-based programmes.  The factors affecting delivery of sexual education curriculum are well known in the literature (facilitator, school community support, wider community support etc) however the level of familiarity that secondary school students have with sexual education topics is poorly understood.

Two large government secondary schools in a regional Victorian town were invited to participate in sexual education delivery research with two local leading research activists (University of Ballarat and Ballarat Community Health). Using purposive sampling techniques, year 7 (n=47), 8 (n=31) and 9 (n=22) students were involved in a mixed-method (quantitative and qualitative) research project incorporating survey collection (predominately Likert scale responses) and focus group techniques (transcribed for thematic analysis). Students were asked to self-report on level of familiarity for 25 topics established under 6 key headings: (1) Puberty, (2) Reproduction, (3) Sex and Risk, (4) Sex and Society, (5) Sex and the Body and (6) Sex and Relationships.

The level of familiarity varied across numerous topics, year levels and gender.  Key findings include the following:  Puberty: Year 7 and 8 females (F) and males (M) report high levels of familiarity with the physical changes related to puberty, however year 9 students (F & M) report a low familiarity with this topic. Reproduction: Year 8 M report low familiarity of basic ovulation. Sex and Risk:  Year 7 and 9 F report low familiarity of sexually transmitted infections, while year 7 males report low familiarity with contraception.  Sex and Society: Year 9 M report low familiarity with gender roles. Year 8 M's report low familiarity with sexual diversity. Sex and the Body: All cohorts report high levels of positive body image.  Sex and Relationships: Year 9 F report low familiarity in the topic of abstinence.

This student focused approach is instrumental in highlighting both the positive areas of delivery by a range of secondary school audiences, but more importantly, areas which require improvement to help young adolescent students, positively construct key concepts regarding sexual education in this school-based curriculum context.