Oct. 29, 1997 Writer: Cathy Keen
Source: Michele Johnson Moore, (502) 745-4797
GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- Sexuality education programs in Florida's public high schools fall short in teaching students what they need to know to stem the high rates of teen-age pregnancy and disease, a new University of Florida study finds.
"The good news is that teachers surveyed like teaching sexuality education and are emphasizing abstinence," said Michele Johnson Moore, who did the research for her doctoral dissertation in health and human performance at UF. "The bad news is, they don't spend much time on, or cover in much detail, some of the other methods of prevention, such as birth control and condoms, or have students practice skills necessary to make healthy, responsible decisions about their sexuality."
Using both the state's sexuality guidelines and those put forth by national sexuality professionals, Moore surveyed 261 teachers in 64 of Florida's 67 school districts in 1996 to determine the scope and nature of these programs in the public high schools. The state has required human sexuality education since 1990.
In general, the focus in the classroom is on the negative consequences of sexuality, not promoting a healthy perspective on human sexuality, Moore said. Studies show that teen-agers with negative feelings about their sexuality are less likely to protect themselves against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, she said.
Florida school programs also lack instruction in life skills, yet research shows that learning to negotiate, be assertive, make decisions and clarify values help students avoid unprotected and unwanted sexual activity, Moore said. School-based programs have been found to go beyond increasing knowledge to actually delaying intercourse, she said.
While nearly all teachers surveyed (94 percent) said they felt it was the appropriate role of the school to teach sexuality education, lack of time in the curriculum appeared to be a problem in adequately covering the subject, Moore said.
In addition, the average two hours of training per year teachers received probably is not enough to keep abreast of changing information, teaching techniques and skills-building activities, Moore said. There also seems to be a lack of sufficient materials, as more than half the teachers reported creating some or all of their materials for class, she said.
"This study is one of only a handful that investigate how sexuality education is really implemented," said Barbara Rienzo, a UF health education professor who supervised Moore's research. "Unfortunately, it shows that it is being carried out in less than an ideal manner. Many people, including our legislators, support sexuality education in our state because they really want to do something to reduce teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, but teachers lack sufficient time, resources and training to adequately address the problem."
The study found that slightly less than two-thirds of teachers (64 percent) included birth control in their curriculum, but some of the methods addressed were not necessarily the most appropriate. Less than half of teachers described or showed proper use of a condom, for example, or addressed student concerns about condom use, possibly because of political reasons or personal discomfort with the topic.
On average, only about half the available birth control methods were reviewed, and some of the methods addressed were the least practical, Moore said.
"More teachers taught about the intrauterine device, which is not appropriate for adolescents, than the newer technologies of Norplant implants and Depo-Provera injections, which are more desirable for teens because of their high effectiveness rates," she said. "And only half discussed how to communicate with a partner about birth control, which is so important in avoiding sexually transmitted diseases, AIDS and unwanted pregnancies."
Research shows that more than half (53 percent) of all high school students have had sexual intercourse, with the average first time happening at just under age 15, Moore said. U.S. teen-agers have the highest rate of sexually transmitted disease among any age group and one of the highest pregnancy rates among Western industrialized countries, she said.
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