College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations

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sex education, communication, communication skills, constructivist learning theory, constructivist pedagogy


For the most part, sex education programs have sought to reduce the negative consequences of sexual behavior, such as pregnancy and sexuality transmitted infections (STIs). However, sex education programs also have the potential to encourage sexual behaviors that enhance relationships, such as communication with sexual partners. Higher levels of positive communication are related to higher relationship satisfaction and better decisions in regards to safe sex. However, communicating about sex can be uniquely challenging so specific instruction and practice may be necessary for this particular topic. One goal of this study was to experimentally examine the impact of teaching communication skills within the context of a sex education class, as compared to teaching them in a non-sexual context. Participants read an online educational module providing information about a variety of communication skills, using one of two sets of examples. It was expected that participants who read sexual examples would report that using communication skills to talk about sexual topics would be easier for them than those who read the non-sexual examples. Another goal of the study was to investigate the use of constructivism as a framework for teaching sex education classes, which holds that those learning contexts that result in personal engagement and connections with material are more effective than those that do not. Participants went through a series of writing exercises as they read the module, requiring them to either reflect on how the information could be useful in their own lives or simply summarize what they read. It was expected that participants who did the writing activity that requires personal engagement with the material will remember the material better, and will anticipate more ease using the skills presented than those who are asked to simply summarize the material they read. Additionally, it was expected that the participants in the personal engagement who also read the sexual examples would be especially at ease with using the skills to discuss sexual topics. Analyses of covariance were used to assess differences in knowledge and the ease of using the skills to talk about either general or sexual relationship topics, using participant pretest scores as covariates. Results indicated that going through the module did increase knowledge for all participants in all conditions, and that there was no difference in the learning that occurred as a result of the type of learning activity. For the ease of use across the two types of communication, sexual and general differing patterns of results were found. For the general topics, participants in the summarization condition thought suing the skills would be easier than the participants in the personal engagement condition, regardless of example type. For the sexual topics, participants in the summarization condition who also read the sexual examples thought that communicating would be easier than did participants in any of the other three groups, whose rating did not differ from each other. These results partially supported the hypotheses, contrary to expectations, the summarization activity facilitated greater ease instead of the personal engagement conditions; however, these results can still be understood in the context of constructivism. Instead of the personal engagement activity causing participants to see using the communication skills as easy, the connection and deeper processing of the material through the personal reflection may have caused participants to more clearly recognize the challenge inherent in relationship communication of all kinds. Future studies should expand this research to include both longitudinal and behavioral measures.