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Social Work - Literature Review

A great deal of information and misinformation is available to adolescents today about sexual issues. The media, peers, parents, and schools are some of the places teenagers will obtain information about sex, however teenagers may be unable to sort out fact from fiction when dealing with sexual education. Providing a reliable and accurate source of information to adolescents is vital to ensuring their healthy sexual development into adulthood. Current educational trends are lacking a comprehensive pedagogy for the complete sexual education of adolescents, and some of the most important topics are overlooked completely. In the development of a program to supplement or replace current sexual education providers in the community, many factors have to taken into consideration, including what information is being provided by the other sources, the accuracy of the available information, what information is most important to the target age groups, and what will best foster communication between teachers and students in the community center. Preliminary research, as well as personal experience and observation, has revealed that one of the most vital elements of sexual education that is lacking or nonexistent in most current curricula is information which will help adolescents in the formation and maintenance of healthy relationships, for this is an important aspect of all elements of sexuality, including the avoidance of sexual abuse, assault, and victimization. A review of previous studies will help to evaluate the directions in which this program should move to make the most lasting impact. Literature included in this review has been selected because it meets one or more of the following inclusion criteria: (1) discussion of the most relevant information to include in the public awareness campaign, (2) why this information is important to the success of the program, (3) methods which will make the transmission of information the most effective.

The methods by which information is presented to students has a significant impact on how receptive they will be to it, as well as how lasting of an impact the information will have. According to Azy Barak's article "Toward an Internet-driven, theoretically-based, innovative approach to sex education," published in the Journal of Sex Research (2001), technology such as film and television have contributed to a more effective and engaging learning experience, but computers are an even more valuable asset; computers are optimal for storing, searching, composing, and editing information or work. "Critically, computers also permit self-directed and individualized instruction and feedback in almost any area of interest. The emergence of the Internet affords very widespread access to computer-assisted 'e-learning' or 'cyberlearning' opportunities." (Barak 2001) Laina Y. Bay-Cheng's article, " values and norms in web-based sexuality education" from the Journal of Sex Research (2001) also reports that "teens are not only using the Internet, but they are using it as a resource to find answers to their questions," and that it is "easier to seek out information and ask difficult questions, such as those concerning sexuality." (Bay-Cheng 2001) Accessing information online is free and easy, so a knowledgeable instructor can compile a plethora of learning resources, including fact sheets, multimedia presentations, and advice, while censoring out the inaccurate, misleading, or irrelevant information that a student browsing the Internet alone may access. Barak notes that information-only approaches to sex education have been shown ineffectual compared to ones which also take motivation and behavioral skills into account, and computer technology can be used to most effectively relate these to students' sexual problems, risks, and well-being. Breaking through the barriers which normally impede sexual education is important to our goal, therefore Barak's research is very relevant. Both the teacher and learner must have a comfort level with sexual topics in order for learning to take place, and use of computers may help increase this comfort level by providing a sense of privacy or anonymity, while presenting material in an inorganic and therefore nonjudgmental way. Computer and internet education also allow for long-distance education, so that information compiled by teachers at the community center may be accessed by community members in their own homes, or information may be exchanged easily with other community centers or schools anywhere in the world. Using the Internet and computers in an educational setting will guide adolescents to access the constructive sexual content of the Web, helping to shift the focus away from exploitative material, and apply knowledge to the development of healthy relationships and sexuality rather than focusing on potentially harmful behaviors. Using the Internet as a part of our program will help end the "uneven focus on the negative aspects of sexuality" (Bay-Cheng 2001) that students may experience in other sex education settings, or from browsing the Internet without guidance.

A primary goal of any sexual education program is to debunk potentially harmful myths about sexuality. Rape myths are among the most damaging to an adolescent's ability to develop a healthy relationship with another person and with his or her own sexuality. According to John D. Foubert, in his article "Effects of a sexual assault peer education program on men's belief in rape myths" published in Sex Roles: A Journal of Research (1997), a rape myth is a "prejudicial, stereotyped, or false beliefs about rape, rape victims, and rapists," and the "endorsement of rape myths (e.g., women falsely report rape to call attention to themselves) is related to men's reported intent to rape and is higher among men who admit to rape." (Foubert 1997) Foubert's research shows that intervention lowers men's acceptance of rape myths, but within two months they return to previous acceptance levels. "This rebound effect was suggested to be due to the failure of the program to convince men of the personal relevance necessary for lasting attitude change." (Foubert 1997) Research has additionally suggested that the most effective structure for an education program dealing with rape myths is a coeducational/peer education setting. A constructivist approach will be taken in our program so that the benefits of a coeducational method will be best obtained, drawing from students within the community center, as well as inviting adolescents from other communities to share insight and information with our group. The experimental program in this study took a non-confrontative, nonjudgmental, and non-condemning approach to education. "By advertising the program as a training workshop on how to help a survivor, presenters note that men enter with an open, helpful attitude. In the process, the same issues dealt with in other rape awareness workshops are covered in a less threatening manner. By presenting the material in the form of a helping workshop, we believed participants would be more likely to accept the information as personally relevant, thus increasing the likelihood of lasting attitude change." (Foubert 1997) Our program will also take this approach to reach the maximum effectiveness.

Many destructive sexual behaviors among adolescents result from an overall unhealthy approach to sexual relationships. Elizabeth Stark, in the Psychology Today article "Young, innocent, and pregnant; teenagers get pregnant for a variety of reasons, from ambivalence and ignorance about sex to wanting to fill a void in their lives," (1986) deals with some of these issues. There are approximately 30,000 births to girls under 15 years old in the United States every year, and many more terminated pregnancies. Teenagers are often sexually active at a young age, but without the life experience or guidance to make healthy relationship choices. A small percentage of girls use contraceptives the first time they have sex, and the majority of girls wait nine months before visiting a birth-control clinic. Researchers explain that girls often have a negative attitude toward sex, which leads to lower birth control use. "Many adolescents are comfortable enough to have intercourse,...but they are not comfortable enough to plan for it in advance....The more guilt and anxiety you have about sex, the less likely you are to use contraception." (Stark 1986) Unhealthy, uncomfortable, or untrusting relationships with sexual partners increases these feelings of guilt, and prevent communication between partners to foster birth control choice. Furthermore, unhealthy relationships in any part of the girl's life may lead her to secretly desire having a baby to fill the "void" and find unconditional love that is lacking elsewhere. Other girls in unhealthy relationships, consciously or subconsciously, believe that if they get pregnant, their sexual partners will marry them. Teenage boys, also suffering from unhealthy, unfulfilling relationships with sexual partners, peers, or family, may also be excited about the possibility of pregnancy. "In one study ...teenage fathers were generally happy about their girlfriend's pregnancy, whether or not they had any intention of caring for the child. They felt that the pregnancy affirmed their manhood." (Stark 1986) Studies have found that sexual education, such as the program we are designing, help to significantly lower rates of unprotected sex and teenage pregnancy. Furthermore, research shows that "if a teenage girl has a good relationship with her mother and if her mother is opposed to teenage pregnancy, it is less likely," (Stark 1986) which further reiterates the need for sex education programs to enable adolescents…[continue]

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