Analyzing Stakeholder Perceptions of Gaps in Public Sexuality Education: Curriculum, Context, and Community

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Virginia Tech


Sexuality education in public schools in the US is a set of curricula geared toward sexual health, sexual identities, sexual acts, associated values, as well as intimacy and relationships (Naz, 2014). Taught under the curricular umbrella of family life education in the present study, it is governed by state and federal legislation and shaped by community values. It is also uniquely controversial both politically and personally (Drazenovich, 2015; Giroux, 2011). In this study, I developed research questions grounded in Sexual Configurations Theory (SCT): a contemporary, comprehensive theory of sexual identities and behaviors (van Anders, 2015). I also used the theory of legitimate peripheral participation, which is a well-established theory of social interaction that can explain how learning occurs within and around a community (Lave and Wenger, 1991). I analyzed the curriculum of two rural public school divisions in the southeastern US to identify salient categories of curricula relevant to the research questions. I also interviewed 29 school personnel and community partners involved in the curriculum development and guest lectures. I aimed to identify differences in their perceptions of the curriculum as well as how students may have learned about sexuality in out-of-class contexts (for example, the internet, pornography, peer-to-peer, in households, etc.) (Charmaraman, Lee, and Erkut, 2012; Tight, 2016). Results indicated that participants perceived adolescents engaging in informal learning about sexuality elsewhere. The participants reported trying to help adolescents bridge these gaps in instruction with community partnerships, guest lectures from health professionals, and referrals to resources inside and outside of the school. I conclude that curriculum, context, and community are overarching principles in teaching and developing sexuality education. The evidence gathered and interpretations presented provide a rich description that drives implications for stakeholders interested in increasing curricular comprehensiveness.



content analysis, family life education, formal and informal learning, legitimate peripheral participation, phenomenography, sexual configurations theory, sexuality studies