The Sex Education Controversy
The sharp polarisation of the sex education debate raises important theoretical questions about the psychometric properties of sex education attitudes and more general social attitudes. Despite the theoretical significance of these questions, there has been a tendency in the literature to view the sex education issue as if it can be understood without a knowledge of the psychometric structure of underlying attitudes.
While researchers have tended to view sexual knowledge as a simplistic process, there has been a failure by local researchers to examine the psychometric structure of the sexual knowledge domain. Moreover, and despite the rhetoric surrounding the adequacy of existing sex education, little attempt has been made by local researchers to quantify the sexual knowledge of young people. The research which has been conducted has tended to focus on the indirect assessment of sexual awareness by using Likert-type attitude inventories.
Quite apart from its practical implications for sex educators, the acquisition of reliable sexual information is a matter of theoretical importance in the context of its relationship to the structure of attitudes and sociological factors like social status. Unfortunately, little local data are available about the attitudinal and sociological correlates of sexual awareness.
Scope of Study
The nature of the research questions addressed in this Thesis foreshadow a limited inter-disciplinary approach to the study of the sex education issue. As such, this study overlaps the major disciplinary areas of sociology and psychology.
Research Instruments. The major methodological consideration involved the development of:
. A 24-item multiple-choice Sexual Knowledge Inventory; and
. A Personal Inventory, including a 10-item attitudinal Sex Education Inventory.
General social attitudes were measured by means of the Wilson-Patterson Attitude Inventory (1975).
Sample. A total of 447 teenagers from six private schools in the Brisbane Statistical Division were included in the final stage of the study.
Procedure. The three research instruments were administered in group form to respondents by usual class teachers in August, September and October, 1979.
Results and Conclusions
The following major findings were reported and discussed in terms of their theoretical and practical implications :
. The factor structure of general social attitudes for the present teenage sample emerged as being qualitatively different from that of adult samples. No strong general factor emerged, perhaps indicating that teenagers may he more prone than adults to view sex education and other social issues as being relatively independent. Hence, it should not be automatically assumed that it is appropriate to score the Wilson-Patterson Attitude Inventory for two orthogonal and four oblique factors as proposed by Wilson ( 1975).
. Factor analysis indicated that sex education is a complex social issue involving considerations about (a) the 'proper' source of information, (b) the locus of ultimate responsibility for determining course content, etc., and (c) the permissive implications of extra-familial programmes .
. Factor analysis indicated that sexual knowledge is a far more complex construct than often assumed and that sexual knowledge is best referred to as a multi-dimensional construct most probably beyond the understanding of the 'average ' family unit.
. Analysis of responses to individual items from the Sexual Knowledge Inventory indicated that certain sections of the present sample are 'placed at risk' because of superficial knowledge about family planning matters, venereal disease and other sexual matters. Respondents in receipt of a formal sex education programme were generally more sexually aware.
. Sexual awareness was found to vary as a function of both sociological and psychological factors. Joint analysis of sociological and psychological variables by means of multiple regression revealed exposure to a formal sex education course to be the most consistent individual predictor of awareness about sexual matters.
Data indicated that a large proportion of the families of respondents surveyed in this study were inappropriately 'structured' to perform the complex role of sexual educator. A theoretical family system model was developed and hypothesised to facilitate the acquisition of reliable sexual information. Any conclusions concerning the generality of the theoretical model, however, must remain tentative until confirmed by future research. A number of other research initiatives were also discussed within the context of data forthcoming from this investigation, including the identification of any factors which may be indirectly associated with sexual awareness by contributing to the differential exposure of young persons to formal sex education programmes.