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Sexual consent attitudes and behaviour: Associations with sexual health education, sexual consent education, and sexual attitudes

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Abstract

Because many young adults do not consistently give and receive explicit consent in their sexual relationships, it is important to identify factors associated with sexual consent attitudes and behaviour. In this study, we assessed the extent to which sexual health education, sexual consent education, sexual attitudes, and perceptions of social norms were associated with sexual consent attitudes and behaviour. Participants were 196 undergraduate students between the ages of 18 and 25 enrolled at an eastern Canadian university. At the bivariate level, we found evidence for the importance of sexual consent education by parents, sexual attitudes, and perceptions of social norms with respect to sexual consent attitudes and behaviour. Multiple regression analyses showed that more positive perceptions of social norms, more liberal sexual attitudes, and more sexual consent education from parents were uniquely associated with lower negative attitudes towards sexual consent and more consistent use of explicit sexual consent. More positive perceptions of social norms and less sexual experience were uniquely associated with more positive sexual consent attitudes. Only perception of social norms was uniquely associated with less use of an indirect behavioural approach to establishing consent. The results are interpreted in terms of their implications for enhancing sexual consent attitudes and behaviour among young people.

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This paper explores discourses of affirmative consent in sex education curriculum and policy. It traces the ways in which discourses of consent have emerged in sex education debates, focusing first on the activism of two young women in Ontario, Canada who lobbied the provincial government to include discussions of consent in a new Health and Physical Education (HPE) curriculum. Their activism is instructive for the ways in which their lobbying was eventually subsumed into the logics of curriculum, with learning outcomes and lesson plans taming the passion of their protest. As others see in sex education the answer to sexual violence, we cannot forget that sex education is, in part, a defence against passion, and that consent – once swallowed up by HPE – might also work to tame the unruliness of sexuality. Turning to age of consent laws – another arena where discourses of consent discipline the sexuality of young people – I ask how our pedagogical and legal address to sexuality paradoxically refuses its force. This is the central argument of this article – namely, that the concept of consent brings with it, into education, a procedural logic that misrecognises sexuality as a transparent, communicative, and rational experience and mistakes compliance for learning.
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The current study examined the perception of sexual health education (SHE) being provided in middle and high schools in three Canadian provinces from a sample of young adults. Participants were 296 undergraduate students (91 men, 205 women) between the ages of 18 and 24 who had gone to both middle school and high school in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, or Ontario. There were few differences between provinces. Almost all participants reported receiving SHE in middle school but about a quarter had not received SHE in high school. On average, participants rated the SHE they had received in middle school as fair and in high school as good. Participants, on average, rated most of 21 specified sexual health topics as covered poorly and covered. The men tended to rate the SHE they had received in middle school more positively than did the women. Participants reported that teachers used a variety of methods in the classroom, 6.78 of 9 possible methods on average. Multiple regression analyses showed that higher perceived quality of SHE was associated with better topic coverage, the extent to which the topics covered matched their interests, and the number of different methods used. Participants reported that peers were a more important source of sexual health information than was SHE. The results point to a continued need to improve the quality of SHE provided in Canadian schools.
Article
Guided by the integrative model of behavioral prediction, we examined factors associated with more extensive mother–adolescent sexual communication. Participants were 303 mothers of young adolescents who completed a survey assessing their skills, attitudes about the outcomes of sexual health discussions, perceptions of social norms, self-efficacy, and sexual communication intentions at baseline (Time 1) and the extent of their sexual communication with their adolescent 6 months later (Time 2). A path analysis showed that, after accounting for the correlations among the four predictors and sexual communication at Time 1, intentions mediated the relationships between mothers’ skills, attitudes, and self-efficacy and the extent of their sexual communication with their adolescent. Attitudes also were related directly to mothers’ sexual communication. These results provide support for the utility of the integrative model of behavioral prediction for identifying parent characteristics that are related to more extensive parent–adolescent sexual communication and one mechanism by which these relationships may occur.
Article
In 2014, U.S. president Barack Obama announced a White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault, noting that “one in five women on college campuses has been sexually assaulted during their time there.” Since then, this one-in-five statistic has permeated public discourse. It is frequently reported, but some commentators have criticized it as exaggerated. Here, we address the question, “What percentage of women are sexually assaulted while in 15 college?” After discussing definitions of sexual assault, we systematically review available data, focusing on studies that used large, representative samples of female undergraduates and multiple behaviorally specific questions. We conclude that one in five is a reasonably accurate average across women and campuses. We also review studies that are inappropriately cited as either supporting or debunking the one-in-five statistic; we explain why they do not adequately address 20 this question. We identify and evaluate several assumptions implicit in the public discourse (e.g., the assumption that college students are at greater risk than nonstudents). Given the empirical support for the one-in-five statistic, we suggest that the controversy occurs because of misunderstandings about studies’ methods and results and because this topic has implications for gender relations, power, and sexuality; this controversy is ultimately about values.
Article
Sex offender legislation is influenced by public pressure. However, there is evidence suggesting that the public's beliefs about sex offenders may be based upon myths and misperceptions. This study examined the relationship between knowledge of sex offenders in areas concerning their recidivism rates, treatment outcomes, and victim types, as well as current supervision and correctional management directed toward sex offenders and how this knowledge relates to overall attitudes towards sex offenders, sex offender treatment, and community notification laws. Further, we sought to examine how conservative belief systems affect this relationship. Using a sample of 559 undergraduate students we found that knowledge about sex offenders and conservative beliefs were significantly related to attitudes toward sex offenders such that those who had more conservative beliefs and less knowledge were more likely to have negative views toward sex offenders. Additionally, conservative belief systems moderated the relationship between knowledge about sex offenders and general attitudes toward sex offenders. These findings will be discussed as they pertain to the development of evidence-based sex offender policies.
Article
The Center for Sex Education recently published the fourth edition of Unequal Partners: Teaching about Power, Consent, and Healthy Relationships, Volumes 1 and 2. Included here are two lesson plans about sexual consent selected from each volume.11 Both lessons are taken from Montfort, S., & Brick, P. (2016). Unequal Partners: Teaching about power, consent, and healthy relationships (4th ed., Vol. 1 and 2) (K. De Fur, Ed.). Morristown, NJ: The Center for Sex Education. Copyright © 2016 by The Center for Sex Education, and are reprinted with permission.View all notes “What does it take … to give sexual consent?” is reprinted from Volume 1; and “Enthusiastic consent: What is it and how do I do it?” is reprinted from Volume 2.
Article
This study examined the attitudes and experiences of New Brunswick parents regarding sexual health education (SHE) at school and at home. Over 4200 parents with children in grades K-8 in 30 New Brunswick schools completed surveys. Ninety-four percent of parents agreed that SHE should be provided in school and 95% felt that it should be a shared responsibility between school and home. Almost all parents felt that SHE should begin in elementary (65%) or middle school (32%), although there was not consensus on what grade level various topics should be introduced. The majority of parents supported the inclusion of a broad range of sexual health topics at some point in the curriculum, including topics often considered controversial such as homosexuality and masturbation. Although parents indicated that they wish to be involved in their child's SHE, most of them had not discussed any of a range of SHE topics ill a lot of detail with their child. Parents also indicated that they want more information from schools about the SHE curriculum, about sexuality in general, and about communication strategies to assist them in providing education at home.
Article
This study examined predictors of middle school students' perceptions of the quality of the sexual health education (SHE) they had received from their parents. Participants were 599 (53% girls) adolescents in grades 6, 7 and 8 who completed a survey at school. Hierarchical multiple regression analyses revealed that students' perceptions of higher quality school-based SHE and parents' more frequent encouragement of questions about sexuality contributed uniquely to perceptions of higher quality SHE by parents. Adolescent characteristics did not contribute uniquely. The implications of these results for parents' sexual communication with their adolescents during the middle school years are discussed.
Article
A significant, but incomplete, relationship exists between fertility intentions and actual fertility but much less is known about how fertility intentions emerge, particularly at the individual level. Three studies assessed the relationships between fertility-relevant attitudes, desires, and intentions. The structure of the Attitudes towards Babies Scale (ABS) was verified, indicating that people concurrently have both positive and negative attitudes towards having children, as well as being aware of tradeoffs inherent in having children. Although the positive and negative factors reliably loaded as different dimensions they were also negatively correlated, indicating these factors are distinct but non-orthogonal. Additional analyses support this interpretation. The ABS was found to not only predict desires to have a baby, but to also predict fertility intentions (total number of children desired and desired age to have a first child). General undergraduates' fertility intentions were strongly predicted by positive and negative elicitors, whereas students who were parents or in a committed relationship showed a weaker relationship with these factors and more influence of tradeoff considerations. This suggests that fertility attitudes may relate differently to fertility intentions, dependent on people's circumstances.
Article
Much work has been carried out on sexist attitudes, but only little on sexist behaviors. The goal of the present research was to close this gap by testing how a variety of benevolent and hostile sexist behaviors correlate with implicit and explicit sexist attitudes. In Study 1 (N = 126), we developed implicit association tests for benevolent sexism and hostile sexism and illustrated that implicit and explicit benevolent sexist beliefs, as well as implicit and explicit hostile sexist beliefs, were positively correlated. In Study 2 (N = 83 of Study 1), we tested whether implicit and explicit benevolent and hostile sexist attitudes correlate with benevolent and hostile sexist behaviors. As expected, explicit benevolent (but not hostile) sexist attitudes predicted benevolent sexist behavior, whereas explicit hostile (but not benevolent) sexist attitudes predicted hostile sexist behavior. Implicit sexist attitudes did not predict sexist behavior. The implications of these findings are discussed.
Article
Young women attending university are at substantial risk for being sexually assaulted, primarily by male acquaintances, but effective strategies to reduce this risk remain elusive. We randomly assigned first-year female students at three universities in Canada to the Enhanced Assess, Acknowledge, Act Sexual Assault Resistance program (resistance group) or to a session providing access to brochures on sexual assault, as was common university practice (control group). The resistance program consists of four 3-hour units in which information is provided and skills are taught and practiced, with the goal of being able to assess risk from acquaintances, overcome emotional barriers in acknowledging danger, and engage in effective verbal and physical self-defense. The primary outcome was completed rape, as measured by the Sexual Experiences Survey-Short Form Victimization, during 1 year of follow-up. A total of 451 women were assigned to the resistance group and 442 women to the control group. Of the women assigned to the resistance group, 91% attended at least three of the four units. The 1-year risk of completed rape was significantly lower in the resistance group than in the control group (5.2% vs. 9.8%; relative risk reduction, 46.3% [95% confidence interval, 6.8 to 69.1]; P=0.02). The 1-year risk of attempted rape was also significantly lower in the resistance group (3.4% vs. 9.3%, P<0.001). A rigorously designed and executed sexual assault resistance program was successful in decreasing the occurrence of rape, attempted rape, and other forms of victimization among first-year university women. (Funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the University of Windsor; SARE ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT01338428.). Full text available free at http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsa1411131
Article
Prior research documents that perceived peer norms are related to bystanders' intentions and intervention behaviors in the context of sexual violence. Given the popularity of bystander intervention programming, it is important to know if variables like gender, race, or year in college impact intervention attitudes/behaviors or interact with perceived peer norms. Also relatively unexplored is the question of missed opportunities for intervention. For our final sample of 232 college students (66% female, 36% Black), screened by age, race, and missing data from an initial pool of 315 respondents, perceived peer norms supporting intervention positively predicted willingness to intervene against sexual violence (bystander intentions) but did not independently predict bystander behaviors or missed opportunities for intervention. Although women reported greater bystander intentions than did men, and Black participants reported more bystander behaviors than did White participants, gender, race, and year in college often interacted with peer norms and with each other in complex ways. Specifically, the predicted positive relationship between peer norms and bystander behaviors was observed only among Black students in at least their second year of college, and the predicted negative relationship between peer norms and missed opportunities was observed only for Black men. These nuances in factors that influence bystander actions have important implications for tailoring prevention tools on college campuses.
Article
Parents play an essential role in the development of children's sexuality, yet often feel uncomfortable and anxious about how best to communicate with their children about sexual matters. This study had three main aims: (1) to examine parental views and confidence in relation to communicating with their child about sexuality; (2) to explore predictors of parental self-efficacy in communicating with their child about sexuality; and (3) to assess parental preferences for programme content. Data were collected across Australia by means of an online survey. Parents in the study felt relatively knowledgeable and confident discussing sexuality topics with their child, although they noted that there were topics they would not feel comfortable talking about. The extent to which the parent felt knowledgeable and comfortable in educating their child about sexuality and their use of effective parenting strategies were significantly related to parental confidence. Finally, parents rated all potential parenting intervention topics as being useful, but the most relevant topics were those related to prevention of child sexual abuse and encouraging a positive sense of self and body image. The implications of these findings for intervention design and development and further research are discussed.
Article
This paper examines factors associated with middle school students' perceptions of the quality of the sexual health education (SHE) they received at school. Participants were 478 predominately White young people (256 girls, 222 boys) in grades 6–8 who completed a survey assessing their demographic characteristics; dating and sexual experience; and perceptions of the content, delivery and quality of the SHE they had received. Boys and students in a lower grade and with less sexual experience rated the quality of their SHE more positively. After accounting for student characteristics, students who more strongly agreed that their SHE matched their interests and covered sexual health topics more adequately, as well as who viewed their teacher as being more comfortable talking about sexual topics and doing a better job answering questions, reported higher quality SHE. Students' perceptions of the adequacy of coverage of 10 sexual health topics were also positively correlated with their reports of higher quality SHE, although only two topics (correct names for genitals and puberty/physical development) contributed uniquely to the prediction of this variable. These results reinforce the need for a comprehensive SHE curriculum as well as adequate preparation of teachers if SHE is to be engaging to students.
Article
Research comparing men's and women's experiences of sexual coercion has typically assessed differences in prevalence rates and risk. We extended this line of research by comparing the contexts of sexual coercion and reactions to sexually coercive experiences in an attempt to understand the meanings that men and women attribute to these events. Participants were 433 randomly selected college students who responded to an anonymous survey. In line with past research, more men than women reported being sexually coercive, and more women than men reported being sexually coerced in the preceding year. There was a great degree of correspondence between men's and women's reports of the contexts within which sexual coercion occurred. According to their reports, sexual coercion occurred primarily within the heterosexual dating context. Compared to men, however, women reported more negative reactions and stronger resistance to the use of sexual coercion. These findings emphasize how comparisons of prevalence rates alone may obscure important differences in the phenomenology of sexually coercive incidents for men and women. Findings are discussed in terms of implications for the development of education and prevention programs and the need to reevaluate current approaches to interpreting prevalence reports.
Article
This paper reports sex education preferences from an ethnically diverse sample of 3007 15–18 year olds. Findings are presented on preferred topics, where and from whom young people would like to receive this information. Preferences were centred around learning more about sexual behaviour and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in particular, and receiving this at school from someone ‘professional’ and of similar age. Females showed a greater preference towards learning about emotions, relationships and contraception, and to having this delivered by someone of the same sex. Of the four main ethnic groups, Black and Asian students generally reported more sex education preferences than White British or White Other students. Black students wanted to learn more about biological issues and cultural issues alongside sexual behaviour and STIs. Black male students reported a greater than average preference towards family‐based information, and interest towards someone of the same ethnic background delivering sex education was also expressed. Asian students reported stronger preferences for more information about STIs and contraception, and wished to keep sex education out of the family household. Implications for sex and relationships education and working with professionals and parents are outlined.
Article
Sexuality education and preventive sexual abuse education emerged from different historical moments and social movements. Consequently, they are often taught as separate subjects in secondary schools. This paper seeks to highlight how this separation denies space for young people to grapple with the concept of consent, the art of negotiation, the interrelatedness and acknowledgement of pleasure, danger and ambivalence within sexually intimate relations and the complexities of sexualities. Importantly, this separation also negates possibilities for education to embrace a discourse of ethical erotics that includes space for the exploration of desire and pleasure; for it is not possible to discuss ethical erotics when one is not allowed to discuss ethics and erotics within the same conversation. To highlight this argument, we analyse the Health and Physical Education Curriculum in Aotearoa New Zealand which states that programmes for the prevention of sexual abuse should not be taught concurrently or consecutively with programmes that emphasise the positive aspects of sexuality.
Article
Although sexual assault prevention education tends to focus on consent promotion as a means to reduce rates of sexual assault, little is known about how college students consent to sexual activity. The current study aimed to better understand college students' consent via the systematic development of the Consent to Sex Scale (CSS), utilizing mixed methods via three phases and two waves of data collection. In Phase 1, qualitative data were collected from college students (n = 185) to provide a foundation for item writing. In Phase 2, closed-ended items were written for a quantitative instrument and reviewed by a team of experts. In Phase 3, a quantitative survey, including items written in Phase 2, was administered to college students (n = 685); the measure was assessed for its psychometric properties. Exploratory factor analysis was utilized, resulting in a five-factor solution. The CSS and corresponding factors demonstrated high internal consistency reliability and expected gender differences, supporting the construct validity of the measure. The CSS assesses college students' cues for indicating consent to sex, a construct not addressed by previous measures. The validated scale may be useful in future research to better understand how consent relates to other behaviors or constructs.